Editor’s Note (10.19.09): Review score downgraded as it was a typo. Tim still wholeheartedly agrees with this review.
When special effects guru Rob Hall puts his name on a film, you bet it’d better deliver the sticky stuff. That’s why it came as such a shock to industry insiders when—in 2004—the monster maker made his writing and directing debut with the very personal and very dramatic coming-of-age thriller Lightning Bug. This time however—as you can imagine based on the box art and ad campaign—Hall is set to deliver a sanguinary river of gruesomeness to the gore-tastic shrieks of slasher-fanboys the world over.
In Hall’s Laid to Rest, supervillian Chrome Skull (Nick Principe) is a cold, calculating, ruthless and unstoppable murderer who has set his sights on one Miss (well, that’s the first twist…see we don’t even know the girls name). The Girl (played by Hall’s wife Bobbi Sue Luther) wakes up trapped in a coffin in the very first frames of the film. She has no idea where she is, or for that matter, who she is. But it’s only minutes before Chrome Skull appears and starts hacking and slashing his way toward her with a pretty massive blade. Making her way out of the funeral home, our heroine manages to find help in a truck driver named Tucker (Amusement’s Kevin Gage) and live-at-home man/child Steven (People Under the Stairs’ Sean Whalen). Now, the trio are all on the run from a black suit clad, black car driving psychopath that is decimating everyone in his wake.
Hall pulls out all the stops on what has got to be one of the most violent slasher films in decades—a virtual showcase for some amazing effects work, including severed heads, faces and serious stab wounds. Make no mistakes about it; if you’re looking for cutting edge (literally) brutality then look no further than Rob Hall and his team at Almost Human. These guys are killing it on screen (and the puns are getting crazy now!). I almost needed a shower after I was done watching every blood soaked frame of this film.
But Laid to Rest has a lot more going for it than a massive body count. In terms of story, Hall manages to pace the film pretty effectively making the production a—more or less—90-minute chase sequence. The film dishes out minor tidbits of storyline to help the viewer and The Girl piece together the back story of how she came to be lying in that coffin during the opening credits. If the film suffers at all, it’s only because it seems to set up and knock down its peripheral cast members a bit too easily. What I mean, is that running into our three leads in this films is a one way ticket to a quick and painful grave. To make the matter a bit more troublesome, most of those roles are filled with friends of Hall (like actor/writer Jonathan Scheach and Sarah Connor Chronicles duo Lena Headey and Thomas Dekker—Hall is the make-up effects creator on that show). So, when these assorted casts of characters appear, it often takes “in the know” viewers out of the film for a second—before Chrome Skull comes in and severs most of their major arteries.
Still, despite a few too many pop-up-celebrity appearances, the casting is without a doubt one of the major highlights of the production. Gage and Whalen are absolutely fantastic in their roles. For all his gruff and tough exterior Hall asks Gage to suffer most profoundly in this film, and the thespian is well up to the task. Whalen, who has made a career playing dorks of the highest degree (anyone who remembers his “Merkin ain’t jerking, he’s working” line from the teen rom-com Never Been Kissed can attest to that) still manages to portray a character that is decidedly on the other-side of normal, but he imbues that character with a serious sense of pathos that viewers can defiantly grasp on to. And, Bobbi Sue Luther—who also Produced—could have been asked to play a standard slasher film victim who does little more than pant, scream and fill out a tank top, instead she steals the show as one bad ass final girl who won’t stop fighting for a single second.
Laid to Rest, isn’t some new revisionist brand of slasher film designed to reinvent the bloody wheel of cinematic terror. It is however a film that goes above and beyond the call of duty in so many segments of its production value that it would be foolish not to see it as somewhat revolutionary. Hall manages not only to ramp the gore effects up to psychotic levels, he serves that up with an interesting story and a cast that can act circles around the usual brand of stock footage meat puppets that serve as little more than cannon fodder for our killer. On top of all that, Hall has created Chrome Skull a new and terrifying horror film icon to fill the heads, hearts and evil eyes of grinning, ghoulish fans fevered and twisted imaginations for decades to come! A killer we can fear and a cast we can care about…I can’t even remember the last time those two, seeming important details, fell alongside one another in the same movie. Hats off to you Mr. Hall, when can we expect the sequel?