"I woke up... in a dead box... And the man tried to get me."
LAID TO REST: Bobbi Sue Luther plays a girl who wakes up sealed in a casket. Suffering from head trauma and memory loss, the girl soon finds herself running from a frightening figure in a metal skull mask with a video camera propped on his shoulder and wielding a scary big honking knife. Fleeing the funeral home, the girl does get help from several helpful strangers, but really that means fudge-all when it's an unstoppable killer hunting you down. So cue the vicious slashing, pour out the viscera, tally up the body count. Can the girl survive the night?
Okay, first, if you can get thru the exasperating opening sequence - in which the clearly disoriented girl actually has the sense to call 911 but then inadvertently causes the phone to disconnect before the dispatcher can trace the call - then you're in for a decent scarefest. During the Unholy Writers' Strike of 2007, f/x makeup artist Robert Hall put in the time to write the story to LAID TO REST and the result is fairly watchable stuff. I also dig that the atmosphere at times leaned towards the quirky (mostly in the scenes with Sean Whalen). The horror genre tropes are well covered, but the solid execution and the inclusion of several nice character moments elevate this one. The key players have more depth than are usually given in slasher flicks, although it's a bit jarring to see Kevin Gage landing the "good guy" part for once (and a "gutted good guy with a cane" part, at that; when I say "gutted" it's meant that he suffers a devastating loss, not that he has his guts spill out; that happens to someone else). Sean Whalen, the odd nerd crippled by his grief over his recently dead mother, resembles Steve Buscemi so closely it's as if Steve Buscemi had gotten it on with, er, Steve Buscemi. The ancillary characters, of course, are stock meat puppets. And with Lena Headey and Thomas Dekker having small roles, it also feels a bit like a TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES reunion (Bobbi Sue Luther herself actually had a cameo in that show's "Goodbye to All That" episode).
Credit to LAID TO REST for looking as good as it does, considering this is only Robert Hall's second directing gig and that there wasn't a lot of money that went into the film. The location reflects this shoestring budget. The story takes place in an isolated rural town and its surroundings (the city is a hundred miles away), an ideal kill zone for the freak in the silver skull mask. There's an undertone of mystery percolating in the film. I like that there's no backstory introduced for the serial killer Chrome Skull. Sometimes I think it's more disturbing and effective when we don't learn the underpinnings to a guy's deranged traits.
To quote Sean Whalen in an interview: "It's more of a mystery, too, because she's trying to figure out who she is, and why she's so hot." Another thing which keeps us hanging on is that we don't learn the identity of the girl until near the very end. Bobbi Sue Luther, in real life the director's wife and also this film's co-producer, is the lead actress in LAID TO REST and, while she doesn't quite sidestep the conventions of her girl victim role, she manages to weave in elements of pluck and emotional range. But, yes, she does her share of running around in a panic, screaming and crying and bleeding but looking good throughout. In fact, it's a wise move that for most of the film she's wearing a large shapeless shirt; otherwise, the male audience would've been too distracted (I know I would've been). Chrome Skull, who tends to occasionally have blood leak out of his eye (or eye socket), is a terrifying presence, a nightmarish monster I'd rank just a few tiers below horror icons like Freddy, Pinhead and Jason Vorhees. The silent Chrome Skull, technologically savvy (he records his kills) and able to throw off injuries like they were tickles, is solid as a Big Bad, but he needs to be in more movies to merit a higher level of cult status.
Gore hounds will drool over the gratuitous kill scenes, some of which are gruesome and graphic indeedy. Particular standouts are the first kill (halfway out the window), the "Baby, I would never cheat on you. And I never have - Shuuunk!" moment, and the tire sealant scene.
There are moments of frustration; in low budget horror films, that's almost a trope. But three sequences really annoyed me. There's the aforementioned opening scene with the 911 call. And, later, the girl leaves her comrades-in-peril and takes off on her own, because she just had to get batteries for the video camera. And she takes off driving the killer's car with the built-in GPS navigational/tracking device. And, lastly, while there's a touch of irony in how the killer gets his, it really comes off as anticlimactic.
The DVD comes with not half bad bonus features: interesting hubby & wife audio commentary by writer/director Robert Hall and actor/producer Bobbi Sue Luther; the in-depth "Postmortem: The Making Of" featurette (31 minutes); "Torture: The SFX of LAID TO REST" (7:36 minutes) - the special effects crew go into how they blended digital effects with old-school prosthetics and make-up; 4 mostly blah deleted scenes, with the first one being a hilarious must-see; bloopers (7:42); and the trailer.
The story itself isn't remarkable, the pacing tends to drag at times, and there are moments of camp and cheese. But, overall, LAID TO REST is a fair splatterfest, with good performances, brutal bloodletting, and several iconic shots of the menacing Chrome Skull. I wouldn't be surprised if Chrome Skull reappears somewhere down the line, looking to maim and butcher and film his "little piggies" for some sick sort of prosperity - although I'm pretty sure Robert Hall was effing around when he said the sequel will probably be called LAID TO REST 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO.