ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2 (Blu-ray/DVD)
Directed by Robert Hall
Distributed by Image Entertainment
When Rob Hall’s Laid to Rest hit DVD a few years back, the slasher fanatic living inside me couldn’t wait to check it out. After all, every horror website on earth (this one included) had raved about its brutality, praised the creation of a new and iconic screen villain and promised something truly memorable.
Ninety minutes later I sat stunned, wondering what movie they saw. Because in my eyes Laid to Rest was nothing but a fair college try. Something offering a few decent deaths (and quite a few forgettable ones) that bogged itself down with some astoundingly awful writing and a killer that wasn’t quite as “awesome” as his creators thought.
And now there’s ChromeSkull – Laid to Rest 2, a sequel that takes every ridiculous aspect of the original and amplifies it to the nines. Characters did stupid things in the original? Just wait until you see what happens this time around when an entire police squad descends upon the known hideout of our titular killer. Here’s a movie where someone waltzes into a police station and abducts a witness easier than I could steal a pack of gum from a convenience store. And with the kidnapping captured on video, our detective still has the gall to ask someone for a description of the perpetrator. It’s a movie where someone is asked to confirm that there are two l’s in the spelling on ChromeSkull’s vanity plate.
My ultimate impression of Laid to Rest has been strengthened with the sequel: Rob Hall isn’t a very good writer. He approaches these things like an enthusiastic 14-year-old might, adding things simply because they’re “cool”. An over-sized “Chinese star” consisting of welded knives, for example. To adult eyes the idea of a techno-slasher equipped with a video camera and an ahem chrome skull glued to his face is, frankly, silly, silly stuff. The kind of thing I would’ve scribbled on the back of a notebook while in grade school. These films are built around the premise of destroying their victims with superior splatter, and this sequel is a step up in that department. The kills are frequent, ghastly and executed as well as any gorehound could possibly want. But it’s the horror genre equivalent of a summer special FX blockbuster that throws millions of dollars of FX at an audience without bothering with a story: It ultimately leaves the viewer with a vacant feeling.
That was a problem with Laid to Rest that’s augmented in ChromeSkull. There’s just no one to care about. The script doesn’t bother fleshing out its main characters. Instead it gives us a protagonist with failing eyesight, and the presence of an aliment isn’t enough to make us care. If anything, Hall blows a huge opportunity to explore this in the third act. Imagine the suspense waiting to be squeezed from a legally blind “final girl” as she must somehow find a way to defend herself from a killer on his own turf. Instead the story takes a disappointingly straightforward approach by having an able-sighted character stick by her side throughout the entire climax.
There’s also the problematic exploration of ChromeSkull’s back-story this time around. Credit Hall for refusing to go the more traditional route here, though. Instead of a backwoods redneck, he makes his villain the leader of some nefarious shadow corporation that specializes in murder. Remember that incredibly misguided Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel with the well-dressed businessman with nipple rings who revealed the whole Next Generation to be little more than some experiment with fear? Imagine that blown up into a 93-minute film, and you’ve got an idea of where Hall takes the sequel. With his Hostel duo, Eli Roth explored something of similar territory and did it as believably as possible. Here it’s just a great big ”Huh?” And be sure to stick it out until the post-credit sequence, in which the world of Jesse Cromeans is expanded even further (with more questions, of course).
Admittedly, it’s a unique approach to a slasher film. It also allows for the introduction of the film’s most interesting character, Preston (Brian Austin Green). He’s ChromeSkull’s right-hand man and the guy responsible for making sure the organization remains shadowed. Never mind that he’s not very good at it. His version of tying up loose ends is to brutally murder those in the know – which, ironically, is the reason the police even get close this time around. Green actually does a nice job of making Preston seethe with a kind of conflicted resentment/admiration for his boss, and the presence of a real wildcard in the proceedings adds a bit of fun and distinction to this sequel.
The kills. Yes, they’re brutal, bloody and fun. Hall and his team have gone the practical route, adding only a few CGI-enhancements along the way. And unlike the first one (which blew its wad in the first act), ChromeSkull keeps the carnage coming at a steady clip. From a nifty resurrection sequence over the opening titles to the multi-man massacre at the climax, the movie doesn’t skimp on the ghastly. Not quite steadily enough, however, as there’s more dead air throughout the middle than I would’ve liked. But these guys understand what horror fans want in a slasher film and have delivered on it expertly. I only wish they could’ve given us a few characters worth rooting for along the way. But when victims are disemboweled, mouths are slashed open and heads are chopped off – well, it’s kind of hard to not have some fun.
Image Entertainment brings ChromeSkull to Blu-ray in a nice looking HD transfer. This film was shot in HD video and doesn’t quite look like film, but Image’s disc appears to be a faithful representation of the intended look. Detail is sharp, even if textures aren’t as heightened as expected. Banding issues plague some of the darkest scenes, but it's nothing that distracts from the experience. Overall, if you’re going to add Laid to Rest 2 to your library, you won’t be disappointed in this BD.
The DTS 5.1 Master Audio track is a lossless winner. Dialogue is front-loaded and crystal clear, with surround speakers working hard to recreate the immersive experience one would have in a theater. Ambiance is heightened, from the rattling clanks of chains to the cutting sound of knives scraping against metal, punctuating the film with an aggressive sound mix. I was very happy with this track, as it certainly provides more than a few jolts.
Image has also stacked the disc with a nice collection of supplemental material. First up is a really great audio commentary with Robert Hall, Brian Austin Green and co-writer Kevin Bocarde. It’s everything you hope a listen will be: funny and informative, heightened by a nice chemistry between the participants. Hall elaborates on his original idea for the film, and the trio offer some great insights into the production. Those of you absolutely baffled by the direction of this sequel should go ahead and give it a listen. If only to better understand what they were going for with this sucker.
Next up is a thirty-minute making-of documentary, entitled A Cut Above – Creating ChromeSkull, a thorough examination of every aspect of this sequel. Not only a must see for fans of the film, but for anyone interested in the filmmaking process. Whether or not you liked the film, give this little documentary a spin. There’s a Jump to a Kill feature that takes you right to the splatter. A nice inclusion if you’re looking to showcase the FX work for someone, or if you simply want to only watch the good stuff. A short collection of deleted scenes and a delightful blooper reel round out the disc, capped off with a theatrical trailer.
ChromeSkull – Laid to Rest 2 is over-hyped, no doubt. It’s also silly, incoherent and completely over-the-top. Their heart was unquestionably in the right place while making this one, while the slasher junkie in me appreciated the wholly unexpected approach. I’m still not sure it was the right decision, ChromeSkull Inc., but I’d welcome a third film to see Hall and co. further the exploits of one of the genre’s most ridiculous screen psychos. See ChromeSkull. It entertains on some level. Just temper those expectations.
2 1/2 out of 5
4 out of 5