For as much as I love them, slasher films just aren't what they used to be. Naturally, it's hard to recapture the golden era of the slasher film when this horror subgenre was relatively new (at least here in the U.S., anyway), an era that started during the late 70s and began to wane during the mid-80s. Yet for a straightforward plot structure that revolves around a masked and/or disfigured psychopath with a perchance for killing sprees, it seems that the time where slashers can reach the iconic status previously achieved by the likes of Michael Meyers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger is largely over.
This is not to say that horror filmmakers have given up their efforts to create memorable movie murderers. Case in point: ChromeSkull, the resident killer in the Laid to Rest movies. When he first appeared in 2009, not much was revealed about this bald, hulking masked killer other than his real name (Jesse Cromeans), his passion for killing lots and lots of people with his big, serrated hunting knives, his preference to communicate through electronic means (such as text messages) rather than talking, and his need to capture all of his ghastly, gory deeds on video tape. (There were also very strong suggestions that he's a necrophiliac as well.)
A few months ago, ChromeSkull did what all killers who yearn for slasher stardom do: He returned in his first sequel, ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2. Picking up right where the first film ended, ChromeSkull continues his killing spree in the sequel--but with very mixed results. The best part about this sequel is that it mixes up the slasher formula enough to keep you guessing what will happen next (something that most slasher sequels never do); the worst part is that the story never congeals enough to build dramatic momentum or to introduce new characters who are genuinely interesting. Read on for the complete review of this fearsome yet frustrating sequel.
Since the first Laid to Rest movie received limited release, I had no idea what to expect from it. Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed: It had a memorable killer with an insatiable and uninhibited blood lust, some genuinely chilling kills, and enough creativity to provide a unique interpretation of the slasher formula.
Instead of hinging the story on the mystery behind the killer's identity, Laid to Rest focuses its attention on the unknown identity of the killer's primary target. Known only in the credits as "The Girl" (played by Bobbi Sue Luther), the movie begins with this nameless woman who can't remember how she ended up inside of a coffin in a funeral home and why ChromeSkull (played by Nick Principe) was so hell-bent on killing her and anyone who gets in his way. This sense of anxious uncertainty permeates the entire movie, giving it the feel and narrative logic of a "Lost Soul" movie. (Read my review of the Silent Hill: Shattered Memories video game here for an explanation of what I mean by Lost Soul movies.) In fact, there were a few times in Laid to Rest where I expected The Girl to discover that she's actually dead and that ChromeSkull is a physical manifestation of death itself intent on bringing her and as many other victims as possible to the afterlife, a plot twist that would have been a mash-up of Carnival of Souls and Reeker. That didn't happen, and the final resolution turned out to be a moving (albeit gory) reflection on what it means to save another person's life, no matter who the person is or how steep the cost for such an act of compassion is. In a sense, Laid to Rest is a retelling of the biblical Good Samaritan parable, except in this version there's also a relentless killer with a really big knife who's determined to kill the traveler and all of the Good Samaritans who try to help her.
Even though Laid to Rest 2 begins right where the first film ends, the sequel goes off in a completely different direction from its predecessor, both in terms of focus and mood. Within the first few minutes, the plot breaks into three threads that tie back together in the finale. ChromeSkull receives extensive surgery to heal from the severe injuries he sustained at the end of the first film and while he’s recovering, he plots his next killing spree by identifying his next target: Jess (Mimi Michaels), a girl who is slowly going blind. ChromeSkull’s associate Preston (Brian Austin Green) is busy “cleaning up” after the events of the last movie so that the reign of terror can continue, while at the same time harboring his own desire of replacing ChromeSkull as the man behind the silver mask. Finally, ChromeSkull survivor Tommy (Thomas Dekker) reluctantly works with police detective King (Owain Yeoman) to help find the elusive killer and bring him to justice.
While the first film placed a lot of emphasis on The Girl and people who help her, the sequel is all about ChromeSkull; however, because the filmmakers don’t want to reveal too much about ChromeSkull (in case there’s a Laid to Rest 3), Laid to Rest 2 drops a lot of interesting hints about the killer without actually revealing anything substantial. For example, while the first film hinted that ChromeSkull doesn’t completely work alone, Laid to Rest 2 reveals that ChromeSkull has an entire organization to support his homicidal exploits. The nameless organization answers to ChromeSkull’s wishes, but who bankrolls the organization and why remains unknown. It could be that ChromeSkull set up and funds the organization himself, or that the organization secures its budget by selling snuff tapes of ChromeSkull’s kills to the highest bidder; the latter explanation could also explain ChromeSkull’s compulsive need to video tape the death of his victims. Preston’s desire to become the next ChromeSkull provides some interesting moments, but the backgrounds of both Preston and his organization are so vague that this character arc doesn’t add much depth to the overall story. Perhaps one of the sequel’s most frustrating aspects is that the most startling revelation about ChromeSkull’s past doesn’t appear until after the credits roll (!).
Further hindering the sequel’s effectiveness is its fragmented, unfocused story, which doesn’t compare well to the first film’s sharp focus on a single character and a specific mood. In Laid to Rest 2, the new characters don’t get much time to develop, the surviving characters from the first film are either dispatched too quickly or don’t have anything interesting to do, and the running time is padded by the activities of several dim-witted cops--so dim-witted that they make up the bulk of the sequel’s body count.
By the power of ChromeSkull!
Where Laid to Rest 2 doesn’t disappoint are in its excessive gore and aggressive kills. New weapons are forged, a new chain link chamber of horrors is assembled, and heads, faces, and torsos are graphically hand-sawed apart. The kills are also spaced evenly apart so that they maintain a level of intensity throughout the movie even though the story itself never finds its proper footing.
Laid to Rest 2 is one of those sequels that I want to like because it has enough interesting ideas to set it apart from most other slasher sequels, but I can’t really recommend it to anyone other than Laid to Rest fans and slasher junkies who are looking for something a little different. Whether ChromeSkull will join the horror hall of fame for slasher superstars will depend on Laid to Rest 3, where I hope they can expand upon the ideas from the first two movies to build a genuinely thrilling third chapter.