First of all, kudos to CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2 for getting so close to the RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II naming scheme. If it only used Roman numerals it would match BRADDOCK: MISSING IN ACTION III. Or I guess LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III.
Despite that titelistical swagger, I found the sequel pretty disappointing. The pacing, limited locations and somewhat grimmer tone make it way less entertaining than the first one, but it’s at least admirable that it’s not at all a rehash and that it adds a bunch of weird new stuff to the mythology. I respect that.
One immediate problem is that they start off with the end of part 1, when heroine Princess leaves behind the bloodbath at the convenience store to hit the road with Tommy (Thomas Dekker, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake), but they noticeably cut out any shots of her face. Yep, sure enough, when he drops her off at a motel we see that it’s a different actress (Allison Kyler, a dancer in YOU GOT SERVED, PROM NIGHT and BURLESQUE). Part 1 star Bobbi Sue Luther was married to director Richard Hall at the time, and no longer at this time, so it was a necessary recasting. But rather than trying to make it work like James LeGros in PHANTASM II, Tuesday Knight in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4 or Danielle Harris in HATCHET II, they quickly kill her off. Her fate causes Tommy to puke before the title even comes up.
More disorienting than that, Tommy, who was a comic relief character turned sort of serious, is now treated only as a serious character, with emphasis on his trauma and grief, including an addiction to painkillers. In the first one his hair was short and his eyebrows were shaved, Dekker seemingly having fun coming up with a look for a goofy raver character. For this one he grows them back and there’s a flashback to explain how he got the previous look. Not sure that was important information to fill in, personally. I kind of like the audacity of searching for depth in an initially silly character, but like so many of the choices here it just makes the sequel less fun than the (admittedly very grim at times) first one.
There’s a new heroine who actually has a name, Jessica Cannon (Mimi Michaels, BOOGEYMAN 3, GAMER), who has recently started having eye problems and is almost legally blind. Since this is the character’s most emphasized trait it seems like it’s going somewhere, but no, it turns out it’s just added tension for the cat and mouse scenes, and they don’t even use it that much. ChromeSkull’s camcorder has a red light on it, so he’s easy to spot, even when blurry.
The more ballsy addition to the story is that ChromeSkull is not just some weird serial killer, he has a whole corporate team working for him. A private (I hope?) serial killing agency, basically. We see a bunch of guys in black report to the crime scene in a van, bring him to their private medical facility and repair him.
The guy who seems to be in charge of the support team is Preston, played by Brian Austin Green, who (like part 1’s Lena Headey and Dekker) was good on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but of course we can’t ignore the novelty of David Silver from 90210 being evil as shit. He’s got all these people working under him who he treats poorly and he walks around acting important and giving orders. It turns out this team prepares fun places for ChromeSkull to bring abductees and stalk them. They set up some warehouse with coffins and a chain link cage with various blades hanging on it (unfortunately we stay in this generic location for quite a while). Preston points at some guy, says “Do me a favor,” crudely sketches an idea for a six-bladed scissor knife, and very soon he’s murdering people with just such a weapon.
Tommy spends much of the movie waiting around at a police station while a cop (Owain Yeoman, “Cromartie” from the Sarah Connor Chronicles pilot) tries to track down ChromeSkull. I like the part where he finds out the reason they want ChromeSkull so bad is that he took out an entire police headquarters. He starts to feel less safe.
I think there’s a little bit of satire about corporate ruthlessness going on here – Preston is very jealous of ChromeSkull and clearly wants his “job.” He starts overstepping his jurisdiction and murdering people himself, claiming that they were “loose ends” and he’s a “fixer” doing his job. But the boss is not happy and fires him. He responds in an unhealthy way – going out and getting a chest tattoo and appointing himself the new ChromeSkull. So you’ve got the immediate threat of a bonus ChromeSkull but the impending delight of the original one finding out about the new one.
Meanwhile a rival assistant, Spann (Danielle Harris, HALLOWEEN 4–5), hangs out with the original ChromeSkull, kissing his ass and vying for his preference. She’s always a welcome presence, but they could’ve given her more to do. For his part, ChromeSkull is cooler looking thanks to the excellent disfigurement provided by some of his part 1 victims.
As in part 1, the makeup and visual FX for the many deaths are extremely well done and informed by a sick imagination. Since I didn’t find the story as compelling they weren’t quite as much of a kick, but they’re certainly impressive.
In this one they seem to be thinking of it as a franchise, leaving things for possible elaboration in sequels. But the post-credits scene (where ChromeSkull’s wife [!] is told what he’s been up to on his business trips) seems more like a grim deleted scene than a cliffhanger. Who knows? Last year Hall did a crowdfunding campaign for “The Third And Best Film in The LAID TO REST franchise,” titled LAID TO REST: EXHUMED. It fell well short of its goal, but they’re looking for financing elsewhere. I don’t know if it’ll be better than this one or not, but I won’t wait so long to find out this time.
P.S. Other horror films of 2011: FRIGHT NIGHT remake, THE THING premaquel, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3, HOSTEL PART III, WRONG TURN 4, SCREAM 4, FINAL DESTINATION 5, CABIN IN THE WOODS, YOU’RE NEXT, ABSENTIA, A LONELY PLACE TO DIE, but most of all THE WOMAN.