Franchise Corner Entry: HATCHET
HATCHET **** USA 2006 84 mins
In case you were in any doubt about writer-director Adam Green’s intentions with HATCHET, the tagline boasted “It’s not a remake…It’s not a sequel. And it’s not based on a Japanese one” and the opening sequence features Robert Englund disembowelled before BLAIR WITCH PROJECT’s Joshua Leonard is ripped in half. Heavy on genre pastiche but not snide and smug like the SCREAM movies, HATCHET’s return to basic slasher filmmaking and practical gore FX cannily combines atmosphere, creative kills and character-based humour. During Mardi Gras in New Orleans, ominous tour guide Tony Todd (mocking his own genre image) tries to ward off Joel David Moore and chums, but they take a “Haunted Swamp Tour” anyway and end up stalked by local legend Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), a hideously disfigured fella allegedly killed years earlier in a Halloween prank gone wrong. Hodder, who also plays Crowley’s grief-stricken father in flashbacks, helps craft one of the best new slasher villains, and John Carl Buechler contributes some terrific death scenes, including the crowd pleasing moment in which an old lady has her head ripped open like a pez dispenser. The ending riffs on both TEXAS CHAINSAW and FRIDAY THE 13TH, but the movie as a whole feels quite refreshing, not least for featuring several likeable characters in an era over-populated with obnoxious bastards. BUFFY’s Mercedes McNab steals it as a dim-witted but sexy amateur starlet who thinks the “cops” and the “police” are two separate entities.
HATCHET’s resilient final girl is now played by Danielle Harris, in her fourth decade of playing slasher movie protagonists even though she still looks around 17. This self-indulgent sequel sees her heading back to the swamp with a motley crew of rednecks and hunters (plus Tony Todd’s Reverend Zombie) to end Victor Crowley’s seemingly indestructible rampage. An expansion of bayou slasher Crowley’s backstory this time out enables Kane Hodder to enjoy some rare on-screen emoting and he even gets a sex scene. Sadly, the appealing Harris is saddled with a one-note, whiny character whose only bright moment is a spectacularly defiant, ultra-violent Final Girl triumph at the very end. Much of the movie falls short, including some casting decisions that don’t pay off (director Tom Holland should never have been given a key supporting role), but Todd has his meatiest, best written role since Candyman and Hodder goes mano a mano with both him and one-time Leatherface R.A. Mihailoff in undeniably fan-pleasing set pieces. The elaborate splatter gags are diverting, with plenty of cranial destruction, bisections and the sight of Hodder wielding the biggest movie chainsaw of all time. A shame, then, that the first half sees Green coasting far too leisurely on the goodwill generated by his understandably popular 2006 original.
HATCHET III *** USA 2013 83 MINS
Adam Green, credited as screenwriter on a third entry directed by debuting B J McDonnell, must take the blame for churning out a mostly uninventive franchise entry. The screenplay oddly, and repeatedly, apes JASON GOES TO HELL: opening with a seemingly definitive demise for the series’ disfigured, indestructible Victor Crowley. Subsequently, survivor girl Danielle Harris walks away and takes refuge at Zach Galligan’s Sheriff Station, where snoopy reporter Caroline Williams unleashes some fresh exposition about the only way to truly, finally end the Crowley “curse”. As before, stunt casting dominates, with the FRIDAY THE 13TH remake Jason (Derek Mears) getting his brain yanked out by his hockey-masked predecessor, and Sid Haig turning up as a racist yokel who stores Crowley Sr.’s ashes. The expected graphic gore FX are still fun, though at this stage the movie is really just offering variations on what the earlier films have already showcased. Too much of HATCHET III merely reprises HATCHET II’s mission of hurling a bunch of disposable characters (here, a SWAT team) into the woods to be picked off. And there is far too much meandering guff about the need to find the final surviving Crowley relative (sound familiar?) in order to lay the killer to rest. Sadly, a franchise that started off by striving to give the fans what they lacked elsewhere has finally turned into a series that thinks it’s OK to give the fans second rate fare knocked out without much care or thought. Danielle Harris, as with HATCHET II, is saddled with an oddly unsympathetic final girl role, and spends most of the film bitching in the back of a cop car.
Produced in secret before being unveiled in August 2017 on the festival circuit, Adam Green’s return to his career-launching HATCHET franchise is an eager-to-please blend of laughs and splatter successfully restoring some of the charm and wit that went astray with the two preceding sequels. Realising he overdid the exposition in HATCHET 2 and 3, Green pithily reminds us of Victor Crowley’s backstory in a hilarious 1964-set prologue, where two-time Michael Myers actor Tyler Mane is butchered, following the series trend of Kane Hodder’s towering killer slaughtering other erstwhile movie maniacs. HATCHET survivor Parry Shen has sold out to the media machine and cashed in on the tragedy ten years earlier. After an awful talk show experience and a humiliating book signing (“I’m not going to sign our balls…”) he and his publicist (Felissa Rose) end up crashing their private plane in Crowley territory, where a group of friends are also exploiting location’s infamy. The ensemble cast are fun: Shen is again an engaging lead, while Dave Sheridan scores as a smarmy tour guide-cum-actor and Laura Ortiz nails the script’s more acidic put-downs. The elaborate gore set pieces are designed to one-up the pez-dispenser kill of HATCHET and showcase excellent practical FX; the most memorable by far involves Rose being fisted by her own severed arm. Some of the humour is heavy handed (notably a skit featuring Green and Joe Lynch as goofy pilots) and the final end credits reveal is too familiar now, but it’s a consistently enjoyable, often funny return to the swamp.