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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

LAID TO REST -- DVD review by porfle

"A guy in a mask chasing a girl...that usually works," thought writer/director Robert Hall while thinking up ideas for a follow-up to his '04 debut feature, LIGHTNING BUG. And what a mask--a grinning chrome skull, which fits over the face of tall, lanky, cueball-bald actor Nick Principe. With his imposing stature and graceful, deliberate movements, in addition to being nattily-dressed in a tastefully tailored black outfit, Chrome Skull is one of the most interesting slasher anti-heroes since the 80s. And LAID TO REST (2009) is a glossy, blood-drenched, pedal-to-the-metal throwback to that era.

The chilling titles sequence gives us jagged glimpses of Chrome Skull nastily doing away with several young women. Then we meet our heroine, The Girl (Hall's wife Bobbi Sue Luther in a lively performance), as she wakes up in a closed casket in a funeral home, with no memory of who she is or how she got there. After witnessing the gruesome death of an old mortician (the venerable Richard Lynch) at the hands of Chrome Skull, she flees down the highway until she's picked up by a kindly redneck named Tucker (Kevin Gage, best-known by me as the vile "Waingro" in Michael Mann's HEAT), who takes her home. Tucker's wife Cindy (Lena Headey, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles", 300) isn't too pleased at first, but soon warms up to the poor frightened woman. Then Chrome Skull shows up and pins Cindy's head to a wall with his knife.

We should probably talk about Chrome Skull's knife for a minute. It's a real doozy--in fact, it makes those things carried by guys like Jim Bowie and Crocodile Dundee look like toothpicks. Razor-sharp on one side, with jagged spikes on the other, the massive chrome blade is perfect not only for slicing and jabbing but also for sawing people's heads off. Which seems to be one of the many hobbies that keep Chrome Skull occupied. We never learn much about what happened to screw this guy up, but with a phallic extension like this, he definitely has a sexual hang-up or two rattling around in his shiny skull.

Anyway, Tucker is now on the run with Princess (his nickname for the mysterious girl) and along the way they pick up a geeky nerd named Stephen, who's played by the very familiar and funny Sean Whalen (THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, TWISTER). They take refuge in the funeral home, which is troublesome for Stephen since his mother just died, and even more troublesome when he sees her head floating toward him in the dark. After a lot of running around from place to place, and a lot of doing stupid stuff that people in slasher movies always do, the three finally end up barricaded in a small grocery store with a couple of rave-bound party boys named Tommy and Johnny (Thomas Dekker, Johnathon Schaech). But they can't keep Chrome Skull out for long, and before you know it he's in there making mincemeat out of anything with a heartbeat.

This is the kind of eye-popping, knuckle-baring slasher flick I was looking for back in the old days whenever I'd trudge to the latest FRIDAY THE 13TH crapfest or rent yet another piece of dreck like THE BURNING or THE PROWLER, ever hopeful that the next one would actually turn out to be worth watching. With LAID TO REST, Robert Hall has taken the old formula and done it up with all the bells and whistles--state-of-the-art gore effects from his own renowned makeup studio Almost Human, a sharp script that lovingly reprises all the old cliches while giving us a few new twists, a top-notch cast, and a cool monster who videotapes his kills with a shoulder-mounted camera (an element which will later provide clues to Princess' mysterious origins). Hall proves himself a very capable director, and the cinematography, done with a Panasonic HPX-3000 high-definition 1080p camera in the AVC Intra Mode (I don't know what any of that means, but it sounds awesome), makes this one of the best-looking indy slasher flicks you'll ever see. Hall's own band Deadbox contributes to the exciting heavy metal musical score.

Extras include an enthusiastic audio commentary from husband-wife team Hall and Luther and the half-hour "Postmortem: The Making of Laid to Rest", a very entertaining and well-produced documentary. There's also a look at "The SFX of Laid to Rest", a few deleted scenes, some funny bloopers, and a trailer.

This isn't "torture porn" as much as an homage to the classic stalker-slasher era with suspense sequences punctuated by sudden, flabbergasting death scenes. It's the kind of gore effects that you used to see featured in big full-color spreads in Fangoria magazine, but when you went to see the movie you'd find they'd all been snipped into almost subliminal split-second flashes to avoid an "X" rating. Not in this unrated director's cut, however--everything's as horribly graphic as the most avid gorehound could hope for. Almost Human studios specializes in realistic-looking dead bodies, which are abundant in the aftermath of Chrome Skull's homicidal activities, and they also give us some of the most shocking kill scenes ever created. These are done with good old-fashioned makeup FX (one death scene even uses bladders) which are augmented by CGI to create some pretty convincing carnage. The most jaw-dropping (literally!) effect comes fairly early as one guy gets Chrome Skull's blade right through his cheeks, which our whimsical hero removes by taking the top of the guy's head off. Yikes! If that sounds intriguing to you, then you really should check out LAID TO REST. If not, then I would advise you to stay as far away from this movie as possible.

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