SEPTEMBER 18, 2011
I wasn’t too big of a fan of the original Laid To Rest, but I did really dig the kills, which I assumed the sequel would offer up plenty of while hopefully improving the story/character issues. And depending on how you look at it, Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2 does indeed improve on its predecessor in those departments, but in my opinion dropped the ball in other areas. But considering that the target audience for this (and most sequels) are the folks who enjoyed the original, I would consider this to be a successful followup.
For starters, the characters are much less idiotic this time around, which makes the film as a whole easier to digest. Apparently writer/director Rob Hall was listening to complaints about the original, and thus decreed that this time everyone would have cell phones and there would be a heavy police presence. And the phones work! Our hero (Thomas Dekker, reprising/expanding his brief role in the original) is in Chromeskull’s base of operations, which appears to be an underground facility of some sort, but he is able to get in touch with the cops when he tries. Not that it helps him (or the cops) much in the end, but it’s better than another cliché, and the part of me that watches these things every day can always appreciate ANYTHING that breaks from the norm.
And again, they’re not as stupid this time around; no one has a strange form of amnesia that prevents them from remembering what a “coffin” is, nor is anyone stuck in 1998 with a dial up modem. Most of the time our characters do pretty much what anyone would do, and by making the would-be heroine practically blind we can accept that she’s not too quick on her feet or able to figure out where she is. There’s still more than a couple groan-inducing lines of dialogue, however – at one point a female cop asks if Chromeskull’s personalized license plate (“CHRMSKL”) has one L or two, for example. Now, if she was using the DMV computer to find information on him, that’d be one thing, but she asks a fellow cop over the phone while investigating a warehouse that he might be at – so, what, does she think she might run across a personalized CHROMESKULL license plate with the incorrect number of Ls and thus accidentally take down an innocent man? But still, there’s nothing as insufferable as the “dead boxes” nonsense so I’ll let it slide.
However, the plot for this one draws heavily from the “organization” that Chromeskull belongs to, and for that you either have to go with it or just skip the movie entirely (note - spoilers ahead!). I must admit, I fail to see how killing hookers is an effective business model, but it must be as Mr. Chromeans has a staff of medical experts (handy for repairing his mostly mushed head at the beginning of the film), plus a pair of handlers that are seemingly engaged in some sort of corporate turf war, attempting to take control of this particular corporation. One is Danielle Harris, who is on Chromeskull’s side, and the other is Brian Austin Green, who seemingly wants to BE Chromeskull, and helpfully takes care of the “killing women” part of the job while the real Chromeskull is recuperating.
Yes, that’s the story. For a movie called Chromeskull, the real McCoy actually isn’t in it a hell of a lot for the first hour, as Green’s “Fauxskull” actually commits most of the killings. Also (spoiler?), he loses his mask early on during the big climactic rampage and thus spends a good chunk of it showing his less-than-handsome face. Personally, I feel it’s a bit early in the franchise to go the Jason Goes To Hell route of keeping our real hero out of the action for so much of the movie. Plus, while Green has effectively shed his 90210/rapper (read: lame) persona thanks to a fairly impressive turn as a badass on the Sarah Connor show, he’s still no match for Nick Principe, a nearly 7 foot tall guy who is sort of born to play these sort of roles. I appreciate that they didn’t just use some sort of deus ex machina to keep him alive after his seeming death at the end of the previous film (or just flat out ignore it), but this should have been a real tour de force for the guy now that he’s been established – let’s wait until part 4 or 5 before going this outside the box (to be fair, I felt that the original felt like a sequel in an established series as well, so maybe this like Star Wars where we’re getting chapters 4-6 before we get 1-3).
Also the kills aren’t quite as interesting this time around; most are variations on someone’s chest or head being stabbed and then ripped apart, something we saw a lot of in the original. The only one that really sticks out is the last one in the movie, and it’s also stolen from Jason X (any guesses?), so that’s a bit of a bummer. However, they are equally if not MORE impressive from a technical point of view, as Hall and his crew involve basic sleight of hand tricks to pull a lot of them off. For example, one girl is stabbed, gutted and then realistically killed all in one shot, and it was pulled off not with CGI but by simply hiring twins – one twin got stabbed (presumably with a retractable blade of some sort), then she was thrown off camera. The shot continues as Fauxskull walks over to her, but now it’s the other twin with the necessary appliances already placed on her in order to complete the kill. It’s a genius idea, but I don’t know if anyone will appreciate it without watching the bonus features, because A. we’ve gotten so accustomed to computers doing the work that most audiences will probably assume it’s just really good CGI, and B. a lot of folks will probably not be asking “How did they do that?” but “Why isn’t she already dead?”, as the initial move (first twin) would seemingly kill anyone, let alone a tiny young woman.
Also, and maybe this was true of the original too (can’t quite recall), but I love how “messy” the kills are. I’m not talking blood – there’s plenty of that, of course – but in a lot of horror films the knife always seems to go through a body like butter. But here, you really see him struggle to cut through bone and clothing and hair and such, and there’s always a lot of connective tissue and sinew holding body parts together for an extra second or two as they are pulled apart. In a way it’s sort of weird that they go for realistic kills inside of a world that can apparently turn killing hookers into some big bucks business, but it certainly makes the kills stick out a bit from something like Hatchet, which aren’t that concerned with realism (i.e. Crowley’s “curb stomp” in H2).
The structure of the 3rd act is also a bit strange; instead of coming down to a big showdown with Green (essentially the film’s villain with Chromeskull as its “hero”), they have a quick fight with the obvious outcome with like 25 minutes to go, and then some random cops who we haven’t seen before show up to provide the bulk of the climactic action. And with the Dekker/final girl characters to worry about, plus Harris’ character, it starts to feel a bit disjointed, with none of the elements really tying together in a satisfying way from a storytelling point of view - it seems like you can swap around the order of the scenes and it wouldn't matter much. Then again, this was also an issue in the original, with Dekker and his buddy showing up out of nowhere at the end, so I guess it fits the overall/random chain of events plotting that is now I guess sort of a trademark of the series.
It’s a much more assured film visually, however. The film was shot with cameras that are more suited toward still photography, giving the film a unique, hyper realized look. Some of the night shots look too “digital” for my tastes, but when you see the size of the cameras in the behind the scenes stuff you’ll probably be pretty impressed that the film looks as sharp as it does. And, let’s face it – this is not a big budget production, and so by using this presumably cheaper equipment, they were able to put more dough into the kills and actors (probably saved a lot of time as well). Don’t get me wrong; I still wish everything was shot on 35mm, but having suffered through so many terribly shot digital productions, I can at least take comfort knowing that at least there are people who know what they are doing when it comes to the new technology that is slowly taking over.
I also liked the hand-held look, which is ramped up for the scenes involving Green’s “out of control” character but toned down for the scenes of the far more skillful Chromeskull. And Hall has even tossed in a bit of stalking this time around; there’s a bit where Chromey seems to have taken a page from Michael Myers as he appears/disappears standing behind unaware future victims – cool stuff. He also has a sweet new weapon, a circular device with six blades that open/close like scissors, though I wish he used it more often.
The Blu-ray has pretty much the exact set of features that were on the original; a few deleted scenes that are of no real use, an outtake/blooper reel that isn’t really that amusing, and the trailer can be skipped, but the behind the scenes is worth a look, as it largely focuses on the kills and reveals a cool surprise about the tattoo scene. There’s also a jump to a kill feature that’s always fun, though some have too much of the padding beforehand. The commentary is a good listen as well; Hall, co-writer Kevin Bocarde, and Green joke around and dish on actors who bailed out, tricks that they used to save on budget (a good chunk of the film was shot in Hall’s own home), etc. I was particularly amused by the origin of the prologue featuring The Girl from the first movie. Originally she would be killed off-screen and not really appear at all, since the character was played by Hall’s now ex-wife, but through auditioning another role they met an actress who physically resembled her and even shared a similar voice, so they ended up casting her and rewriting the opening a bit to give the character a real sendoff. They also point out that co-star Owain Yeoman was also part of Sarah Connor, which I think brings the total number of SC cast members in Laid To Rest movies to four. Hopefully they can get Richard T. Jones for LTR3, love that guy.
Overall I’d say it was a minor success. Fans of the original will probably be satisfied (if they can get past “David Silver” wearing the mask more than the real guy), and those who didn’t, like me, found this one to improve in several areas. I didn’t yell at my TV this time around, at any rate – maybe not a very good quote for the DVD cover, but again – sequels are made for fans of the original more than their critics. If it can entertain said critics AND fans, then they’re on the right track. And as long as they actually go with what was hinted at during the final scene of this one, I’m definitely excited for a third.
What say you?
P.S. Make sure you stick around after the credits for one of the most wonderfully batshit moments of the entire movie!