Horror icon wannabe Victor Crowley claims another victim in Hatchet.
Opening in limited release last weekend (9/7) accompanied by a fair amount of good buzz from old school horror fans, Adam Green’s new film Hatchet proudly presents itself as a throwback to the “Friday the 13th slasher in the woods” style horror popular in the 1980s. I enjoy a good old-fashioned dismemberment-by-shovel as much as the next guy so I convinced myself it just might be the perfect movie to fill some time between two other screenings I had planned for a recent Thursday night. Well, I must have been high or something. To borrow a phrase I was fond of when the very movies Hatchet aspires to emulate were popular: Hatchet sucked the big one.
The slow to get going plot is pretty much irrelevant and to dissect it here would be fruitless. No one goes to a movie like this for the story, they go to be scared and grossed out. Besides, there is no way I can make myself look smarter by picking it apart because I’m already a moron for paying to see it in the first place, right? All you need to know is that the scares take place on the Louisiana bayou at night where a giant deformed maniac named Victor Crowley lurks. Victor, who has possibly the dumbest slasher origin story ever in the history of slasher origin stories (but again, I’m not going to dissect), likes to stalk his prey with hatchets, assorted power tools and various gardening implements.
The victims are a gloomy college kid (I shall call him: Emo) who has just been dumped by his girlfriend; Emo’s horny pal who’d rather be partying at Mardi Gras; Emo’s love interest, a brooding local girl who has the most retarded explanation for why a local would take a phony haunted swamp tour in the first place; the bogus haunted swamp tour guide; a Midwestern tourist couple stereotype; the producer of a soft core Girls Gone Wild-type video series called Bayou Beavers; and two bickering, air headed, aspiring starlets (one of whom is Mercedes McNab best known for her role as Harmony on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel).
After the introductory slaughter of two cartoonish yokels and the obligatory warning not to go into the swamp at night, nothing much happens for 30 minutes while people argue and recite lame dialogue that’s supposed to be funny. Every ten minutes or so, the producer films the two starlets as they kiss, pull their tops down and go “Woo woo!” in a desperate attempt to keep things interesting until finally, thankfully, the group’s tour boat hits a rock and begins to sink near Victor Crowley’s burned out shack.
Here at last, the stalking and killing begin and I have to admit the gore is pretty entertaining. It’s over the top and also effectively done, though the literal buckets of blood splashing every which way are a little much. In the best sequence which doesn’t occur until an hour into the movie (invisible to prevent any whiff of spoilerage, highlight space to read) the brunette starlet’s jaw is buzzed off by a chainsaw pressed to her face. When that doesn’t kill her, she’s impaled on the handle of a shovel that had just recently been used to pry off the tour guide’s head.
It’s good disgusting fun, but unfortunately even this gets repetitive and boring. Victor stalks around the swamp, flailing his arms and yowling like a crazy person as the victims wander about in circles and are picked off one by one until only Emo and the love interest are left to fend for themselves. Every once in a while, Victor is shot or stabbed and, in true slasher movie form, we’re supposed to believe he’s down for the count. Of course, also in true slasher movie form, he gets up every time and continues his rampage. Wash, rinse and repeat until the end credits roll or you kill yourself out of boredom, whichever comes first.
In retrospect, even as a kid, the Friday the 13th type movies were always scarier to me in the pictures of magazines like Fangoria than they were on the screen where things like plot and writing and acting actually mattered. Still, as long as a slasher movie has quality kills, it should be pretty good if it can just manage even a low level of competence in the production department. Hatchet definitely brings the quality carnage, but the rest of the movie is so awful that the momentum of the good scenes is never allowed to develop for long. The final result is a merciless snooze.
Compounding the problem, Hatchet doesn’t even have the stones to take itself seriously or to genuinely try and scare you. From the beginning there is a lame jokey attitude with lots of unfunny dialogue that is so flaccid it won’t even elicit a smile. There are a couple of unintentionally funny moments, but they don’t supply enough energy to keep the movie from being a total bore. A lame horror movie that takes itself seriously is sometimes funny and can actually be entertaining, but a lame horror movie that tries to be funny yet falls on its ass is just pathetic. Hatchet unfortunately falls into the latter category.
With some bad movies, you can see how they maybe worked as a script but were torpedoed by low budgets or amateur productions. I can’t see how Hatchet ever looked appealing even in script form. The story is retarded even by slasher movie standards and the attempt to disguise the lack of real scares with jerky laughs is stillborn, ultimately detracting from the good parts you pay to see.
With nothing else to fall back on, all Hatchet has to prop up its 80s street cred are a handful of cameos from some of the classics of the genre: Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) and Tony Todd (Candyman) each appear briefly, but supply little more than low wattage comic relief; special effects artist John Carl Buechler (Friday the 13th VII, Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Halloween 4) provides the gore and has a cameo himself; and finally, stuntman Kane Hodder (Jason in at least four Friday the 13th movies) plays killer Victor Crowley. None of it is enough to breathe any kind of life into this dud, however.
Hatchet does provide one highlight that’s worth a half a bonus point (invisible text again to preserve the ending and whatever small joy you may manage to milk from this putrid thing): All of the characters are killed by the time the end credits roll…except for Victor Crowley. There are no survivors and no heroes. Every one of the annoying characters are slaughtered in bloody graphic fashion. The final score: Victor Crowley 8, Dumb Teens 0. This is probably not unprecedented in the annals of slasher horror, but it was new to me and it’s worth mentioning.
Although there isn’t much else about this movie to praise, if you’ve got a strong nostalgic thirst for 80s slasher horror that just won’t be slaked by watching the old stuff on DVD (or if you prefer horror of the stupid and gross variety), you might get something out of Hatchet. On the other hand, if you like genuine scares or at least humor that’s actually funny to compliment your gore, then move along folks, there’s nothing to see here.
Hatchet. USA 2006 (released 2007). Written and directed by Adam Green. Starring Joel David Moore, Tamara Feldman, Deon Richmond, Mercedes McNab, Joleigh Fioreavanti, Parry Shen and Joel Murray. 82 minutes. Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, sexual content, nudity and language. 1 star (out of 5).