It’s at times like these that I regret rebooting my blog because there was some entry or review that I’d like to refer you to for this reason or that. Such is the case with my review of Hatchet, now long gone. I now have to sort of recap for you what was in it before I can move on to reviewing its sequel.
In 2006, a little horror movie toddled along called Hatchet. Written and directed by Adam Green, who’d done essentially nothing before this one — a comedy with a $400 budget doesn’t really count — it billed itself as “Old-School American Horror.” Geek movie doyen Harry Knowles raved about it in a pull quote on the box. The full review it was taken from consists of eighteen variations on the phrase “fucking awesome.” So the maestro had spoken and the film had staked out its territory. But how was it, really?
It was absolutely godawful.
Eighty-three minutes never seemed so long as they did when I watched Hatchet. Everything about it was absolutely atrocious, from the writing to the flat, uninspired direction. It was pointless, stupid and frankly kind of insulting to anyone who actually watches horror and appreciates it as a genre. Old-school? Exactly which school of filmmaking produces such garbage? And if this is what “American horror” was all about, then clearly I’ve been watching all the wrong movies for the past 30+ years.
When Hatchet II was announced, I cringed inside. The only thing I could think of was that enough people had been suckered into buying a copy of Hatchet that the studio felt it was worthwhile to have another go-round. I resolved never to watch it, because if the rule of sequels held true — a sequel is nearly always inferior to the original — then we were in for something truly abominable. Then Green managed to sucker me, too.
Instead of returning the female lead from Hatchet (apparently she had the good sense to quit while she was ahead), Green recast with Danielle Harris, the actress who acquitted herself so well in her childhood years in Halloween 4 and Halloween 5. Yeah, she did other things, like playing Steven Seagal’s niece in Marked For Death, but those Halloween movies were her big credits. Now, all grown up, she’s refashioned herself as something of a horror icon and I count myself as a fan. For her sake, I would give Hatchet II a try. I really wish I hadn’t.
I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Hatchet II is actually worse than Hatchet by every conceivable measure. Characterization was thin on the ground in the original film, but at least you could tell one character from another by more than just sight. That’s not the case with Hatchet II, which stocks its cast with unrecognizable faces playing ciphers suitable only for dispatch. The two big names in the film, Harris and perennial horror star Tony Todd, are given almost nothing to do except knock out a few lines here and there between gruesome deaths. It’s sad, really.
Critical to the failures of Hatchet and Hatchet II is the idea that one can create an iconic horror baddie out of whole cloth. Sure, it’s been done before (witness: Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers), but even Jason of the Friday the 13th movies had to build up his cachet over the course of a few movies. He wasn’t an overnight sensation. Heck, he didn’t even appear in the first film of that series except in a dream sequence.
Adam Green expects us to immediately latch on to his bad guy, Victor Crowley — longtime Jason veteran Kane Hodder, wearing a ton of makeup — and root for the bloody deaths of the blank, lifeless cast. Victor Crowley prowls a section of Louisiana swamp and is either a ghost or a revived corpse that somehow grew from childhood to adult or something. The movies are never clear and I’m not sure even Green knows the answer. “Killed” by some kids on Halloween night, Crowley now murders anyone who dares set foot in his corner of the bayou.
Now I could buy a vengeful ghost or even a deformed maniac who grew up in the swamp alone. Jason was both of these things in the Friday the 13th movies, plus he turned into a killer zombie in later films. But Victor Crowley, as I say, is a confused mess because his back story and his very premise requires the audience to turn off their brains completely and just accept that there’s a murderer and he murders people. Sometimes, though, being totally brain-dead isn’t enough to gloss over some exceptionally stupid moments like when Crowley magically has a chainsaw or a belt sander or some other motorized tool to assist him in his kills. He’s a ghost, right? Or a bloodthirsty hermit? Where’s this stuff coming from? The questions are unavoidable.
I felt bad for Kane Hodder when I watched Hatchet. Actually I felt bad for everyone cast in that turkey, but most of all for Hodder because he’s a nice guy who genuinely wants to turn in a good performance in even the most low-budget, exploitative fare. He uses his body to act the hell out of the scenes he’s in both there and in Hatchet II, but it’s all pointless because the movie is pointless. “Old-school American horror” apparently doesn’t require there to be any substance to a film at all, being just an excuse to string together gore sequences.
Danielle Harris is better than the material she’s given, too. And Tony Todd, for that matter. These are people who can actually act and would probably get more respect if the horror roles offered to them asked for more than histrionics or camp. I won’t say I think less of either of them for choosing to do Hatchet II, but I do think they should do their best to change the subject any time their participation in the movie comes up. It really is that atrocious.