MARCH 30, 2009
The funny thing about horror movies is that there’s no such thing as majority rule. Majority rule says that Shawshank Redemption and Godfather are great, Epic Movie and Gigli are shit, and that The Postman is actually pretty good if you bother to watch it (which few people have actually done). But with horror, it’s pretty much always 50/50. And with remakes coming along at a steady clip, you can’t even single out a few exceptions like Psycho or Halloween, because there are several fans who honestly believe that those films’ remakes are superior (and even some who thought they always sucked). But still, you want to be optimistic. So when I saw that just about every major horror outlet (Bloody, Shock, Dread, Rue Morgue, and Fango), had pull quotes on the Laid To Rest DVD, I assumed that I would at least enjoy it.
And in terms of the movie’s main appeal, I did. Going solely by the kills, the film certainly delivers on a level I haven’t seen since in a slasher since Hatchet. But me, I’m a story/character guy, and on that level, I can’t say the movie works. Even by slasher standards, there is a severe lack of logic at times, and there is little to no character development or any sort of explanation for the killer’s MO. At times I felt like I was watching the 3rd or 4th part in a franchise that I knew nothing about.
Before I focus on the negative, let me praise what deserves it. Again, the kills are phenomenal - anyone disappointed with the relatively tame kills in Friday the 13th 2009 will certainly be satisfied here. Heads are torn apart with knives or melted on countertops, faces are sliced off... they all focus on the head for some reason, but they are expertly done nonetheless. Also, Chromeskull is a great villain (at least on the concept level, more on that later) – he is menacing (the actor playing him is Tyler Mane-size) and unique looking. There haven’t been many memorable NEW slashers lately, even in otherwise solid movies (Cold Prey is a good example), but Chromeskull is definitely a future T-shirt/action figure staple, assuming the movie is a hit for Anchor Bay.
But almost instantly, I was rolling my eyes at the contrived nonsense on the screen. Our heroine has amnesia, which is fine - but it’s some form of amnesia that leaves the victim practically invalid. She can’t form basic sentences or recall basic vocabulary (she repeatedly refers to coffins as “Dead boxes” - why she’d remember THOSE words but not others is none of our business), nor can she remember the number for 911 without a helpful, hilariously handwritten note that has the number. But yet, later she is able operate a GPS system with ease. And her amnesia has the most lackluster payoff of all time. I won’t “spoil” it, but it amounts to essentially revealing her occupation, which has no resonance with what her character has done throughout the movie. You know how like, Jason Bourne doesn’t even know how or why he is able to kick so much ass and drive awesome and everything, and then he finds out he’s a trained assassin so it all makes sense? Imagine if instead, Bourne turned out to be, I dunno, a mailman. That’s about the same level of resolution that the reveal offers here.
What it DOES do is offer some sort of explanation for why Chromeskull has targeted her, but again, this has story problems. If he’s after her and others like her, why does he kill so many other people? At one point she runs off with her new friend (Kevin Gage), and rather than pursue her, Chromeskull hangs around and kills two people who hadn’t even seen him. Of course, he has slasher teleporting skills, so it’s not long before he catches up with her anyway, but still. It’s one thing for something in a sequel to cause problems with an earlier movie (i.e. Halloween II revealing Laurie is his sister, which makes Michael’s actions in the first film make zero sense), but it’s another when it doesn’t even stay consistent in its own movie, especially one that is solely the creation of one person (respected, and rightfully so, effects guru Rob Hall is listed as the writer and director, his company did the makeup effects, he composed the score with other crew members, and he’s also listed as a producer).
Having a killer with all of these interesting qualities but also never really explaining who he is or why he’s doing it is a bit of a missed opportunity too. And before anyone calls me out, yes, the original Halloween offered nothing in that department either. But that also applied to the costume – beyond his name, he was a blank slate in every conceivable way. Chromey, on the other hand, wears a mask that appears to be glued onto his face, has a leaking eye that he needs to inject with something every now and then, uses an elaborate series of technological gizmos (including the world’s first DV camera that takes AA batteries)... all these peculiar, possibly interesting things. And yet we never get as much as a hint as to what any of it means. I’m sure they are thinking prequel (a sequel doesn’t seem likely, unless they go into Jason Lives territory), but come on, throw us a fucking bone here, NOW.
Again, it eventually all feels like an entry in a well-known franchise. In a way, it kind of reminds me of the TV shows that came along in Lost’s wake. If you go back and watch the first episode (hell, most of the first SEASON), you would probably be a bit surprised to recall that none of the things that have taken over the show’s narrative (Dharma, time travel, Ben Linus) are even mentioned, let alone a significant factor. They let you get to know the characters, ground their situation in reality... and THEN sprung the gonzo sci-fi stuff on us at the end of the season (and even then, it was until I’d say season 3 that things got weird). But shows like The 9 and Invasion, both obviously created with Lost in mind, totally front-loaded their shows with the mystery and convoluted premises, never giving the audience a chance to really relate to them, and as a result, neither of them lasted more than a season.
Likewise, I think Laid To Rest could have been a better start to a solid franchise had Hall developed the lead characters a bit before the killer even appeared, and saved some of the stuff for future adventures, rather than present the first film as one nonstop (at times impressively so, admittedly) killing spree. It’s one thing to have questions and save the answers for later, it’s entirely another to do so before introductions are even made. Like the killer’s leaking eye thing - what’s the story behind that? To explain it would require either a flashback or a prequel now, whereas it could have been the result of an action he suffered in this film that was added to his roster of quirks in Laid to Rest Part 3.
The DVD comes with a standard collection of extras. Hall and lead/producer Bobbie Sue Luther provide an enjoyable enough commentary. Unusual for a track, they are married, which allows for some lighthearted bickering you don’t often hear in these things. The making of (which is kind of funny, as an actor and a producer describe the film in almost completely opposite ways, back to back) is about a half hour long and covers the entire production. Everyone seems to be working hard and enjoying what they are making/doing, so that’s good. Then there’s a look at the effects, which is surprisingly very short. Given Hall’s background and the fact that the movie is all but filler for the kill scenes, I thought this would be a longer and more in-depth piece. Then we get the trailer and some deleted scenes (the first of which is technically a joke, but a hilarious one) that won’t be missed. There is also a blooper reel, but damned if I can even tell what went wrong in half of them. Regardless of how you feel about the film, you can’t deny that Anchor Bay has delivered a nice collection of extras for the film, which is becoming increasingly rare these days for their independent pickups.
Like I said at the beginning, I really wanted to like the movie. I have friends who worked on it, and other friends who really dug it (and given messageboard postings and such, I am clearly in the minority here - a point I would like to stress for anyone using my thoughts on the film to gauge their own reaction). I hate to knock on an original R-rated horror movie (a technically sound one at that), but the script just needed too much work for the film to work as a whole for me. Some have pointed out that the film had a very small budget, but production value is not one of the film’s problems – in fact, I thought the film looked like it cost a lot more than it reportedly did. I wouldn’t mind watching another Chromeskull adventure, but next time I want someone equally as interesting on the good guys’ side.
What say you?