There’s something quite charming about an enthusiastic genre filmmaker who makes a film – or in this case a couple of films – that are so obviously a labour of love, unencumbered by commercial appeal or studio interference, that, as a fan, you can’t fail to admire. Adam Green is one of a new generation of horror film directors who has already left an imprint on the horror landscape in a short space of time, mainly thanks to his love-letter to 80′s slasher films, Hatchet. Despite having expanded into dark thriller territory with his excellent 2010 film Frozen – which garnered some very good reviews – Green returned to Hatchet again with the bigger sequel and with Hatchet III currently in production, he looks set to become one of the big names for the future of genre filmmaking. So let us here at ESLF take you on a trip into the Louisiana swamp to meet Victor…
Hatchet (Adam Green, USA, 2006)
The tagline says it all – “It’s not a remake. It’s not a sequel. It’s not based on a Japanese one.” – a rather telling comment on the state of 21st century horror films if ever there was one, Hatchet is a low-budget gorefest that will instantly bring to mind the nasty, gross-out shockers of the video nasty era. For some people, that’s all they need to know…
Set in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, Hatchet follows Ben (Joel David Moore) and his friend Marcus (Deon Richmond) as they break away form their friends and decide to go on a haunted swamp boat trip. After visiting one of the local tour guides – one Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd) – and getting turned away, they go to another guide named Shawn (Parry Shen), who agrees to take them and some other customers who have turned up, including the brooding Marybeth (Tamara Feldman).
During the trip Shawn tells the group about the local legend of Victor Crowley, a mutant who was killed with a hatchet by his own father (both parts played by Kane Hodder). Naturally the boat crashes into some rocks, and as Shawn is revealed to be a fake tour guide, Marybeth reveals the truth about Crowley, that he was accidentally killed by his father, who himself died later on due to his grief, and now the ghost of Victor roams the swamp looking for revenge. She also reveals that she is looking for her missing brother and father (Robert Englund), who were last heard of fishing in the swamp, and that she thinks Victor is behind it. Of course, they all get to find out how true the stories are as Victor makes an appearance and decides to make mincemeat of anybody he finds in his swamp.
Obviously the appeal to genre fans is having Robert ‘Freddy Krueger’ Englund, Kane ‘Jason Voorhees’ Hodder and Tony ‘Candyman’ Todd all in the same film, despite the fact that Englund and Todd appear for no more than a couple of minutes in total. However, if that doesn’t mean very much to you – and if not, why not? – then there’s always director Adam Green’s obvious affection for the genre and the marvellously inventive kills to fall back on, like being belt-sanded to death and one poor lady who gets her head ripped apart via the mouth – once seen, never forgotten. But it isn’t total wall-to-wall gore as there is quite a lot of screen time where there isn’t a lot actually happening, and it’s that more than the unsettling visuals and the not-needed-but-very-welcome nudity that sometimes gets the film a few negative comments. Some have also criticised the film for being too contrived and for trying to ram Victor Crowley down our throats to try and make a new horror icon; it is true that the real icons aren’t deliberately created with that in mind and it’s the audience that makes them the icons/anti-heroes that characters like Freddy Krueger and Pinhead become, but come on – look at that tagline. Of course it’s contrived. But not arrogantly so like, say, The Hills Run Red, that really wants it’s audience to make something more out of it’s antagonist Babyface than what’s really there.
Not since Peter Jackson’s totally OTT zombie outing Braindead back in 1992 has a horror film basked so gloriously in its own sleaze. Analysing it with critical eyes will reveal it’s many flaws but this is a film that doesn’t warrant any closer inspection than the messy thrills it offers up at face value. It is a cheap film, it looks like a cheap film and it positively revels in the fact it is a cheap film, and while it may not be the all-encompassing return to 80′s horror that it thinks it is, it wouldn’t be out of place in a marathon alongside such films as The Evil Dead, Re-Animator, Frankenhooker or Class of Nuke ‘Em High. The pacing is a problem – something that does get rectified in the sequel – but when it hits those high points it goes straight for the jugular… so to speak.
Hatchet II (Adam Green, USA, 2010)
If ever there was a sequel that built on the promise of its predecessor, and then some, then that sequel is Hatchet II. You thought the first Hatchet went too far with the gore? This one goes off the scale. You thought Tony Todd wasn’t in Hatchet for long enough? Don’t worry, he’s all over this one. Didn’t think the last film was pacey enough? Well, now you’re in for one hell of a fun ride.
Continuing the very second where the first film ended – which is a pretty good bit of editing when you consider that Marybeth is now being played by Danielle Harris – Hatchet II follows Marybeth as she gets away from the mutant Victor Crowley, finding shelter with local fisherman Jack Cracker (John Carl Buechler) who throws her out once he realises who her father was. She returns to the city and contacts Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd), who tells her about her father’s connection to Crowley. Vowing to go back after Crowley she blackmails Zombie into helping her by threatening to expose his unlicensed tour business, so Zombie puts together a team of local redneck hunters to go back to the swamp with the intention of putting an end to Victor Crowley’s reign of terror. On Zombie’s suggestion she brings along a family member – her Uncle Bob (Tom Holland) – and everybody heads off to catch themselves some hillbilly hide, but what exactly is Reverend Zombie up to?
Very much doing for Hatchet what Evil Dead II did for The Evil Dead, Hatchet II is quite simply a tour-de-force of low-budget slasher goodness with some of the most insanely brutal kills ever put on screen. As with the original, Hatchet II is a genre film made by a genre fan for genre fans, and actually delivers everything that serious fans would want – can you really argue with a film that has Tony Todd (Candyman), Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th series), Tom Holland (director of the original Fright Night), R.A Mihailoff (Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III), John Carl Buechler (special effects artist and director of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood), Danielle Harris (Halloween 4/5, Rob Zombie’s Halloween, H2, Urban Legend), AJ Bowen (The House of the Devil) and noted stuntman Rick McCallum?
The character of Victor Crowley is more fleshed out here, his background expanded upon and the details of his birth given a bigger focus. Kane Hodder’s make-up is slightly different than before, looking a little more defined but also a little more synthetic – think how Robert Englund’s Freddy make-up looked in Elm Street 5 as compared to the previous films – but the lighting and editing is done to obscure his face as much as possible.
But it’s the kills that make this film the riot it is. Besides a certain character being garotted and then beheaded by their own intestine and a hilarious shagging scene involving a spasming headless corpse and an unaware recipient – you work it out – there is a totally brilliant and squelchy montage featuring several shots of various fishermen getting their jaws ripped off, amongst other such atrocities. There is also a very uncomfortable scene involving the most stupidly huge chainsaw ever and two unsuspecting hunters stood with their legs apart. All the kills are done totally tongue-in-cheek and with the same black humour that Sam Raimi injected into Evil Dead II, and there’s also a little of an Asian influence with regards to the jets of blood that get sprayed all over the place.
Overall, Hatchet II is an absolute blast. It knows exactly what it is, who it’s audience is and how to deliver each carefully constructed scene. Less rough looking than Hatchet – polished wouldn’t be the right word – the humour is pitched perfectly – you don’t have to have seen Hatchet but it helps, especially the joke involving Jack Cracker’s offer of a ‘warm drink’ – and the performances are also just as knowing. There are some nice genre references for those in the know and the film doesn’t outstay its welcome, ending as the first film did by stopping suddenly mid-scene. Be interesting to see how Hatchet III picks up from this one…