10/11/11

Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2 (2011): Shine On You Crazy Killer

At the end of Laid to Rest, one of the best slashers to come out in the last five years (Suck it, Hatchet fans.), the metal faced killer had been de-masked, de-faced, and a baseball bat generously applied to his head. Suffice it to say that he seemed pretty definitively dead, but this is horror slasher dead, not regular dead after all. So after the modest success of Laid to Rest, it should come as no surprise that Lightning Bug (no relation) director Robert Hall would find a way to resurrect Chromeskull and bring him back for an eponymously titled sequel. At the last Horrorhound, I got a chance to sit in on the Chromeskull: Laid 2 Rest 2 panel and meet both director Hall, star Nick Principe, and co-star Angela Armani. At the time, Hall promised the sequel would be “chock full of f**king violence”, reveal more about the chrome masked killer, and smooth over some of Laid to Rest's criticisms. For the most part he succeeded, but in trying to bring more to the table, there's a chance he may have laid more on the table than the rest of us were ready to absorb. (For anyone who's not seen Laid to Rest spoilers for the first film are talked about, read at your own peril.)

Laid to Rest picks up directly as the last film ends. Survivors "Princess"  (now played by Allison Kyler replacing Robert Hall's Ex-wife and ex-star Bobbi sue Luther) and Tommy (Thomas Dekker) have hit the road to an Atlanta hotel where they're hiding out. Preston (Brian Austin Green), Chromeskull's assistant, collects the killer's body and a team begins to work on bringing the slasher back to life. As the cops begin to investigate the case, Preston decides to finish up his boss' work dispatching "Princess" in a scene that would easily answer the Joker's question "You wanna know how I got these scars?"  With a first kill under his belt, Preston thinks he should continue Chromeskull's work, but what he doesn't realize is that with the assistance of his other assistant, Spann (Danielle Harris), the slasher has come back bigger and stronger soon selecting a new target. While both killers stack up the bodies, it leads up to an inevitable confrontation between the two, and like Highlanders, there can be only one. 

Lighting Bug director Robert Hall
meets The Lightning Bug
In preparation for this Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2 review, I re-watched Laid to Rest first to recapture the feeling of the film. While some have criticized Robert Hall's film for its logic problems and general silliness (even myself back in Top Ten Common Complaints of Chromeskull), some for its misogynistic killer, and some because they just don't care for slashers, I have a lot of fun with this film. Not only are the kills gory, graphic, and sudden, something I have a hard time finding in modern horror where torture is king, but the film also featured suspense and well placed humor. There's a scene in Laid to Rest where Chromeskull sighs before dispatching a fellow with his own sawed off shotgun outside of a gas station. That small moment where the killer seems put upon is brilliant and always gives me a well needed laugh to break the tension. I could rattle off a hundred more little things that make Laid to Rest more than a run of the mill standard slasher, but I'm here to talk about the sequel after all. 

Where Laid to Rest made its mark on me by being chock full of tiny details for the obsessive slasher fan, Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2 discards the details in favor of grandeur. The first film featured a killer whose motives we never know, whose methods are never explained, and who was a helluva snappy dresser. Laid to Rest 2 attempts to put  Chromeskull at the head of a shadowy organization (if not the government, then an agency with unlimited funds and power), tease the audience with a number of big reveals that never come, and allow a cast-member of 90210 to fill Chromeskull's mask. Where the original gained a lot for not explaining, the sequel loses something because the explanations don't make any sense. I assume Hall intends to bring everything together in a third film intended to be a prequel to the first two, but as a fan of the simple stalk and kill of the original, the exposition, especially in the form of Brian Austin Green's wanna-be slasher, struggled to keep my attention. 

While the plot was too muddied in the sequel, Hall's film really shines where it counts, the mask... just kidding, the kills of course. Where Laid to Rest mixed up the murders a bit, every death in Chromeskull comes by way of a blade. If you've ever wanted to know how many ways effects guys could come up with cutting a person's face off, in half, or asunder, then this is the film for you. Once again Hall proves why he and his company Almost Human are leaders in gore effects. The kills are brutal, and there was clearly some thought put into the pacing of them because each one outranks the other. The deaths Chromeskull is responsible for are far more interesting than those of Preston, though he does have his moments, but the real beauty of the whole film is how Hall makes the audience root for Chromeskull to off Preston. It's one thing to make a viewer want a sympathetic killer like Showtime's Dexter to kill someone, but to have me rooting for ostensibly the worst guy to kill the bad guy was really impressive. 

While Nick Principe doesn't have a single line as the chrome masked killer, Brian Austin Green proved him to be indispensable. Principe has fashioned a character out of body language, small gestures, and good old fashioned Jason Voorhees aggression that realized itself in the first film solidly. It's too bad that he got so little of the screen-time in the second because I find his performance very interesting. As far as the rest of the cast goes, I know Thomas Dekker's star is on the rise, but he just strikes me as Jared Leto without the band, eyeliner, or charisma. Mimi Michaels left little impression on me as the new final girl, and Danielle Harris was woefully underused. Christopher Allen Nelson (Kill Bill's The Groom) made for a great lead cop, and I would love to see him in larger roles. On the other hand, ex-porn star Angela Armani tried to play the ugly duckling as Officer Holland, but I don't think Charlize Theron has anything to worry about. The biggest screen hog was co-producer Brian Austin Green. I can't say that I've ever seen him in much, and I can't say that I'm going to go out of my way to find more BAG films in the future. For my money, I would have liked to see Preston played by a creepy, weaselly little bastard. Green was too full of bravado and too pleased with himself to sell me on his character. 

While I think this is a slight misstep for Robert Hall, whose previous two films Laid to Rest and Lightning Bug, I enjoy very much. Compared to either of the other two productions, Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2 was the largest in both focus and scope. It also felt the least personal. Lightning Bug was his homage to growing up a marginalized horror kid, and Laid to Rest felt like it could be the movie that kid made. In some ways, it literally was. Laid to Rest 2 feels like the toy-box got opened a little too wide. It could be the money that went into the project. It could be that Hall worked with inexperienced co-writer, Kevin Borcarde, instead of penning the project on his own as usual. Or it could have just been that Hall wanted to make something bigger to prove he could move beyond a personal story or a basic slasher. In no way has Laid to Rest 2 dampened my belief that Robert Hall is one of the strongest voices in modern horror cinema. I will still encourage people to check out all three of his films, and I will await his next project eagerly. Chromeskull may have tarnished Hall a bit, but I still think he's got plenty of reason to shine. 

Bugg Rating (Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2)

Bugg Rating (Laid to Rest)

3 comments:

  1. So this second entry is a lesser film? Damn! And I was so dissapointed with the original. I mean, I liked the mask, and I liked the look of the killer, and I liked the kills themselves, very gory and complex, the make up effects work was awesome (to be expected considering Robert Hall's an fx artist) but the film felt amateurish in terms of storytelling, and acting.

    I'm still curious for this second entry though, Chrome Skull seems like he could become a new horror icon, I just wish this awesome looking character would be in better films.

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  2. I agree on every point, Bug. I enjoyed the first film, despite whatever flaws some critics pointed out, but this sequel seems like a step in the wrong direction for sure (not the least of which was the under-utilization of Chromeskull himself).

    Some pretty gnarly kills, but this is definitely a rental.

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  3. Been meaning to come back and chime in on LTR. Figured now that I've seen part II, I'd do so. While I loved LTR and find it be a much more entertaining film than it's sequel, I can't help but think that II was an overall "better" film. The acting and writing were both much improved and the gore was, well, gorey. It's biggest failing is that the acting and writing still weren't especially good. If the writing and acting were to continue to improve in the probably third entry, LTR 3 could be something special. Either way, I still had fun with 2 and it's still leagues better than either Hatchet film.

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