Looking Back at the Original
I very much enjoyed ‘Hatchet’ Adam Green’s 2006 homage to the slashers of the '80s. My immense enjoyment came from being such a fanboy sucker for the sub-genre especially from this era. Essentially, it is a film made by a fan for the fans with very little outside appeal to mainstream audiences. That being said it has divided the horror community.
One side embraces the movie as they appreciate that it caters specifically to their simple tastes in wanting a good time hack n’ slash fest. It has a hideously deformed brutal maniac killer in the form of Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), likable kooky characters for his victims with campy acting from the cast delivering humour that works, well executed goretastic set-pieces showcasing practical special make-up effects with no CGI in sight and has gratuitous female nudity. Completely turned off the other side criticize it for being more of a spoof of slasher films from the sub-genre’s 80’s heyday rather than an affectionate love letter to it patronizing its audience with Green all too aware of its clichés but instead of avoiding them and trying to do something different puts emphasis upon them. A negative view only escalated by the ramming down our throats of the smug advertising campaign with taglines such as “Old school American Horror”, “Terror Goes Old School” and “It's not a remake. It's not a sequel. And it's not based on a Japanese one.” Yeah okay, Adam, we get it we do not need it spelled out for us as we can make up our own minds as to what it is we are actually watching.
The writer and director’s mistake was his approach in promoting his movie this way as ultimately it is a horror comedy and not a horror that just so happens to have humour (see Fright Night (1985) and the Differences Between Horror Comedy and Horror with Humour) with this false advertising building it up to be more than what it actually is which is a solid comedic slasher. I feel Adam Green did not go out of his way to make it scary but just funny and gory. Most slasher films of the 80’s were serious in tone and while I disagree with his detractors as I believe Green was paying homage to a beloved misspent youth watching slasherthons with a comical play on its clichés it really does not feel like many 80’s slashers. I think he was looking at a couple of main influences when harking back to the sub-genre’s said era with cult movies like 1982’s Madman (its antagonist Madman Marz certainly inspired Crowley’s look) and later in the decade with the outright slasher horror comedy ‘Slaughterhouse’ (1987).
The taglines just did not serve the film well at all and the consequences of which resulted in severe overhype. This is a shame because I think it works effectively as a horror comedy even when the brilliance of John Carl Buechler’s SFX make-up work is on display as it is all so ludicrously over the top it induces laughter as well as jaws dropping to the floor at its sheer visceral gory intensity. Some may argue that the movie is just not funny anyway but I guess that just comes down to different tastes in comedy as much of its humorous dialogue with witty banter made me chuckle. Overall, ‘Hatchet’ worked for me and I wish its charm had carried over to its sequels...
Hatchet III (2013)
2010 follow-up ‘Hatchet II’ was a dull disappointing let down. It amped by the splatter with equally unique memorable kills but forgot to give us likable characters that rendered the injection of humour into the bloody proceedings a failure while adding more to the mythology with an elaboration on the backstory of the legend of Victor Crowley all spread out over a frustratingly awkward pace. This was made all the worse by the replacement of Tamara Feldman as final girl Marybeth Dunston with Danielle Harris. Harris is a talented actress who is often very good being one of the best scream queens working in the genre today but her performance was just off seemingly not looking comfortable in the role topped off with an annoyingly unconvincing Louisiana accent. This just made me miss Feldman even more.
Danielle Harris fairs little better here in this year’s ‘Hatchet III’ not given much to do taking a backseat in more of a supporting role with her character now just extremely unlikable. One of the better elements of the previous entry was the further explanation of the origins of Crowley, which is a common ingredient for a sophomore entry into a slasher franchise, but this instalment fails to take the series in any direction whatsoever. Everything is just set-up to bring on the gore set-pieces and serving yet another cameofest of who’s who in horror that has become quickly stale. Although, the other characters are more likable with this time a smoother pace.
Just like the start of the last film that picked up right the very moment the original ended this second sequel starts just as that one finished with Marybeth (Harris) blasting away with a shotgun at the face of Victor Crowley laid out on the ground. Unlike most slasher series, the Hatchet franchise has been consistent for continuity between entries with the exception of the change of lead actress. Watch the full opening sequence here…
Marybeth makes her way to a local police station with Crowley’s scalp repeatedly saying, “I killed him”. Sheriff Fowler (Zach Galligan) orders a boat unit out to Honey Island swamp the setting of the last two movies. The group find the mutilated bodies scattered around everywhere while Marybeth is held in the station’s cells as a prime suspect in the murders who acts like an unpleasant bitch for the rest of the runtime a completely different contrast to how the character was portrayed by Tamara Feldman in the first movie. Here Harris has made a really likable character really unlikable. It could be down to Adam Green’s screenplay in that Marybeth has gone though changes after everything she has been through but her terrifying experiences and mental scarring does not mean she had to turn into a complete fucking dickhead.
Fowler’s ex-wife Amanda (Caroline Williams) a journalist turns up at the station after hearing about it all on a police scanner. She just so happens to be an expert on Victor Crowley and after being told to stay out of it by her ex-husband she persuades another officer Deputy Elliot Winslow (Robert Diago DoQui) to take her down to the cells to talk to Marybeth to get her to help her prove that Crowley exists. Sure enough while clearing up the bodies the group out in the swamp are massacred by a resurrected Victor Crowley. Fowler heads out there with another group of law enforcers and a SWAT team are brought in led by Officer Hawes (Derek Mears). While this is going on Amanda manages to get Elliot to let out Marybeth, as she is the only one who can stop Crowley being the daughter and last living relative of Sampson Dunston the man that helped cause the death of the monstrous psycho slayer. Amanda somehow knows how to kill him by getting Marybeth to return the ashes of his father Thomas to him so his curse of living the same night over and over again searching for his father can be lifted. Inevitably, more carnage follows.
While this threequel is a slight step up from its mundane predecessor, with new director BJ McDonnell moving the action along at a swift pace with another array of impressive gory set-pieces thanks to yet more fantastic practical special make-up effects that will keep the gorehounds happy this is all it is. With the exception of Danielle Harris’s now unbearable portrayal of Marybeth who has nothing to do except act like an utter cow, Green has written characters that are more likable this time around but the series has just become too mean spirited in tone neglecting the horror comedy roots of the original film with its charm completely removed. There is humour but it gets lost in the more is best approach of constant gore galore. The potential fanboy pleasing faceoff between old and new Jasons - Hodder and Mears respectively - is a wasted opportunity being over before it gets started. Kane Hodder looks his best here as Victor Crowley with the finest make-up job of the trilogy with a more realistic congenially deformed look.
While marginally better than the previous instalment ‘Hatchet III’ is still yet another mediocre entry into a franchise that run out of steam quickly after a first movie that was a pleasantly enjoyable watch. The ending here paves the way for another follow-up and on the strength of the last two sequels I am not looking forward to seeing this series continue. Best to leave Crowley to rest now.
** out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
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