Hatchet on DVD

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The biggest cinematic crime of 2007 is that Adam Green’s retro-slasher masterpiece HATCHET was consigned to a low-profile stealth release on the same weekend that Rob Zombie’s misguided HALLOWEEN remake opened in thousands of theatres nationwide. The second biggest crime is that HATCHET was trimmed to earn an R-rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. In effect, when the film landed in a handful of theatres, you barely had a chance to see it at all, and even if it was playing nearby, you couldn’t see the complete film, just the expurgated version. Well, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, you can now enjoy the real-deal on a DVD that is loaded with entertaining extras. In fact, this is one of the best DVD releases of the year, thanks to some behind-the-scenes bonus features that feel more like a true making-of documentary than the promotional puffery usually found on these discs.
The DVD comes in a box adorned with the familiar hatchet-artwork and the tag line “Old School American Horror,” which is nice but not as amusing as the tagline used during the film’s run on the festival circuit: “It’s not a sequel, it’s not a remake, and it’s not based on a Japanese one.” There is also the somewhat puzzling quote from Harry Knowles: “The Next Icon of Horror.” Perhaps there is some cache in quoting the Ain’t It Cool News guru, but why anyone thought these words would sell discs is a mystery. What does it even mean – that the hatchet is the chainsaw for the new millennium? (Actually, Knowles was referring to the film’s monster Victor Crowley, but you would never know that from the DVD cover.)
Inside are a couple of those “collectible inserts.” The first contains artwork from other current Anchor Bay DVD releases on one side and, on the other side, for SPIRAL, Adam Green’s follow-up. The other features the HATCHET cover art on one side, with a listing of festival appearances; the other side lists the chapter stops, which are rather confusingly called “Features.”
The disc presents a lovely widescreen (1.78) of the film with options for Dolby 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 sound. The picture quality is great, capturing the atmospheric lensing of the swamp where most of the action takes place (at night). There are no subtitle or language options. Unfortunately, this is a disc that automatically begins playing trailers for other movies, but you can skip the previews by pressing the Menu button on your remote control. If you want to see the trailers later, you can access them in the Extras section of the DVD.
The main menu features a hatchet that flashes into frame, revealing clips from the film reflected in its surface. The effect is amusing, but it can grow annoying after it has cycled through once or twice – you definitely do not want to pop this disc in the player and leave it running while you get your popcorn ready. The film is divided into twenty chapter stops, identified with titles and still images (e.g., “The Permatteo deaths”) that make it easy to skip ahead to your favorite kills.
These are the bonus features:

  • The Making of HATCHET
  • Meeting Victor Crowley
  • Guts & Gore
  • Anatomy of a Kill
  • A Twisted Tale
  • Gag Reel
  • Trailers
  • Audio Commentary with Adam Green, cinematographr Will Barratt, and actors Tamara Feldman, Joel David Moore, and Deon Richmond

“The Making of HATCHET” offers a revealing behind-the-scenes look at what went into the production. Perhaps the most surprising revelation (considering the professional polish evident in the film) is just how inexperienced this group of filmmakers was; in the early sections of the documentary, it feels as if they are setting out on an amazing journey, not quite sure they will reach their destination. They also seem so proud of what they are achieving that the emphasis remains on the “making of” the film, not on plugging the final product. It is also interesting to note the degree to which Adam Green credits early Internet attention with generating enough buzz to help him secure financing.
“Meeting Victor Crowley”offers a look at the film’s monster, an attempt to create a horror icon on par with Michael Myers, Freddy Kruger, and Jason Voorhees. In order to get the most of the the cast’s reaction to the character, the full make-up was kept hidden until the scenes were filmed.
In “Guts & Gore”the cast and crew discuss their favorite kills, including the gas-powered sander that the production designer devised at the last minute when Adam Green got cold feet (reel power sanders run on electricity, but in the middle of a swamp, there would be nowhere to plug it in). Makeup supervisor John Carl Buechler offers a few comments on the Victor Crowley makeup, but for the most part technical details are avoided in favor of discussing the amount of blood used and the necessity of delivering this kind of imagery to satisfy the horror audience.
“Anatomy of a Kill”takes a close look at one of the more jaw-dropping scenes, the death of Mrs. Permatteo (Patrika Darbo), whose head is popped open by Crowley. Buechler gives us the technical details of the prosthetics, but what is truly amazing is that the effect appears to be achieved in a single shot, without an obvious cutaway to replace the actress with her prop double – a nifty bit of camera choreography that hides the splice point without the use of computer-generated imagery.
“A Twisted Tale”recounts Adam Green’s relationship with Dee Snyder: Green hand-delivered a fan letter to the Twisted Sister singer, who responded with encouragement that convinced Green to pursue his film-making goals even when things were not working out. Although a heartfelt tale, this segment goes on perhaps a bit too much.
“Gag Reel”might lead you to expect a bunch of jokey out-takes. What you get instead is a bunch of bloopers. Why call it “Gag Reel,” then? Because for the scene in which Ben throws up, Joel David Moore (apparently a method actor) insisted on doing the real thing: in the behind-the-scenes footage, you can see him gagging himself with his pinky finger to induce vomiting.
Trailers: The HATCHET theatrical trailer is wonderfully spooky, with a child’s voice relating the legend of Victor Crowley. The other trailers (including BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON and an anime film called KARAS: REVELATION) are less impressive. SPIRAL – which re-teams Adam Green and Joel David Moore – looks like a follow-up to ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, with Moore graduating from playing the perpetual undergraduate to the serial killer. The trailer conveys a certain uneasy tension, but Moore’s twitchy performance makes his character look so demented from the get-go that you wonder why any artist’s model would have anything to do with him.
The Audio Commentaryis entertaining, if a bit jokey and over-crowded. The sound of beer can pop-tops is recorded with conspicuously loud volume, and the men, particularly Joel David Moore, continually remark on how beautiful Tamara Feldman is, eventually prompting her to ask, “What about the acting, guys?”
The process of recording the commentary becomes a major topic of conversation, thanks to a power outage that forces cinematographer Will Barratt to run cables to his car battery to keep the session going. At one point, Green is interrupted in the middle of a story about working with a live alligator: the power in the building has come back on, so the decision is made to stop recording and switch back to the wall outlets instead of Barratt’s car battery; when recording resumes, the alligator story is forgotten and never completed.
Fortunately, once the recording problems are sorted out, the commentary is informative, although at one point Green seems to have forgotten the details of his own movie: 29 minutes in, as a spotlight flashes across the monstrous Victor Crowley, the director refers to the shot as HATCHET’s first scare, apparently forgetting the gore-filled deaths of two characters (one played by Robert Englund) in the prologue.
Green points out the reuse of a small number of extras in the opening Mardi Gras scenes and notes that the location shots of Reverend Zombie’s Voodoo Shop avoid showing the front door, because the set that was built to match the location was – mistakenly – based on a photograph of a different door.
Also, the commentary fills in a few gaps in the bonus features, which were completed before the film went into theatrical release; most notably, this is the only place on the disk that references the cuts that were made to the film for its theatrical release. Green identifies these deaths as having been trimmed:

  • Joel Murray’s head being twisted around
  • Joleigh Fioeavanti’s being impaled on the shovel handle
  • Deon Richmond’s head being smashed against the tombstone

HATCHET is probably the best all-out horror film of 2007. This DVD does an excellent job of presenting the film in its uncut form, with more than enough bonus features to tell the fascinating tale of how this low-budget independent opus came to fruition. This is a film that deserves to be seen in cinemas filled with screaming viewers, but if you missed that opportunity, watching the DVD is not a bad substitute experience.
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