Monday, September 19, 2011

Review: Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2

When I left the theater after first seeing Saw 4, my thoughts were “I just saw some cool stuff, my bloodlust is satiated, but what the hell just happened?” This is exactly the same thought that went through my mind after watching Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2. I loved Laid to Rest, so I have been excited about this movie since it was announced. Chromeskull is still a cool character and the gore in this flick is excellent. The script, however, is, shall we say, lacking. It introduces elements that completely change the universe that the franchise takes place in, and then doesn’t explain a damn thing about them. As Joe Bob would say, there is WAY too much plot getting in the way of the story here.

The film opens in the convenience store moments after the first one ended. As Princess (no longer played by Bobbi Sue Luther unfortunately) and Tommy drive away, a black van pulls up to the store to retrieve Chromeskull’s body. Yeah, he seemed pretty friggin’ dead to me too, but apparently they can rebuild him. They have the technology. It seems unlikely that after the events of the first film he could be salvageable, but you really can’t take inexplicable villain resurrection to task in slasher sequels. I got two words for ya; Jason Voorhees. Anyway, at this point I was hooked in, as I couldn’t wait to find out who these mysterious people, led by none other than Brian Austin Green (hereafter referred to as BAG) were, why they had a stake in Chromeskull’s survival, and just exactly what C7 protocol was. Unfortunately, that would never happen. BAG then tracks down and kills Princess. No, that’s not a spoiler. Promo shots of her sliced up face are all over the place.

Then we fast-forward three months. Thomas, the raver kid who survived the first flick, is doing the whole “mentally shattered” thing. Chromeskull has been saved and is being nursed back to health by Spann, played by Danielle Harris. Preston (BAG) has taken charge of this organization’s mission, whatever the hell that is, in the big guy’s absence. The “mission” must continue though, so a new murder spree is planned, new weapons are made, and a new victim is chosen, seemingly at random. This time it’s Jess, played by Mimi Michaels. She has issues with her eyes, and is keeping a video diary as she gradually goes blind. She is abducted and taken to the warehouse that is now serving as Chromeskull’s headquarters. Can Tommy help the police find Allie in time? Will Preston cede the throne back to Chromeskull now that he’s back on his feet? What’s up with Danielle Harris’s eyebrow? Does any of this make the slightest bit of sense?

Let’s start off with the positives. The violence and gore is extremely strong. That’s really why we watch slasher flicks after all, isn’t it? With the exception of one kill near the end, which looks like crap, all of the effects seem to either have been done practically or with minimal CGI enhancement. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the first one. Director Robert Hall is also an effects artist, so it’s fitting that the red stuff takes center stage in this one as well. Gorehounds, you will enjoy this.

Chromeskull, simply put, is a kick ass character. His “all black suit, shiny silver skull mask, shoulder mounted camera” look is unique and works perfectly. He’s a classy slasher. When you’re trying to create an enduring horror character, looking cool goes a long way. Plus, the sequel adds the extra element of his severely disfigured face, which looks sufficiently nasty. I also love that he has an iconic weapon. His knife is as much a part of the character as Freddy’s glove is for him. That knife is just plain vicious looking. The vast majority of the kills in this movie are knife based. The organization’s weapon makers have devised some new toys, but they are almost all variations of the original knife. I really want one of those.

The acting is a mixed bag. In the first film, the core group of victims that we followed were all likable characters. In this one, the good guys fall flat. Question: How could we possibly not get behind Jess, the poor nearly blind girl abducted and taken to Chromeskull’s wonderland of mutilation? Answer: Cast Mimi Michaels as said victim. It’s not that she’s necessarily bad, but she’s undeniably generic. Generic look, generic acting, generic scream, generic everything. Quite a step down from the talented (and oh my god sexy) Bobbi Sue Luther in the first one. Thomas Dekker as Tommy does his best “traumatized but still must fight to survive” act. Why, out of all the good characters in the first one, did the obnoxious raver kid have to be the one to survive? We spend a good chunk of the film’s running time with the detectives investigating Allie’s disappearance, and they are also pretty generic. The one exception is Angelina Armani as Holland. She does a good job. I can absolutely see her doing well on a cop show. She’s also a porn star doing her first mainstream movie role. I knew she was an, ahem, “talented on-screen performer,” but apparently she can act too.

The bad guys are the ones who shine here. Nick Principe as Chromeskull continues to be great. He brings a nice physicality to the role, and always seems like he’s enjoying his murderous work. BAG as Preston is also great. Yes, I did have to use that picture. It's just funnier that way. Anyone who has ever been middle management and thinks that they could do their bosses job much better than they do will identify with this character. ***SPOILER ALERT*** I think it was a big mistake to kill him off, as the “dueling Chromeskulls” idea could have played out nicely in the third movie, which they obviously set up for. I hope they’ve got something grand up their sleeves, ‘cause they threw away a compelling story there. ***END OF SPOILERS*** Danielle Harris is perfect as Spann. Her character, while not getting a lot of screen time, is a highlight of the film. We’re used to seeing Harris in victim roles, but watching her rocking that business suit as a villain was fun. I hope Spann figures prominently into any future sequels for this franchise. That’s one of those rare ideas in the slasher genre that hasn’t been done to death, a sidekick for the killer.

The organization itself was my big problem with this flick. It’s populated with interesting characters, but who the hell are they? I’m not a stickler for revealing everything about everyone’s backstory in a film. Hell, in the first LTR we didn’t get the whole story of what was going on. That was fine because the movie was structured to where we didn’t have to. If you are going to introduce a story element as important and convoluted as this, however, you have to at least explain some aspect of it. In this one, they were obviously going for “mysterious” but got “maddeningly vague.” We get no hints as to where they get the money to have all the high tech gadgets, maintain their swank headquarters, or fly in surgeons from Switzerland. Apparently their network is vast, well funded, and powerful. WHO THE HELL ARE THEY THOUGH? An even better question is what are they doing. They keep referring to “the mission” and “the plan”, but what grand scheme is being furthered by kidnapping and stalking these girls? What is their objective? It seems like the filmmakers just want to throw in as many elements at us as they can, and just say, “We’ll explain later.” I’m not OK with that! If your entire story is about an Illuminati type group, their internal power struggles, and their torment of a single victim, leaving every last detail about them out is not a good move. If you’re going to leave their motive in the dark, give me at least a little clue as to who they are. If their identity is secret, at least give me a vague explanation of their objective. As it stands in this movie, there are just far too many new concepts introduced without a shred of information to make them plausible. I get leaving the audience wondering, but the way it’s done here is more infuriating than intriguing. At the end of the credits, there is a scene that adds yet another element to Chromeskull’s story. It raises more questions than it answers too. Dammit!

Random Thought #1: It sucks that Bobbi Sue Luther wasn’t in this one. Allison Kyler looks enough like her that I was fooled at first. In fact, I was ecstatic that Bobbi finally did a nude scene. Then she screamed and I realized that it wasn’t her. Booooo.

Random Thought #2: It takes a true horror aficionado to be able to tell actresses apart by their scream. Just sayin’.

Random Thought #3: When the cops are outside of the warehouse talking over their entry plan, there are clearly 4 of them. Two seconds later they kick in the door, and five cops run in. Um, what?

Overall, Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2 has…hey, wait a minute! Hold on, I think I’ve got the whole thing figured out. So Chromeskull is the leader of this vast underground criminal organization. He conceals his identity behind a metallic faceplate. His cronies do all the setup work, and he gets the credit. I’ve got it! Chromeskull is Cobra Commander! It all makes sense now! Lets see, that would make Preston Destro and Spann the Baroness. Wait, no, Spann fawns over Chromeskull, not Preston, so I guess Preston would have to be Dr. Mindbender or some weird combination of Tomax & Xamot. Honestly Chromeskull Commander, stalking and killing young pretty girls isn’t going to help your plans for world domination one bit. Sorry. You’ve had much better schemes than that. I mean hell, Cold Slither was a better idea. You know, maybe I shouldn’t have gone off on that tangent, because now you all know what a geek I am. Oh well. Knowing is half the battle.

Anyway, as I was saying, Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2 has great violence, some good characters, a couple of good performances, and a great killer. You’d think that would be enough for me, right? Well, no. The story is just so muddled and unexplained that I found myself more frustrated than entertained at the end. In the first Laid to Rest, which is a modern classic in my book, it really didn’t matter that the story didn’t make a lot of sense, because the emphasis was on the “stalk and slash” aspects. The sequel, while still providing that visceral thrill, beats you over the head repeatedly with what you don’t know. It’s like when a TV show introduces a world changing plot point two minutes before the end of the season and leaves you with that unsatisfied “Really? THAT’S how you’re leaving it?” feeling. Movies can leave loose strings for the next one, but they should still work as a self-contained story too. That being said, I must have fallen for it, because of course I will be watching Laid to Rest 3. You might want to wait until the next one comes out and watch them back to back so it makes more sense. That is assuming the next one isn’t headache inducingly inconclusive too. One severed thumb up. Nathan says check it out. It will be available tomorrow.

3 comments:

Cash Wampum said...

I haven't seen it yet so I'm gonna skip this review until I get around to watching the sequel. Once that happens, I will be BACK!!! The first one was a bit disorienting but I loved the kills. And thats more than half the battle in this game.

shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!!!

WYLL A MINA said...

i really enjoyed this film! loved Danielle Harris & Brian Austin Green. Danielle is phenomenal as always. Brian Austin Green surprised me with his ability to be evil. Since I grew up watching him in 90210 & a few Lifetime original movies, it was nice to see him take on a totally different role.

thanks, Son of Celluloid, for your fabulous reviews . . . without them, i wouldn't hear about or see half the horror movies out there :)

RobocopsSadSide said...

****Spoilers****

Another great review, man. I agree with a lot of the points, but for me the acting was more on par this time around. I liked the two leading males in the first film, but Bobbi Sue Luther aggravated the hell outta me. I don't want to say she's a bad actress because LTR is the only movie I've ever seen her in, but I didn't buy the performance of a person with amnesia. I just thought she was horrible, actually until the end scene, once she's seeing herself on camera and finding out who she is. I thought Allison Kyler was better in her five minutes than Luther was for 90.

I dunno, I was impressed with Mimi Michaels and felt for her as soon as she got abducted, more than likely while stoned off her rocker. What a buzz kill that would be. I tried and tried and tried with Luther and the only thing I could care about was that hopefully her boobs would be unharmed in a murder sequence.

I actually dig Thomas Dekker, ever since Sarah Connor Chronicles. Speaking of which, there is all kinds of people from that show in the two LTR films. At least five. Anyway, only thing that put me off about Dekker wasn't the performance, but the fact that he could grow so much freaking hair in a three month time span. I mean, damn.

Gotta admit the best comes from the baddies. BAG was a pleaser (another from the Sarah Connor camp), and I agree with what you said about what happens. Seemed to quick.

And we pretty much have mirrored sentiments in our reviews about Harris and that business outfit. Gah.

You bring up some good points about too many story points being thrown out at once, but I was cool with the mystery until a third film. Now, if they leave some things unanswered there I will certainly be pissed, but for now I'm alright.


Can't wait to see what ya got next!

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