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ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2

Image // Unrated // September 20, 2011
List Price: $29.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 10, 2011 | E-mail the Author
ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2 doesn't mash the reset button the way a lot of slasher sequels do, instead picking up immediately where the last flick left off. ChromeSkull was left for dead
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in some backwater convenience store or whatever, having ripped pretty much all the skin off his face and then getting the holy shit beaten out of him by whoever that Final Girl was. The two straggling survivors tear off just before the cops roll in, sirens blaring. The investigation's kinda short-lived. See, you can't really pull off the sorts of elaborate slaughterhouse shenanigans that ChromeSkull goes for without some kind of support network, and his crew swoops in to clean up the mess he left behind and to salvage what's left of their stab-happy CEO. Guy's clearly got a hell of a bankroll, flying in surgeons from Switzerland to piece what's left of him back together, and in the months it takes for the wounds to heal, ChromeSkull even sets his sights on a new pretty thing to play with: Jess (Mimi Michaels), a vlog-obsessed teenager who's trying not to let her, um, near-blindness put a cramp on her cheery disposition. While the big guy's on the mend and his next flaying factory is being put together, ChromeSkull's right-hand-man Preston (Brian Austin Green) has decided that his boss is too rattled from that severe disfigurement to hack it anymore. Preston decides it's time for someone else to play hack and slash, and who better than...well, himself? 'Course, the currently reigning ChromeSkull may have something to say about that...

I missed out on the original Laid to Rest, and this sequel kinda assumes you've already torn into the first flick. Sure, you can pretty much figure out what's going on without reams of exposition or a recap upfront, but the pacing early on seems really off-kilter if you go in blind. I mean, the first on-screen kill doesn't come until, like, eight minutes in, and it's not even ChromeSkull slashing around the knife. The opening is heavy on aftermath, so it's going down rather than revving up, and the stabs at building up the series' mythology seem kinda clunky. I mean, I want to see a guy in a chrome-plated skull mask hack apart slutty teenagers or something, not listen to a bunch of his smarty-dressed flunkies in black suits ramble on about C7 Protocol. ChromeSkull stitches together a few different plotlines that eventually careen head-on into each other. One of 'em is set at ChromeSkull's corporate offices or whatever where Preston and an ambitious backstabber (Danielle Harris) bicker about who's going to have the corner office. Both are
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jockeying for power; it's just that one wants to be the new second-in-command while the other has his eye on the top spot. Meanwhile, the currently reigning ChromeSkull is recuperating, violently coming to terms with the fact that he's as much of a monster on the outside as he is on the blah blah blah. There's also the whole thing with Jess getting snatched, doubly tormented because not only is she trapped inside ChromeSkull's factory of dooooom but she can't even see what sort of grisly fate awaits her. The other big storyline revolves around Tommy (Thomas Dekker), a survivor of ChromeSkull's last reign of terror, after the cops drag him in to figure out what happened to Jess. The problem with all that is...well, ChromeSkull sits out pretty much the entire first hour of the flick. He's punching out mirrors and sending threatening IMs to his employees on Skype. A lot of what's going on in the background is routine horror-movie-detective stuff -- lots of digging through grisly photos, reviewing security camera footage (with plenty of "zoom!" "enhance!" moments too, obviously), and whatever -- along with the office politics about the chain of command at ChromeSkull Enterprises. I give ChromeSkull credit for being ambitious and for refusing to settle for more of the same, but there's way too much thumb-twiddling here as I wait for something to happen. It's the same mistake Hatchet II made, fascinated with further fleshing out this world...the mythology behind the mayhem...but that's the least interesting part of the flick. Even the movie itself seems content to skim the surface with all that, disinterested in delving into the how or the why when it can just stack more puzzle pieces one on top of the other. I can deal with not having all the answers, but at least make the questions more interesting than this.

So, yeah: talky. Slow moving for quite a while there. There's not all that much in the way of tension or suspense. A big chunk of the dialogue is clunky and seems to have just been dreamed up on the spot. Director Robert Hall says in the audio commentary that ChromeSkull is his homage to '80s slashers, and a lot of the supporting performances in particular here
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have that kind of oversized theatricality you'd get outta those movies. I really do appreciate the fact that this isn't some spastically quick-cutting fright flick that's trying to show off how gritty and extreme it can be, but I kinda get the impression that ChromeSkull thinks it's a lot more fun than it really is. If I put on my Amateur Film Critic hat and start dissecting ChromeSkull, yeah, the undercarriage of what makes a movie a movie is kinda rickety this time around. As a lifelong, frothing-at-the-mouth slasher fanatic, though...? The splatter is glorious. ChromeSkull opts for practical effects wherever possible, and the shots that are digitally sweetened are completely seamless. The kills are inventive, elaborate, and cacklingly gruesome. It's mentioned several times in the extras that the goal here was to make people wonder "how the hell did they do that?" -- y'know, just like you were back when you were trying to figure out how they did that arrow through the neck effect in Sleepaway Camp -- and there really were several times where I was thrown off like that, in awe of how ChromeSkull does some of this stuff without the camera ever flinching. The body count is kinda staggering, and the kills are sopping with splatter, particularly big on carving faces and guts clean down the middle. The last half-hour is pretty much nothing but hacking and slashing, and the wildly uneven pacing that drags down ChromeSkull early on is sliced into ribbons.

I get that I just spent the past few paragraphs bitching and all, but there really is a lot I like about ChromeSkull: Left for Dead 2. It's a sequel to a successful slasher but refuses to just toss the same old thing in the microwave for another go-around, trying to tally up the drive-in totals would give Joe Bob Briggs an aneurysm, and the buckets of splatter sloshed around here are demented and jaw-droppingly ambitious. ChromeSkull wants at least in part to be a throwback to the depraved fun of '80s slasher flicks, and I'm all over that -- at least in theory or whatever -- too. The screenplay's just not there, dragged down by wildly uneven pacing and ChromeSkull sitting out two-thirds of a movie with his name in the title. Worth renting for the parade of gore, but maybe you're better off checking out that "Jump to a Kill" option in the extras instead of wading through the rest of the flick. Rent It.

I was kinda surprised to see in the extras that ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2 was shot with still cameras -- high-end Canon DSLRs that just happen to shoot pretty great looking high-def
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video too. Definitely wouldn't have guessed. The image is still crisp and detailed...okay, a notch lower than what I'm used to seeing but generally coming across well enough. Only a few shots wind up looking really fuzzy. Since part of Laid to Rest's deal is that everyone is videotaping something, this is sort of a mixed-media production, and some of the footage is deliberately low-res and riddled with dropouts. Can't really ding the overall score for that, but don't go in expecting wall-to-wall high definition eye candy or anything. Most of the color has been drained away, the same as you'd expect for a modern-day slasher flick. There's some banding that pops up in the background every once in a while...not sure if that's from the choice of camera or if that crept in during the authoring of this Blu-ray disc. ChromeSkull has a really lean AVC encode -- the hour and a half movie and its lossless soundtrack are crammed into just over 15 gigs -- and it definitely shows at times. Macroblocking isn't hard to spot in shadows and backgrounds, and some patterns wind up looking kind of distorted.

Despite those hiccups, ChromeSkull is generally still a good looking disc, especially for a fiercely independent, low-budget slasher. Considering that this Blu-ray disc only costs a buck or two more than the DVD, you really shouldn't have to think too hard here about which version of the flick you oughtta grab.

ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is kind of like a Pixies song. The verses are quiet and understated -- it's a front-heavy mix that emphasizes dialogue and mostly reserves the surrounds for splashes of atmospheric color -- but when the chorus kicks in, the audio goes fucking straight for the jugular. The jolts are punctuated by swift, violent sonic assaults, and ChromeSkull wouldn't have been nearly as effective as a movie without that sort of ferocity. Those attacks are definitely the best things about the lossless audio here. Bass response is unremarkable, never reaching down to those ridiculously low frequencies that rattle everything in the room, instead just sounding kind of dull and rumbly. There's one really standout moment with the surround channels as ChromeSkull encircles a metal cage where our hero types have holed up, but otherwise, the rears are just used for random, scattered effects like a garbage can being knocked over, feedback blocking out cellphone calls, or the occasional scream. Dialogue generally comes through well enough with the exception of deliberately rough home video stuff, and that sounds thin and tinny by design. Effective but not something you'd want to grab off the shelf to show off your home theater rig so much.

No dubs or anything this time around. Subtitles are served up in English (SDH) and Spanish.

  • A Cut Above - Creating ChromeSkull (26 min.; HD): This Blu-ray disc's making-of doc kicks off with star Nick Principe actually getting the ChromeSkull tattoo you see in the flick, which...yeah, I guess that explains why that whole thing looked so realistic. "A Cut Above" tears into pretty much everything you'd
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    want to see from there: upping the ante from the first Laid to Rest and refusing to settle for more of the same, running through how the movie was cast, delving into how some of the stand-out splatter was pulled off, and touching on the unconventional photography behind the flick. Really thorough and really well-done.

  • Audio Commentary: 'Course, the only downside to putting together such a comprehensive behind-the-scenes featurette is that a lot of those same talking points pop up again in the movie's commentary track. Then again, director Robert Hall, co-writer Kevin Bocarde, and actor Brian Austin Green are kind of a blast to hear chatter away, so even though the overlap makes this commentary less of an essential listen, I really didn't mind hearing some of that same stuff again all that much. A few of the highlights: some of the adjustments made along the way from how ChromeSkull was originally envisioned, Michael Biehn almost winding up in here (which would've upped the Terminator franchise quotient in this sucker even more), and pointing out how handy it turned out that Robert Hall has a serial killer underground hatch in his house.

  • Deleted Scenes (2 min.; HD): Three really short snippets here: a riff on Adult Friend Finder, the cops poring over footage from a few security cameras, and ChromeSkull getting a special delivery.

  • Bloopers (3 min.; HD): Blown takes. ChromeSkull fall down go boom. A sharp right turn in the detective's ride knocking a cameraman off-balance. All pretty great stuff. The blooper reel ends with ChromeSkull's co-writer apologizing for a kind of hysterical head-shake during his quick cameo.

  • Jump to a Kill: If you want to head straight to the good stuff, there are quick links to eight sets of splatter.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last up is a minute and a half trailer.

The Final Word
ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2 doesn't wanna settle for being just another spam-in-a-cabin slasher flick, so it fleshes out the inner workings of ChromeSkull's underground empire and follows the cops as they try to track the bastard down. It's just...y'know, in a movie called "ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2", I wanna see a dude with a chrome-plated skull laying people to rest or whatever, not snarky office politics or detective desk-jockeying. ChromeSkull is sopping with splatter, and there are plenty of straight-up brilliant kills scattered around in here. There's just an awful lot of shrugworthy stuff you have to slog through to get there. Rent It.
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