Hatchet III review

HTC_Poster_lowIf you’re a card-carrying soldier in the self-proclaimed “Hatchet Army,” you already know whether you want to see this movie; in fact, you probably already have seen this move. But if you never enlisted, or if you took an honorable discharge after HATCHET II, you may be sitting on the sidelines and wondering whether to take another tour of duty around the swamp haunted by Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder). Well, as someone who defected because of the disappointing sequel,* I can say it’s time to rejoin the ranks. HATCHET III is almost as much gleefully gory fun as the original – a comedy-horror hybrid that elicits screams of laughter and disgust in equal measure, sometimes simultaneously.
Like HATCHET II (2010), HATCHET III is pitched to the fans who discovered the franchise with the original HATCHET (2006) – a came-out-of-nowhere sleeper hit on the festival circuit that never reached the wider audience it deserved. The problem with HATCHET II is that writer-director Adam Green over-enthusiastically pandered to the gore-hounds who loved the unrated mayhem the first time around; in the process, the delightfully tongue-in-cheek tone of the original degraded into dispiriting camp. HATCHET III ditches the camp and resurrects the clever comedy, adding numerous nods and winks that will only be recognized by those who have seen the previous films.**

Caroline Williams and Kane Hodder
Caroline Williams and Kane Hodder

Though directed this time by B.J. McConnell (Green is back as writer and producer), HATCHET III picks up seamlessly from its predecessor, with Marybeth (Danielle Harris) punching Victor Crowley’s ticket and marching into the local police station with his scalp. Unfortunately, Crowley is no mere madman but some kind of eternally resurrecting monster, who is soon decimating the crews sent to tag the bodies leftover from the previous films. A local reporter (Caroline Williams), who destroyed her reputation by hyping the legend of Victor Crowley legend, knows a way to end the curse (which has nothing to do with the method in HATCHET II – but who’s keeping track?) Reluctantly, Marybeth agrees to help; her family connection with one of the men responsible for Crowley’s death – and thus his afterlife – makes her the only one who return Crowley to the peace of the grave.
Unlike the previous sequel, HATCHET III avoids getting bogged down in back story, and script doesn’t waste a lot of time getting another crowd of victims into the swamp.  Once all the fish are in the barrel, director McDonnell keeps the action popping like a series of burst blood vessels as Crowley dissects his victims in a series of imaginatively gruesome ways.
If that sounds a little too hardcore for viewers with little thirst for movie blood, take note: the copious carnage is too outrageous to be regarded seriously; the aesthetic of violence is almost diametrically opposed to that of the recent V/H/S 2, whose crimson splatter paints a picture far more grim and depressing. Achieved with old-fashioned prosthetics and geysers of red-tinted water, the kills in HATCHET III are scary fun in a popcorn-movie kind of way that seems almost quaint in this era of torture porn and mumblegore.
Sheriff versus SWAT: Zach Galligan yields jurisdiction to Derek Mears without so much as a wimper.
Sheriff versus SWAT: Zach Galligan yields jurisdiction to Derek Mears without so much as a wimper.

At times, the script is a little too lackadaisical in its “only a movie” approach. Green’s script cannot decide whether local law enforcement is a police department or a sheriff’s department (there is a difference), and the question of jurisdictional authority is ignored when a SWAT team (led by Derek Mears as Hawes) shows up and takes over.
We’re simply not supposed to care, because we all know the real reason for the SWAT team’s presence is to shoe-horn Mears into the movie. The actor played Jason Voorhees in the recent remake of FRIDAY THE 13TH (200) – a role that Hodder played several times in the 1990s – and you can bet that HATCHET III will serve up a scene in which the two former Jasons go mano-a-mano. Unfortunately, the result turns out to be an even bigger anticlimax than the confrontation between Hodder and former Leatherface R.A. Mihailoff in HATCHER II.
Performances are mostly good, but variable. Galligan turns out to be a capable character actor, and it’s nice to see Williams (of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2) on screen again, but some of the comic relief supporting players are stiff (every horror film needs its Private Hudson, but not every actor can pull it off like Bill Paxton in ALIENS).
Marybeth (Danielle Harris) faces off with Victor Crowley once again.
Marybeth (Danielle Harris) faces off with Victor Crowley once again.

As for the returning cast: Playing his third character in three films, Parry Shen regains some of the humor he lost in Part 2. With no more of the previous films’ flashbacks, Hodder’s dual role (as Victor Crowley and Victor’s grieving father) has been reduced to one; fortunately, no one can project aggressive body language through layers of makeup better than Hodder. As returning heroine Marybeth, Harris is a bit one-note, but the script gives her only one note to play (essentially, “f-ck you!”). At least Green avoids inserting the ostentatiously “dramatic” scenes from HATCHET II, which pushed Harris and Hodder beyond the limits of what they could achieve within the context of a genre film (no amount of emoting can sell emotions in a film that achieves coitus interruptus by means of decapitation).
HATCHET III manages to deliver another rousing finale that at least seems to break with tradition by offering an apparently definitive death for its mon-star. But that’s the nice thing about the film: along with the expected genre elements, there are a few surprises, too – a “dead meat” character who survives, a death that takes place mostly off-screen (leaving the violence if not the outcome in our imagination). The film may not win many new converts to the Hatchet Army, but it should bring back any troops who went AWOL.
[rating=3]
On the CFQ Review Scale of zero to five stars, a moderate recommendation

CLICK HERE TO RENT ONLINE
CLICK HERE TO RENT ONLINE

Note: HATCHET III is currently in limited theatrical engagements around the country. The film is simultaneously available via Video on Demand. Click here to rent it now.
FOOTNOTES:
*As far as I’m concerned, HATCHET II is a dishonorable discharge – of putrescent decay.
**In case your memory is a little fuzzy, here is a sampler of inside jokes in HATCHER III:

  • After playing victims in the first two films, Parry Shen appears as yet a third character, who objects to a crime-scene co-worker’s suggestion that he resembles one of the bodies  (“All Asians look alike to you!). Meanwhile, we in the audience wonder whether Shen will go zero-for-three in the survival department.
  • A brief, hysterical cameo by David Joel Moore finally ties up the loose end of what happens to Ben after the abrupt ending of HATCHET.
  • In a truly great meta-moment, the local sheriff dismisses an account of the events of the first two film for being illogical, incredible, and inconsistent, while a local drunk (played by screenwriter Green, with a look of dismay) listens  from an adjoining cell. The sequence is even funnier when you note that the sheriff is played by Zach Galligan, who appeared GREMLINS and GREMLINS 2; in the later, his character’s attempt to explain the events of the former met with similar ridicule from skeptical listeners.

Kane Hodder as Victor Crowely
Kane Hodder as Victor Crowely

HATCHET III (Dark Sky Films: theatrical and Video on Demand release on June 14, 2013). Written by Adam Green. Directed by B.J. McDonnell. Cast: Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder, Zach Galligan, Caroline Williams, Cody Blue Snider, Derek Mears, Robert Diago DoQui, Parry Shen, Sid Haig.

Hatchet (2006)

A tour of the swamp turns to terror in the horror homage HATCHET.

Slasher homage exceeds originals

This may be the bucket of blood that splatter fans were eagerly anticipating (those for whom FRIDAY THE 13TH is a fond memory), but it is also an excellent horror film with solid scripting and strong performances that make it appealing to a wider audience.
The movie is an unapologetic throwback to 1980s slasher films, with numerous tips of the hats to its progenitors. Robert Englund (best known as dream demon Freddy Kruger) has a cameo as an early victim; Tony Todd (best known as Candyman) puts in a brief, comical appearance; makeup man John Carl Buechler (FROM BEYOND) provides the carnage and appears on-screen as the obligatory prophet of doom, a drunken old loon warning the tourists that death awaits them in the swamp. Finally, Kane Hodder (best known as masked killer Jason Voorhees) plays the mad, mutant, and possibly supernatural psycho-killer.
Which is completely appropriate because HATCHET, like FRIDAY THE 13TH, is about some teen-agers stalked by a mad killer in the woods. The story follows a group of friends on vacation who decided to take a night-time boat tour; unfortunately, the boat runs aground, stranding them in the middle of territory presided over – or so legend has it – by the deformed off-spring of a lonely cabin-dweller who was killed by a Halloween prank gone wrong.
Set in the Louisiana bayou, the film has atmosphere to spare, and even the obligatory legend explaining the killer’s existence is presented with panache. The suggestion of supernatural overtones (the killer is supposed to have died in the fire that killed his father), along with the creepiness of the location, creates an ambience wherein the existence of an apparently unstoppable killer seems complete convincing – not just an obligatory genre convention.


HATCHET far exceeds its inspiration models, thanks to convincing execution by writer-director Adam Greenberg, who makes the gore scenes really hurt. Working with a convincing cast of characters – none of whom deserves their fate – he creates a wonderfully aggressive horror show filled with equal parts suspense and shock. Viewers won’t find themselves bored between atrocities, eagerly awaiting the next geyser of gore to break the tedium; even jaded gore hounds may find themselves squirming in dreadful anticipation of what will happen next. The film’s violence is unapologetically unrestrained; in fact, the film is almost too effective, becoming frightening rather than fun as the hapless tourists are picked off one by one in hideously graphic fashion: decapitation by shovel, a power saw to the face, and arms ripped out of their sockets, etc.
If there is any obvious flaw to HATCHET, it lies in perhaps too close an adherence to its role models, which inevitably served up obligatory “surprise” endings that left doors open for sequels. After exceeding expectations with its sense of credible story-telling, it’s a bit disappointing to see HATCHET surrender to mechanical genre conventions. The ending plays like a sop thrown to the hard-core horror hounds who don’t give a damn about character or story so long as there’s shock aplenty on view. The shock certainly works, but it yanks you out of the realm of verisimilitude, where you are genuinely frightened, and tosses you back into the movie-movie world, where you hoot and holler like someone enjoying a ride on a roller-coaster. The thrill’s still there, but it lacks the genuinely disturbing touch of something like THE DESCENT.

TRIVIA

Victor Crowley confronts a tourist in the bayou.The film earned a reputation as a crowd-pleasing horror fave on the festival circuit in 2006. At its final festival screening, at Screamfest in Hollywood, October 2006, writer-director Adam Green told the eager audience. “Since we first showed it in March, this print has been all around the world, and I’ve been with it. Right now, I feel about like the print looks.” He pumped up the audience by adding, “Our best response has been in London, because those fuckers are crazy, but since this is the end of the tour and we’re back home, I think you can beat them. Let’s rip the roof off this place!” That was the first – but not the last -time that the audience erupted into applause.
The poster art for the film’s festival tour proudly proclaimed that HATCHET is “old school horror” (circa 1980): “It’s not a sequel. It’s not a remake. And it’s not based on a Japanese one.”  Truer words were never spoken.
After is festival run, HATCHET was picked up for home video distribution by Anchor Bay Entertainment, a company known for their excellent limited edition DVDs devoted to cult horror movies. The company opted to schedule for film for a platform theatrical release in 2007. The MPAA is likely to demand some major cuts in exchange for an R-rating. The film is strong enough to withstand the censors scissors without losing too much of its effectiveness.
SPOILER ALRERT: HATCHET drops a few subtle hints that lay the seeds for future sequels. In the flashback of the Halloween trick-or-treat gone wrong, the camera lingers on the masked face of one of the pranksters, without revealing his identity – which will probably be revealed in any follow-up. Most likely, he will turn out to be the alligator hunter, played by Robert Englund, who is an early victim in the film, making his death not one of random violence but of revenge.
HATCHET (2006). Written & directed by Adam Green. Cast: Joel David Moore, Tamara Feldman, Deon Richmond, Mercedes McNab, Kane Hodder, Parry Shen, Joleigh Fioreavanti, Joel Murray, Richard Riehle, Patrika Darbo, Robert Englund, Joshua Leonard, Tony Todd, John Carl Buechler
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