I'm Going to Kill You...Right After I Get This Dope-Ass Chest Tattoo

I had a lot of fun watching Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2. Up until the part where I started yelling at my TV, that is.  I mean I was still having fun. But angry fun.

Having not seen the first one, I'm not sure how much setup I missed out on. The movie starts in media res with Brian Austin Green playing Vince Vaughn and cleaning up the scene of Chromeskull's first rampage. We know he's in charge because he's wearing a suit and acting like a dick. I'm assuming he stopped by the gas station on his way from his day job as a Vegas club promoter and/or vape salesman. Something unrealistic happens with 2011 cell phones and then he stabs the last movie's final girl to death in a motel room with a crazy-looking dragon knife he bought in a Venice Beach head shop (probably).

So far, I'm in. Schlocky '90s actors and "hey, it's that guys?" Sure. The killer's mask looks cool AF, and the idea of a slasher requiring a support team actually makes a hell of a lot of sense. Unfortunately they don't go into the backstories of douchebag club promoter, ethnicish hot chick or nerdy tech guy, but I'm sure they all have reasons for being there. Mostly financial, but at least douchebag club promoter seems to be acting as an understudy to the titular Chromeskull (including having a couple random blacksmiths make him an uber-headshop knife in a scene reminiscent of Moe Syzlak's classic "and that's how I turned five guns into one gun").

Considering that I don't often question the motives of the faceless henchmen in Bond or Batman movies (although I've got an idea for a short story on that topic I'm going to have to write one of these days), it would be unfair to spend too much time picking apart the lack of motivation for Chromeskull's support team. Ditto the dumb decisions made by the cops solely in service to the plot ("let's send the CSI tech who has a gun for some reason to a suspicious location with no backup," "let's split up," etc.), or the extreme upper-body strength exhibited by the various villains that allow them to slice someone's face in half like it was a mound of butter. All that stuff I can live with. No, the thing that really killed this otherwise-entertaining flick was a pre-climax montage where douchebag club promoter becomes another Chromeskull. 

After telling his kidnapping victims to "run around the facility for awhile" and "find something fun to stab me with," he walks into another room where there's a tattoo artist hanging out for some reason (!) and then proceeds to get a three hour chest tattoo. 

I'm not a tattoo artist, but I've got a lot of tattoos. My Jack O'Lantern on my right calf is a similar size to the skull tattoo douchebag club promoter gets, and took about four hours. Granted there's some color in there, so I'll shave an hour off, but still--we are talking about a three hour minimum tattoo. Who takes three hours to get a tattoo (from a tattoo artist who is apparently totally cool with kidnapping and murder and is just hanging out in this warehouse in case somebody wants some new ink) when you've got victims to murder? Not to mention the incredibly inept police are probably eventually going to notice their missing armed CSI tech and come looking for her in the exact same place where she last reported in from? YOU DON'T HAVE THREE HOURS FOR THIS SHIT. Nor do you have time to stare into a mirror running your fingers through your hair before finally shaving your head.

And seriously, what's the point? Part of the Chromeskull costume, in addition to the rad mask, is a suit. His victims can't see the tattoo. It only figures into the storyline when the actual Chromeskull shows up and kills club promoter Chromeskull for eating his lunch, and there's this dramatic moment where real Chromeskull rips open club promoter's suit and sees the tattoo. And then decapitates him. Like it's okay to dress up like him, but getting a tattoo is a bridge too far? 

At this point I think I've put more thought into this movie than the actual writers, so I'll end on this. Including a transformational montage right before the climax slows down the story, and not in an anticipation-building way. More in a why the hell is he taking all the time to do this way. Having the main henchmen transform into the main bad guy in order to be dispatched in a flying too close to the sun moment (not entirely unlike Alex's death in Breaking Bad) is in fact a cool idea. But better to show him slowly taking on aspects and mannerisms of his boss throughout the film, than have him sit in the tattoo chair for three freaking hours while the cops circle the warehouse.

Building tension before the climax is a good thing. But having characters do dumb and unnecessary shit (to a horrible nu-metal soundtrack no less) to put off the final act will just have the watcher, or read, squirming in their seat. 

And not squirming in a good way.

Slaughterhouse Jive

I watch a lot of bad movies. Part of this is a function of the conditions under which I usually watch movies (at the end of a long day of doing stuff outside, so tired I can barely lift the remote and flick through the options on NetFlix), part of this is because for every good, smart horror movie that comes down the pike there are a legion of terrible ones, and part of this is because I think there's a lot to learn as a writer from bad movies. The key, of course, is not just sitting there covered in Cheeto dust and loudly proclaiming something sucks. You have to think about why something sucks. A skill many people don't seem to have.

Which brings me to Abattoir

Abattoir is a unique animal. The love child of a great movie with an intriguing premise and a schlocky pile of hot garbage that wouldn't even deserve its place in the bargain bin if we still had those. I even hesitate to call it a bad movie, but at the same time there's the old nine gallons of ice cream/one gallon of manure rule. But for our purposes, it doesn't matter whether the movie's good or bad, since this is not a movie blog. It's a narrative blog. 

In the first hour of so of its running time, Abbatoir does a number of things right. The premise is absolutely killer: there's a mysterious guy running around buying up properties where horrific tragedies have occurred, literally tearing the rooms out of the house, and then flipping them (TLC should really get on this). Julia is a reporter who's sister's family was murdered, and their house purchased and renovated. There's a neo noir feel to the dialogue between the reporter, Julia, and her cop boyfriend, Grady (unfortunately doesn't extend to the rest of the characters and is bizarrely dropped right around the time the rest of the movie goes off the rails).

Much of the first act concerns itself with digging through property records and birth certificates, which might sound boring but is actually great. It's quiet horror, mundane paperwork forming a trail of breadcrumbs one can follow to the supernatural. The sort of tone that makes the story feel more grounded. Which is what we general want in horror. We want to be presented with familiar surroundings, slightly tainted with a sense of unease, because that makes the horror seem more plausible.

At this point in the narrative, the writer is involved in a balancing act. You want to peel back the curtain slowly, but not too slowly. You want to build anticipation without boring the audience. In the final good decision made in the narrative, the writers introduce a videotape, ostensibly of Julia's sister's murder, which provides a peek behind the curtain. Something about the room in the background of the grainy video doesn't look right, and we're given the impression that maybe this video was made after the murder room was ripped out of her sister's house.

So we've got this fantastic setup, but unfortunately it's completely squandered. The script commits the sin of giving us too much exposition in a jailhouse visit with Julia's sister's killer. The guy reveals exactly what Dayton Callie's awfully-named Jebidiah Crone is up to, and why he's doing what he's doing. Too much information, too early in the story. 

The story next takes us to a small Louisiana town, where all the residents act predictably weird and unfriendly. There's nothing wrong with using cliches, but there's a lot wrong when they feel like cliches. At this point the movie lapses into the usual small town weirdo shtick for the next twenty minutes or so, before finally taking us on Disney's Haunted Mansion ride. Literally. 

I think the idea of building an entire house out of different rooms where gruesome murder have occurred is brilliant. But then we actually see the house, and there's not a lick of subtlety to it, just cheesy camera work and cheesier CGI, with Dayton Callie doing a Saturday afternoon horror host impression and stamping his magic staff on the ground. Ugh.

Summing up the lessons from the movie:

1. If you start with a grounded tone, keep it. If you want to get nuts, do so from the beginning.

2. This is hardly a new lesson, but always bears repeating--show, don't tell. Kill your exposition deliverers. This is horror, I'm sure you can find a way to off them. 

3. As a corollary to #2, show your monsters as little as possible (as Stephen Graham Jones says, "just the toe"). The movie does this well with the videotape scene--it's so grainy and shaky, and the camera never fully focuses on the TV that's playing it back. Then it seems to forget its own lesson and unleashes the CGI ghosts.