Richard Hall, make-up FX veteran of more than 70 films and television shows, made his feature directorial debut with the terrific indie flick, Lightning Bug - a film that was more of a dark drama than the sort of balls-out gorefest one would expect from a maestro of monster make-up effects. With Laid to Rest, Hall goes back to his roots, delivering an FX-heavy slasher film that is so uncompromisingly bloody and brutal, even the most seasoned of gorehounds will find themselves shaking their heads in disgust.
Sadly, there's not much else to it.
A girl (Bobbi Sue Luther) with no memory of her past and limited capacity for speech awakens in a coffin in a small town mausoleum. As she attempts to explain her predicament to a 911 dispatcher, she is set upon by a man dressed in black, with a chrome skull facemask, an arsenal of cutlery that would make a Ginsu salesmen blush, and a video camera mounted on his shoulder. She flees and is picked up by Tucker (Kevin Cage), a kindly local who offers to bring the girl back to his place where he and his wife, Cindy (Lena Headey), give her a place to bed for the night. They've got no phone, you see, and only a couple of gallons of gas in the tank (not nearly enough to get to the sheriff's station), but they promise Cindy's brother will take her there in the morning.
For tonight, though, they suggest she get some rest.
It's not long before the masked murderer finds them, and dispatches of Cindy in gruesome fashion, forcing Tucker and the girl to flee on the fumes left in Tucker's tank, with them ultimately arriving at the home of Stephen (Sean Whalen), a prototypical mama's boy/geek shut-in whose only means of contact with the outside world is his magnificently dated computer. Stephen e-mails the sheriff's station, but Tucker isn't content with sitting around waiting, and the three of them head to the Sheriff's station in Stephen's car, where they discover that the killer has already been. The trio decide to get proactive at this point, and hunt down their killer, but Chrome Skull is always one step ahead of them, forcing our heroes into an isolated gas station where they must make their final stand.
Laid to Rest is essentially one really gruesome and impressively executed kill scene after another, threaded together by a flimsy script filled with infuriating horror clichés (lots of "knock down the killer but don't finish him off" and "you wait here, I'll be right back" moments). The film has polish, and Hall shows a knack for spooky atmospherics and the occasional jump scare, but, for the most part, the movie relies far too heavily on Saw-style edits and grating audio cues generated by the its noise-metal score.
The performances are, for the most part, fairly decent given the film's clumsy script and stereotypical dialogue (when we meet Gage's character he tells the girl he "works over in the mine in the holler" and "reckons she's not from around these parts". The only thing missing is a piece of hay between his teeth). The weakest performance comes from the person with the most screen time, sadly, and that's Luther. While I get the fact that her character's supposed to be suffering from a mild head trauma, and that her loss of cognitive function is meant to be comic relief, her delivery is more annoying than funny. Ironically, when the true nature of Luther's character is revealed, she delivers her strongest performance, albeit for about 30 seconds.
Anchor Bay/Starz! brings Laid to Rest to DVD with a feature packed DVD that sports extras that I, personally, found more entertaining than the film itself. The blooper reel, alone, is worth at least a rental, as are the in-depth behind-the-scenes featurettes. I have to admit that these features actually made me reconsider completely panning this film, as it's obvious that a lot of heart and soul went into the making of it, and those involved had a great time. Still, I can't really recommend this one to any but the most hardcore of gore enthusiasts as heap loads of blood and guts are pretty much all Laid to Rest has going for it.