In the late Nineties the slasher movie was experiencing something of a renaissance. After the heyday of the genre in the early Eighties it had gone into a deep sleep if not in terms of creativity, then certainly in terms of volume and popularity. Then in 1996 Wes Craven, one of the modern horror’s most influential figures brought the slasher bang up to date with ‘Scream’ and breathed new life into the genre. The film was a critical and commercial smash and overnight the slasher was hip again. As with any major success it spawned a raft of imitators who, in trying to copy the snarky dialogue and self-referential nature of Craven’s film, completely missed what made ‘Scream’ so great; it was also a brilliant slasher. The endless stream of identikit copies quickly put the genre back into cryosleep, its graphic violence, gratuitous nudity and simple plot machinations once again an easy target for the anti-horror brigade and talentless hacks alike. By the 2000s mainstream horror was once again the stuff of legend, looked back on with rose-tinted spectacles, by those old enough to, however briefly, remember when genre movies got cinema releases and critical acclaim. In 2005, based on a speculative trailer, debut feature director Adam Green gathered together the finances to make a film designed to be a throwback to violent, low budget Eighties slasher movies like Friday The 13th. After a successful festival run and positive word of mouth ‘Hatchet’ was released and was a not-inconsiderable hit, praised for its ironic approach, knowing nods to genre conventions and it’s almost comedic levels of gore. It also attracted some familiar faces too with both Robert Englund (albeit in cameo) and Kane Hodder appearing. The film’s success meant that it was no surprise when that Green dusted off Hodder’s supernatural psycho Victor Crowley for a sequel and ‘Hatchet 2’ was released in 2010. A second sequel, the predictably titled ‘Hatchet 3’, was released in the US last year and arrives on these shores on March 31st.
The plot picks up immediately as the previous film ends with heroine Marybeth Dunston finally escaping the clutches of Crowley whom she now thinks to be dead. When she makes it back to civilisation she is promptly taken into custody by the local sheriff who believes it is she, and not the mythical Victor Crowley, who is responsible for the mutilated bodies recently discovered in the swamp. When contact is lost with the first responders to the scene the sheriff, his deputies, and a SWAT team go out into the swamp to bring an end to Crowley. What they can’t know is that there is only one person that can kill the monster once and for all, and she is locked up in the local jail…
The plot of ‘Hatchet 3’ sounds a lot more convoluted than it actually is; the majority of its swift 82 minute running time takes place in the swamp as Crowley sets about rapidly reducing the cast. As slasher fare goes it’s perfectly fine; there are no surprises here and there’s no real twist ending although I would suspect the inevitable next instalment will once again follow directly on. If I have any reservations in this regard it’s that I’m not sure whether the film will be as easy to follow if you haven’t seen the first sequel especially but, aside from the over-arching Crowley mythology, it is not a story that requires huge concentration.
The ‘Hatchet’ franchise has garnered a decent following over the instalments from the gorehound community and, once again, there is much blood and grue on display. The previous films were so creative in the ways Crowley’s superhuman strength was employed that you could argue there is little here that feels genuinely fresh; the highlight of the franchise is still Tony Todd’s death in ‘Hatchet 2’ despite what this iteration throws at the screen. That said there is still more than enough insane violence on display here to satisfy most – people get torn in half, blown up, harpooned, shot, stabbed, chainsawed, and so on, with great gusto. These are all achieved with some excellent special effects that, whilst a little rubbery looking in places, are nearly all physical make-up and costumes. These are all shown close up, in glorious detail and serve to add a real sense of physicality to the action on screen. There is some use of computer graphics, mercifully minimal, and it is not especially well done; this is most noticeable during the final showdown at the film’s conclusion where the CGI is very wonky. For the most part though debuting director BJ McDonnell (cameraman on the first two) makes good choices with both the use and filming of the effects he has at his disposal. Also worthy of note is the very effective sound design which gives an extra dimension to Crowley’s shenanigans with an extensive range of gruesome sound effects.
The onscreen carnage notwithstanding the biggest asset of the ‘Hatchet’ franchise has always been its performances. Victor Crowley is portrayed again by the ever-reliable Kane Hodder who brings his trademark physicality and menace to the role. Danielle Harris plays Marybeth, a role she took over from Tamara Feldman after the original movie, and as always she makes for an appealing and likeable leading lady; sadly, she is given far less to do in this instalment, only really joining the action in the last act or so. The supporting cast are excellent. Eighties favourite Zach Galligan makes an appearance here, and acquits himself well in a rather one-dimensional role; this is also true of Derek Mears as Hawes, the leader of the SWAT team (two Jasons in one film fact fans!). Rileah Vanderbilt makes her second appearance in the franchise, this time playing Deputy Dougherty, and makes a likeable foil and companion for Galligan’s abrasive Sheriff Fowler. The real standouts here though are Cody Blue Snider, whose cowardly Deputy Schneiderman get all the best lines, and Parry Shen as Andrew, yet another member of the same unlucky family to cross paths with Crowley. Shen is an instantly likeable and engaging screen presence and it is a mystery that he is not a bigger star; for his part Snider is one to keep an eye on. Robert Diago DoQui also acquits himself well in a mostly thankless role as the final deputy, Winslow, who has little to do but look harassed and drive a car for most of the film’s running time; a shame as, he too, was amusing and competent onscreen.
The chances are you already know whether ‘Hatchet 3’ is for you or not because you’ve seen previous instalments. Whilst it offers nothing new or different from its predecessors it remains steadfastly a ‘Hatchet’ movie and that’s a good thing. It is gruesome, wildly violent, and creative with its kills. The performances and effects are excellent and first-time director McDonnell does a good job of keeping things rattling along nicely. In an era where horror is increasingly anodyne and po-faced, the ‘Hatchet’ films represent a return to the popcorn-throwing, laugh-out-loud, good time slashers you remember. It’s not big and it’s not clever but it is an awful lot of gory fun. I loved it.
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