Ed. note- This review is the story of one man’s attempt to create a new slasher icon. Has anybody thought about Chromeskull lately?- P.F.
A guy in a mask chasing a girl. This is how director Robert Hall describes his goal in making LAID TO REST. One can view this two ways: either as one director’s reverent take on a tried and true archetype, infused with his own original touches; or as a hackneyed play on a formula that is well overdone to begin with. I can understand why Hall had this aim in mind at the time he was making this flick. As the unholy trio of masked slashers (Leatherface, Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees) was being refashioned for a younger generation, the timing was ideal for young bucks to establish their own pantheon of monsters that they hope will last for decades to come. While the flick has great visual flair, not surprisingly Chromeskull hasn’t become a household name.
After a creatively filmed montage that indicates what is to come, a girl wakes up to find herself in a coffin. Having no idea who or where she is, she flees the “deathbox” and her pursuer, Chromeskull, a name that refers to his ornate mask. On the road, Tucker, a local man, picks her up and, feeling sympathy for her, brings her home. When Chromeskull arrives and dispatches Tucker’s wife, he and Princess, as he names the amnesiac, run away and eventually add Stephen, an oddball who invokes Steve Buscemi in both look and personality quirks, to their group. The three try to survive a night of terror as Princess struggles to discover her identity, and how she is connected with Chromeskull.
LAID TO REST is one of the most visually arresting horror movies I’ve seen in years. DP Scott Winig lights the film brilliantly, as is evident in the scene in the barn, where light beams through the cracks between the wood, creating a play of shadows. The bluish hues are pitch perfect for a horror film, harkening back to Dean Cundey’s work on some of John Carpenter’s earlier films, and Hall’s shot selections are bold, employing challenging camera angles. Adding to the visuals are the wonderful practical effects by Eric Porn, who also worked on BLOOD PUNCH and did some great splatter work there. Leaning not too heavily on CG, Hall creates kills that are grounded in reality, which is commendable in this day and age.
If only I could commend Hall on his plot. The problem is, everything in this film has been done ad nauseam, and done better. While Kevin Gage and Sean Whalen craft likable, believable characters that fans will likely root for, Chromeskull is the typically unstoppable killer, who gets shot several times, stabbed in the eye more than once and generally pummeled, yet the damage leaves him with no ill effect. This would be easier to swallow had Hall’s script given some explanation for it. Without one, it breaks suspension of disbelief. Chromeskull’s obsession with filming his victims is a contemporary take on Michael Powell’s excellent film PEEPING TOM. But Powell’s film is a statement on psychosis and our sometimes dark obsession with the moving image; Hall’s film makes no profound statements, as Chromeskull’s camera is just a cool toy.
I also have issues with his main character. Bobbi Sue Luther’s acting is south of the Quality Equator, and outside of the amnesia aspect, her character does exactly what most women in horror movies do: scream and run. Once Princess overcomes her amnesia, her realization of self is far from a satisfying payoff. Perhaps Hall should have thought twice about using it, as amnesia is almost always a weak plot device in fiction. It’s too bad Hall made Princess the focus of the film (though no surprise, as he was married to Luther at the time), because Kevin Gage is much more engaging as Tucker. I found myself rooting for him more so than Princess. But Hall clearly wanted to stick to the tried and true tradition of the slasher, with a female lead. It’s a missed opportunity.
LTR is a beautifully filmed movie, but for all its visuals, it’s nothing horror audiences haven’t seen 67,000 times before. Only the most undiscriminating slasher fans will find its plot or its killer satisfying. Hall’s aim was to create his own addition to the new pantheon of slashers, and he did make one sequel; but ultimately, Chromeskull never became an icon the likes of Voorhees and Leatherface. Maybe if he had done a little more than follow formula, we’d be talking about LTR 5: THE RETURN OF CHROMESKULL today, with a guy still chasing a girl.