Brian Austin Green - Preston
Nick Principe - ChromeSkull
Thomas Dekker - Tommy
Mimi Michaels - Jess
Owain Yeoman - King
Gail O'Grady - Nancy
Danielle Harris - Spann
Johnathon Schaech - Agent Sells
Genre - Horror/Slasher
Running Time - 93 Minutes
Judging by box office receipts this year, it seems less people are going out of their way to watch horror movies in theaters. While INSIDIOUS was a success no one really saw coming back in April, horror movies since then haven't done as well as projected. I'm not sure if this is because audiences have been disillusioned by the current state of the genre [due to reboots and remakes, as well as focus on 3-D] or because of the economy, but horror seems to be at a crossroads these days. Fortunately, the genre is still thriving due to foreign filmmakers and the massive independent scene [thanks to home video].
One of these independent horror films that struck a chord with horror fans was 2009's slasher film, LAID TO REST. With a unique killer in ChromeSkull and gore effects that will amaze anyone, LAID TO REST was a great Nu-Slasher that didn't try to reinvent the sub-genre, but just give its fans exactly what they wanted. And even though it seemed final at the end of LAID TO REST, the success of the film led to today's review: CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2. Even though it was heavily anticipated and much discussed within horror circles, is the film necessary? Was the first LAID TO REST enough or is the sequel a decent enough continuation that will keep audiences wanting more?
Picking up where LAID TO REST left off, ChromeSkull (Nick Principe) is barely alive after his incident with The Girl. He's found by an underground group known as The Organization, who seem to help ChromeSkull run his operation in murdering people and crafting those nifty weapons he sports. Preston (Brian Austin Green), as ChromeSkull's right hand man, gets a group of surgeons to try and salvage ChromeSkull's face as much as they can, even though the recovery process would take three months.
In the meantime, Preston [who wants to be just like ChromeSkull] decides to finish what ChromeSkull started. First, he kills The Girl. Then he kidnaps Tommy (Thomas Dekker), who was the last witness besides The Girl of ChromeSkull's destruction. Another girl, Jess (Mimi Michaels) is kidnapped due to ChromeSkull wanting another toy to play with, even though she's losing her sight.
However, Preston seems to want to be in charge of it all, making ChromeSkull pretty angry that his protege is trying to take over his spot. Not to be outdone by Preston, ChromeSkull quickly recovers and picks up where he stopped, hunting victims of his own. As the two compete for supremacy, will Tommy and Jess survive the war?
CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2 is a film I was looking forward to all year, due to my love for the original and the cool trailer that was posted months in advance of its release. After watching it, I was not disappointed in the film at all. It's a slasher through and through with buckets of blood and gore and an interesting twist to ChromeSkull's background that kept me glued. However, the film is far from perfect and it probably raises more questions than answers. Still, CHROMESKULL manages to be a fun time for slasher fans around the world.
The problems for CHROMESKULL lay in its narrative. Even so, there's still a lot to like about the screenplay. For one, director Robert Hall listened to fans who critiqued the first film, wanting feedback in how to make this sequel better. Out were stereotypical slasher characters [who I did enjoy in LAID TO REST] and a predictable set up for his killer. For those who watched the first film, we watched The Girl bash Chromeskull's face in with a bat that should have killed the man. Obviously in slasher films, the killer never truly dies. So I kept wondering how ChromeSkull was gonna be brought back. Lightning? Magic? A dog peeing fire on his corpse??? How was Hall gonna bring this dude back? Simple - make ChromeSkull the head of a corporate structure that has doctors who can save his life and some of his face. How refreshing! I guess ChromeSkull is somewhat human after all and can get hurt badly. It took a stereotypical set up and gives it a realistic edge I was not expecting. I actually dug it!
Speaking of The Corporation, I liked this plot device as well. Instead of having ChromeSkull be undead, an inbred, or someone who had childhood demons he needed to let out, ChromeSkull is the hired hand of a bunch of corporate pricks who enjoy kidnapping young women and torturing and/or killing them before putting them in a coffin while they're videotaped. While there's still a lot to be explored with this aspect of the story [which I will get to momentarily], at least it's different and gives ChromeSkull a fresher feel from his other slasher monsters, such as Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger. We still don't know ChromeSkull's backstory and I'm kind of glad we don't. Just the fact that he's working and seems in charge of this underground group is intriguing in itself. There seems to be a bigger picture when it comes to this character and I think some decent sequels could be set up from this [I'm sure we're getting another one].
I also liked the fact that the cops played a big part in the narrative as well. Usually in slasher films, the cops are probably the dumbest characters and usually end up being annoying because they refuse to believe the victims' cries for help. In CHROMESKULL, the cops seemed mostly intelligent enough to investigate ChromeSkull and his group in order to save Jess and Tommy from being their next victims. I'm writing mainly about the King character, who was written competently, even if we didn't know much about him. He never rolled his eyes. He never tried to push his own beliefs on the victims, which is an annoying trait in most of these films. He actually listened, investigated, and worked hard to figure out what the hell was going on by what Tommy had told him about ChromeSkull. That made him instantly likeable and refreshing for me. The other cop characters were fine until they found leads and ended up screwing themselves in the process, but they were lambs to the slaughter as expected. I just feel that the cop element really added an element of urgency and survival to the film due to the fact that they actually behaved like real cops.
I also enjoyed the straight-on continuation from the end of LAID TO REST. It reminded me of 80s slasher films, such as HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN II, as well as several of the FRIDAY THE 13TH films that continued right after the other. I liked that the issue with The Girl was resolved in a believable way and that Tommy played a big role in the sequel since he was pretty small in the original. It showed that ChromeSkull and his organization wanted to clean the mess up from the first one while starting another one.
I also really enjoyed the Preston vs. ChromeSkull rivalry as well. One, I think it's great that the main villain had a protege. The fact that someone wants to be just like this crazy dude is actually intriguing and reminds of me the SAW franchise where Jigsaw had apprentices to carry on his work after his death. The thing is, while ChromeSkull is still a cool character and I enjoyed his subtle relationship with the Spann character [who is a manipulative little bitch - but in a good way], Preston is really the most developed character in the entire film. While we don't know why he's even part of this group or how he became ChromeSkull's #2, we do know that he wants to be in charge of the whole shindig, to the point where he wants to be ChromeSkull in looks, killing style, and respect. He hates it when ChromeSkull doesn't acknowledge his accomplishments. He gets frustrated whenever ChromeSkull undermines him. His jealousy of ChromeSkull is what drives this sequel and it's handled very well. I kind of wish their rivalry played out more than it did, but I thought it was a cool idea that worked.
Unfortunately, not all of the characters had as much depth as Preston. In fact, a lot of them seemed one-note in my honest opinion. Tommy was decently developed in terms of how ChromeSkull's rampage had effected him, but I kind of wish he was the focus of the film rather than who they did focus the film on - Jess. I didn't hate Jess at all, but she wasn't as interesting as The Girl from the first film. At least they developed her somewhat with her medical condition and her strained relationship with her mom, but she pretty much just whines and plays with a telephone or camera for much of the film. I kind of wished her ailment would have played more of a part during the Final Act, but it's your pretty normal conflict. I thought she was okay but I wasn't really invested in her as a Final Girl. Spann was an intriguing character who ChromeSkull seemed to trust quite a lot, but nothing else was done with her. The cops were written well, but none of them really stood out besides King. As much as the original characters were stereotypical, at least they had depth to them and you could understand why they were in ChromeSkull's bloody path. Since a sequel normally has a larger number of characters, it's harder to maintain that same level of focus. While not stereotypical, CHROMESKULL's characters seemed shallower.
I also felt there wasn't enough done with The Corporation. I thought the idea and set up was interesting [reminded me of HOSTEL for a bit], but it was just vague and not enough was explained about the whole deal. Did ChromeSkull fund this organization, or is just a hired hand? Why is this Corporation so concerned with making caskets to place young girls inside? Why is there a random tattoo artist nearby, waiting for work? How does one even get involved in something like this? It's a sub-plot that needed a bit of fleshing out, especially when much of the film focused on it. It nagged me for much of my viewing experience.
The true highlight of CHROMESKULL is obviously the kills. And by God, Hall and his crew did an amazing job with the death sequences. While some CGI was used, most of it was practical and it looks awesome! The film showcases these brutal kills within great pacing, as they don't occur all the time and take place when they need to. There's so much to list here: decapitations, bodies split in half, stabbings, gunshots, faces being sliced off, knives going through mouths, hooks to the shoulder, electrocutions, torsos being ripped in half, and so on. I actually cringed at some of these - that's how good they look. Gore hounds will absolutely love this film, as it's more brutal than the first. Add in some nudity and we got ourselves a true slasher flick. Two thumbs up.
The direction by Robert Hall is very good. The film looks great, first of all. Very bleak and grim looking - almost cold and industrial to be honest. I do think some of the quick cuts during the editing took away from some of the death sequences, but it wasn't a frequent thing. There's quite a lot of shaky cam and handheld filmmaking here that adds a bit of tension to the film. There was some suspense thrown in as well. I do feel that Hall loses some of the intimacy that made LAID TO REST work though. And things don't feel as mysterious as in the previous film, but that's to be expected in a slasher sequel. It's obvious Hall has become a much better director since the first film and you can tell he has more installments set up that will probably explain the questions I have. While not perfect, I think Hall's direction improved somewhat and he deserves kudos for visualizing a bloody massacre that horror fans like myself will enjoy.
The acting in CHROMESKULL is also surprisingly good as well. Nick Principe returns as ChromeSkull, this time bringing a more dangerous and brutal edge. Principe is more confident in the role and really portrays a killing machine quite believably. Thomas Dekker also returns as Tommy, doing well in a much bigger role. I believed his trauma and fear of ChromeSkull, as well as his grief over losing his best friend and The Girl - bringing some guilt to the role. Mimi Michaels did well with what she was given as Jess. The character didn't really capture all of my interest, but Michaels still stands out due to her looks and her convincing portrayal of a victim suffering with an illness. She never annoyed me and is actually quite likeable. Gail O'Grady also impresses in her limited role as Jess' mom. Owain Yeoman was cool as King, playing a cop with some substance for a change in a horror film. Danielle Harris playing a bitch as Spann was quite a turn on and a pleasant change of pace for her. I really enjoyed her short role and hope it's expanded in a future installment.
But by far, the best actor was Brian Austin Green as Preston. I was really surprised by his performance here. Seeing him grow up on Beverly Hills 90210, go through his ridiculous gangsta rapper phase, and being jealous for a time for actually banging and marrying Megan Fox didn't really give Green any favors. But he's really impressive in this film, stealing the movie from everyone around him. He's imposing, charming at times, and especially nutty when he goes full "slasher mode". I thought he was a great foil for ChromeSkull and matched Principe's intensity very well. I hope to see Green in more projects like this because CHROMESKULL proves the man can act when the right material is in front of him.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE GETTING A SKULL TATTOO ON MY CHEST
- Preston sliced The Girl in the mouth, giving her an extended smile that upset her. Some people will see that as ungrateful. Seriously, "Why so serious?"
- Spann seems able to calm and soothe ChromeSkull. When it comes to knowing what makes masked men tick, she's been an expert at the age of 10.
- ChromeSkull stabbed a girl on the side of her face and pulled it off as she was making popcorn. I'm sure that wasn't the type of ear she had in mind.
- Cops were worried that Preston kidnapped Tommy from the police station. I wouldn't be too preoccupied. There's probably a Terminator that needs its ass handed to them.
Preston wanted to be so like ChromeSkull that he shaved his head, got a skull tattoo on his chest, and put on his own ChromeSkull mask while hunting. I have a feeling this move was 90210-no...
THE FINAL HOWL
While I feel the first one tells a better story, CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2 is still a worthy follow up to blooming horror franchise. The gore is off the charts, the narrative is interesting yet a bit shallow, the direction slightly better, and performances like Brian Austin Green's keep the sequel afloat. If you enjoyed the first LAID TO REST, there's no hesitation in watching CHROMESKULL since I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy it just as much, if not close. But whatever you do, don't dress up like ChromeSkull while watching this. When it comes to imitation, it isn't the sincerest form of flattery...
3 Howls Outta 4