Post Author: Chris Hallock
Laid to Rest (2009)
Dir: Robert Hall
Written by: Robert Hall
I grew up during the wave of the 80’s slasher craze. That’s a lot naked breasts and slit throats to soak up for an impressionable youngster. Because it was such a profitable time for horror films, the big studios were tripping over themselves to get the next crimson-soaked flick out the door. With looser MPAA standards, body counts of ridiculous proportions were being racked up on screens across the country. Characters with big hair, skinny ties, and Reeboks were being creatively offed left and right. I remember that being a pretty fun time, but probably because I’ve blocked out all the dismal crud that was churned out during that era. For every “classic” there were about fifteen crapfests made simply to cash in on a trend. Nostalgia has a way of whitewashing the bad while amping up the good so that all we have left are sugary sweet memories of the past.
A new crop of horror filmmakers are riding a wave of old school nostalgia that started with Alexandre Aja’s Haute Tension (2002). With that film, Aja rejuvenated the long dead stalk and slash formula by injecting first class cinematography, amazing effects, and a pile o’ sheer dread. Well, if you’re one of these brazen newbies shouting that your movie is a throwback to the “classics”, then you better 1) have a chemist’s skill for improving on the old formula, and 2) a keen eye for cutting out the aggravatingly dumb shit plaguing the lesser offerings. What I mean is simply that you better bring your A game.
With that in mind, I was a little hesitant to check out Robert Hall’s tribute Laid to Rest. It hovered at the top of my “to watch” pile for a month or two. Since I’d already been let down by a few dozen neo slashers over the past 10 years, I kept passing it over. The thing is, I’m not really a huge fan of slashers in general, even though more than a few rank among my favorite movies. Still, there was something about that shiny stainless steel skull flanked by hunting knives on the cover that begged me to pop it into my DVD player.
Does Hall get it? Well, sort of. The minimal storyline follows a victimized amnesiac (Bobbi Sue Luther), known only as “the girl”, waking up in a coffin. With no context, she sets out on a terrifying journey of discovery piecing together the bits ending in her wooden holding cell. She quickly discovers that a hulking madman (Nick Principe), outfitted in a metal skull and shoulder mounted video camera, is decimating everyone around her. After a narrow escape from the coffin and the killer (including a brief appearance by genre vet Richard Lynch!), she flees into the cold, dark night. Along the way she is assisted by Tucker and Steven (solid performances by Kevin Gage and Sean Whalen), two good-natured fellows just trying to help a pretty girl out of a jam. What happens next is a series of some of the goriest set pieces captured on camera. You see, Hall is a special effects makeup artist by trade. And boy, does he know his shit!
What I found refreshing in the movie is that is it laced with ambiguity. Who is the girl? Why the hell is she stuffed in a coffin? Who is this psycho known only as “Chrome Skull”? A lot of these questions are never addressed, and I liked that. Too many movies fall victim to over explaining everything, stripping away the all-important mystery. Our imaginations take us to a much scarier place than the half-assed revelations we normally receive.
More importantly, Laid to Rest is fun, a crucial ingredient that current horror filmmakers forget. It truly feels like a carnival fun house delivering the gory goods in ridiculous excess. Bolstered with good performances, you actually want to find out what happens to The Girl rather than fast-forward to the bloodshed. I was especially impressed by the fact that the characters displayed emotional trauma throughout the film, rather than simply blowing off the fact that a friend or family member just got hacked into 47 pieces. Despite his gruff exterior, Kevin Gage in particular displays an impressive vulnerability as anguished Tucker. It’s wrenching to see the grown man cry.
Let’s face it. This film isn’t going to win any awards. The music is annoying at times. It has a pseudo heavy metal synth guitar thing going on that I despise. The editing is a bit quick in the same manner that kills the suspense in a lot of current movies. There is the standard “dumb people doing dumb things”, a habit that horror writers can’t seem to break. Luckily, these complaints didn’t keep me from enjoying it once I got settled.Keep an eye on Hall. He has composed two solid genre love letters with Laid to Rest and his directorial debut Lightning Bug (2004). Although both movies have their problems, they clearly show that even if Hall wakes up with no memory in a coffin, he is still headed in the right direction.
Laid to Rest is available on DVD from Anchor Bay. http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com/index.asp?p=Home