I’m so over conventional horror movies these days. I’ve been watching them for nearly thirty years and I can comfortably make the claim that I’ve seen it all. I really have. At some point I went from being a horror movie fan and became a walking horror archive and there’s some part of me that feels the need to subject myself to some seriously repugnant shit in the name of carrying the complete record of horror achievement in my noodle. So being such a jaded dick means that cliches like stalk and slash just don’t do much for me but I know what sort of search terms I’m going to rank for and I know what kinds of reviews people are going to be searching for as the release of movie x draws near. So I find myself reviewing stuff that I ordinarily wouldn’t be caught dead watching. Because of this, it’s been some time since I’ve seen something that I really liked.
So let me cast my hipster bullshit aside and tell you that Laid To Rest exceeded my expectations by a crazy big-ass margin. Slashers are easily the most rank and file of all the horror subcategories and there is a checklist of cinematic inventory that can be found in each one without exception. Laid To Rest is no different but what I was not expecting from this movie was the sheer volume of explicit, no cut-away gore and violence that even in the these times of hardcore R ratings on some extremely violent movies managed to shock and amuse me.
So this girl wakes up in a coffin with a really bad head injury, no memory of who she is and barely any ability to articulate anything. Almost immediately, she is set upon by a man in a chrome skull mask and two custom, surgical grade knives. Through a series of circumstances, she manages to give Chromeskull the slip. After mashing one of his eyes with a metal rod, she escapes into the night where a dude in a truck picks her up and takes her home. After a brief recovery, it turns out that Chromeskull managed to track her down and the mayhem really begins. The Girl, her rescuer with a bum leg, Tucker and wimpy mama’s boy, Stephen have to somehow hold out until help arrives in a backwoods town where no one seems to have a working phone and all the cars are out of gas.
Look, it’s a slasher and there’s certainly no shortage of horror movies that have this survival plot to push them through a series of increasingly violent confrontations. It even has a stock lineup of slasher victims to be that is de rigueur. There’s plenty of cannon fodder, too. Characters who show up solely to be cut to ribbons much to the delight of the audience. However, Laid To Rest is pure Grand Guignol, bloodier than any slasher I have ever seen and I’ve seen them all, baby!
You see, the movie landscape of the now is way different than the movie landscape of the 80′s when the slasher dominated the box office. Back then, filmmakers had to put their flick past the MPAA to get an R rating if they intended to open in wide release and that always meant cuts because of a puritanical wave of judgement that washed over the entire fad thanks to dickweed TV critics like Gene Siskel who condemned the whole thing. By the mid-90′s when Scream ushered in a slasher rennaisance, the home video market hadn’t yet matured enough to shake the lurking spectre of the MPAA and fears of being locked out of chains like Blockbuster meant keeping an R rating on your movie, but these days a horror DVD release is almost expected to come without the hassle of passing your feature by the MPAA. Fuck them. Seriously. You don’t even have to bother. We’re all so bloodthirsty by this point that we’re not even going to bother buying the R rated cut. That would be like buying the clean version of a filthy hip-hop album. All the good stuff is stripped out! What’s the point? And that is why Robert Hall can make a movie like Laid To rest and get away with it.
You must understand. You’re not going to get the quick one second throat slash with a little fake blood before it cuts away to the horrified expression of everyone else. You’re going to get a sustained shot of Chromeskull sawing through some poor bastard’s neck while gallons of slimy blood pours out of the gaping wound. You’re going to see him pull the knife deep enough that the head slides off the stump. It’s all there. Heads impaled, decapitated from the jaw up, slashes deep enough to disembowel a woman, etc. As a matter of fact, Hall’s special effects are front and center. Even if Laid To Rest sucked, it would still make a hell of a demo reel for the next generation of gory special effects. Watching Laid To Rest is like watching Day of the Dead for the first time when you realized that because of Greg Nicotero, Tom Savini’s days were numbered. No horror flick these days is without a little CGI blood and this movie has some but it has been so long since I’ve seen a movie do such convincing effects with latex and fake blood. The practical effects in Laid To Rest are absolutely outstanding!
All technical achievements aside, though, Laid To Rest fails in the plotting and pacing department, neglecting to tell any kind of substantial story in the process of killing all these people. It is so preoccupied with making you squirm that it forgets that there’s more to a horror movie than the killings, but I guess that’s what you get when your director is a special effects man first and a director second. Robert Hall, known for his work on Buffy/Angel and, recently, Quarrantine, is actually quite skilled for a gore guy turned director and many of the shots are nice and sharp but the script is practically nonexistent, calling for the cast to run here or there and scream or look worried. Behind it all is the lingering question of The Girl’s actual identity and the grand revelation of that item in the third act almost comes across as a MacGuffin. It lacks any kind of weight and hardly plays into the proceedings at all. There’s just no point to it. Other weaknesses in the plot, such as Chromeskull’s knack for being in the right place at the right time or the fact that his sweet phone is synced up with his sweet car so he can know where it is at all times are things that I’m willing to forgive because they meet my slasher movie expectations along with the convenient and unlikely isolation of no phones or cars.
And because it’s a slasher, I feel the need to address our killer. Chromeskull is an imposing dude with a cool costume and badass signature blades but he’s definitely part of the current slasher generation. That is to say elaborately dressed with phantom motivations. He has no back story. Nothing about him is ever revealed and the significance of his skull theme is never explored except in a red herring moment when we see his name on his car registration. There are hints of background here and there, since he tapes all of his interactions, we see scenes of him arguing with the local mortician, played by cult star Richard Lynch, but it all comes to a dead end. A little background goes a long way in a slasher and these filmmakers today who grew up in video stores really need to make room in their scripts for at least a morsel of history. You don’t have to go overboard and explain everything, but something would be nice.
Laid To Rest is a step in the right direction for slasher movies. Since they’re here to stay and modern times means harder violence, filmmakers exploring slasher avenues can feel comfortable being as gory as they want to be. To take the genre to the next level, though, they’re going to have to work on plotting their movies with a more compelling script since expectations, even among jaded horror fans like myself, are higher than ever. Many of us want a little more for our money than just splatter. The killer’s legacy is very important. But if you’re looking for something extreme, man, Laid To Rest is it! I’ve seen some rough stuff in the past and their ultimate failure is that they never take a minute to laugh it all off. Rather they keep it grim and unpleasant to the last drop. Laid To Rest almost goes there but manages a few smirks here and there. It strikes a reasonable balance with its tone and manages to remind you a few times that you shouldn’t take it too seriously.