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Entries in Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2 [2011] (1)

Wednesday
Nov022011

Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2 (2011)

Upper Manglement

If one movie has the potential to break me of my horror streak, it's Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2. I really didn't like the first one, which played more like a demo reel for writer/director Robert Hall's crazy practical effects skills than an actual movie. But for the sequel, he's amped up the weirdness and the gore, and has bothered to tell a compelling story.

Okay, "compelling" might be pushing it. But compared to part one, in which a masked killer called Chromeskull (Nick Principe) stalked an amnesiac prostitute from one dingy location to the next, Laid to Rest 2 is practically The Usual Suspects. The film opens exactly where we left off, with the survivors speeding away from the blood-strewn gas station and--they think--the dead madman (he very well should be dead, having had his entire face and underlying muscles ripped clean off before getting beaten repeatedly about the head).

The cops arrive and start picking through the pulpy crime scene. Moments later, a cleanup crew shows up and kills the cops. Its leader, Preston (Brian Austin Green), oversees Chromeskull's recovery and assures that no traces of his crimes are left to be discovered. This includes tracking down the two escapees, one of whom he guts in a motel bathroom. The other, an emo party kid named Tommy (Thomas Dekker), calls the cops and is taken into protective custody.

Three months later, Chromeskull has fully healed, thanks to treatment at a state-of-the-art underground facility, which he apparently owns. He orders his staff, including Preston and ambitious secretary, Spann (Danielle Harris), to scout locations for his next killing spree, and to arrange for the creation of a new arsenal of elaborate, silver knives.

Meanwhile, we meet young Jess (Mimi Michaels) on the day she's diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease. She throws a pity party with a girlfriend, which, of course, Chromeskull crashes. He kidnaps Jess and throws her in a coffin in an abandoned factory/warehouse/horror movie set. She escapes for a few mintues and calls her mother (Gail O'Grady), who then alerts the police. Luckily, the detectives investigating the Chromeskull murders work the night shift. The rest of the film sees more kidnappings and the longest procession I can recall of idiot cops driving to the same location where their fellow officers have disappeared--without backup.

In its second half, Laid to Rest 2 is extremely repetitive, plot-wise--especially because it's clear that Jess's whole losing-eyesight story arc is just a gimmick (worse yet, it's a high-school-level stab at parity: Chromeskull also had his eyes ripped out at the end of part one--though he apparently had a transplant because now he sees just fine). What saves the movie, believe it or not, is Brian Austin Green.

Preston is a scheming, wannabe psychopath who, unlike his boss, talks way too much. He wears sharp suits and is great at looking cool and shouting down subordinates, but inside is a whiny little boy who's seen American Psycho one too many times. Green makes this movie worth watching, and every time we cut from him to Jess and Tommy running for their lives or more faceless badges getting butchered in increasingly creative ways, my eyes wandered to the clock in the corner of my monitor.

Were it not for this exceptional performance, I would have been even more annoyed that the latter part of the film is a Saw knock-off. But since that good will was already in play, I could sit back and appreciate the truly stunning work that Hall and his team of makeup effects artists employed in their grisly death scenes. The ripped open faces and torn-up torsos contributed to my momentary distaste for the genre. Though the killings are so far over the top as to be unbelievable, their realism is shocking. Best yet, Hall uses CG enhancements beautifully to accentuate his creations, instead of letting fake-looking wounds ruin the show.

I rolled my eyes at the ending, which, like any good slasher movie, is just a "suspenseful" portal into the next installment. But scrubbing through the end credits, I came upon a great little stinger involving a pair of FBI agents interrogating a pregnant woman. She's Chromeskull's wife, and she has no idea that her husband--a wealthy businessman who travels all the time--has been popping up all over America and videotaping his serial-killing spree. It's another really annoying half-nod to Saw, but the scene's conclusion--part ridiculous, part chilling--guaranteed that Laid to Rest 3 will get my business.

Yeah, I'm a sucker. What of it?

While I don't think this series as a whole is very good, I admire Hall's passion for the genre and the quality of his craft. For future Chromeskull adventures, I think he should stick with co-writer Kevin Bocarde--if, in fact, it was this collaboration that dreamt up the murderer's silly but fascinating support network. This film is a great improvement over its predecessor; though not perfect, there should be enough weird, gross stuff here to keep your attention. Barring more kooky revelations and show-stopping kills in the next one, though, it might be time to for Hall to lay this series to rest.

Trivia: Laid to Rest 2 fills in more gaps in the "Six Degrees of Sarah Connor" game: Both Dekker and Green starred in Fox Television's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles--for which Hall did the special makeup effects. Lena Headey, that series' lead actress, appeared in the first Laid to Rest.