Adam Green's homage to the golden era of the slasher flick (the early 80s, as if you didn't know) is a fun, good-natured and gut-ripping return to those halcyon days when the woods were alive with the sound of twigs snapping and campers screaming.
HATCHET introduces us to a new wannabe boogeyman, Victor Crowley. Legend has it that Crowley was a horribly disfigured man, who, as a child was teased mercilessly by the local kids. For his own safe keeping, his father (played by former Mr Voorhees himself, Kane Hodder) kept him locked away from preying eyes. However, one Halloween, some of the local children ventured to the Crowley house – deep in the swamp – where they taunted the now grown Victor. In a move reminiscent of THE BURNING (1981) the prank goes horribly wrong and sets fire to the Crowley residence, with Victor trapped inside. His father returns and attempts to save his son. When he is unable to break the burning door down, he grabs a hatchet at tries to hack it down – only, tragically, one of his blows hits his son in the face. The father died ten years later from a broken heart. Victor was supposed to have died that night, but legend has it that his spirit still roams the swamp crying out for his father and looking for those who did him wrong.
New Orleans, of course, is steeped in true mysticism and – more often – witchiepoo naffness. It is the perfect launching pad for a tour of a the 'haunted swamp', hosted by an eccentric Asian guy called Shawn (Parry Shen), who one of the other characters describes as a “Uncle Remus vs. Bruce Lee”. Along for the ride are an assorted bunch of tourists. Ben (Joel Moore), the depressed college student who just can't get into the cavalcade of boobs and beer at the Mardi Gras, who persuades his friend, Marcus (Deon Richmond), to join him on the night-time excursion to cheer him up. There's also the amateur porn producer, Doug (Joel Murray) - and his two topless models: the wonderfully dizzy Misty (Mercedes McNab) and her arch nemesis Jenna (Joleigh Fioreavanti). Plus a middle-aged overweight couple, Jim (Richard Riehle) and Shannon (Patrika Darbo). To round things off, there's also a beautiful but distant local, Mary-Beth (Tamara Feldman).
Despite the protests of a urine swigging alligator hunter (whose cries of “You're all going to die!”, echoes those of Crazy Ralph and his ilk to so many doomed teens in early 80s slashers), the not so merry troupe head off into the Bayou by boat for their tour. Sean – who it turns out is a novice tour guide – tells the group an abridged version of the Crowley legend, before absent-mindedly running the boat onto rocks and scuppering it miles from civilization. They flee onto dry land as the vessel sinks beneath the murky waters, not before one of them almost looses a foot to an alligator. Things go from bad to worse when Mary-Beth tells the group that she believes that they are in imminent danger, and that Victor Crowley is a very real and present danger to them. She further explains that her brother and father (Robert Englund in a cameo during the prologue) recently disappeared whilst illegally hunting gators, and she thinks Crowley was responsible. No one much believes her until they see that they are only a matter of yards away from the dilapidated Crowley residence – and the realisation sets in that their only means of escape are beyond the house. Unluckily for them, Crowley is not only home but he's not happy about house calls. The group watch in horror as two of their fellow passengers are hacked and ripped apart in front of their eyes by this hulking backwoods monster. Panic – and much screaming – ensues as they run off blindly into the woods ...
If HATCHET is one thing then it's pretty damn gory (although I imagine there might be some censorious snipping in certain territories). As a throwback to the FRIDAY series, Green's film has the kind of gut-ripping, liver exploding, grue splashing mayhem that those sequels could only dream of (but might have had if it hadn't have been for those meddling kids at the MPAA). One character is repeatedly hacked at with a hatchet until he splits in two (surely the goriest backwoods death since that horny camper suffered a similar fate in the un-rated JASON GOES TO HELL (1993)). Someone else has their jaws gripped and pulled apart, so that their head splits open like a ripe watermelon. Add to that a hand held sander to the face, decapitation with a shovel, arms ripped off and a whole assortment of other jolly slaughter. For a low-mid budget feature the effects are especially impressive (apart from a few rather unconvincing corpses). The fx duty was handled by the director of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD (1987), John Carl Buechler (see a pattern emerging here?).
This unrelenting bloodbath is somewhat tempered by the fact that the film also has a broad streak of humour throughout. Now, horror comedies are notoriously difficult to do, but Green pretty pulls it off by following the sage advice of not making fun of the would-be scary scenes nor the villain. The comedy comes mostly in the first half, with the characters taking cracks at each other and some pretty funny dialogue. My favourite characters had to be the two topless models, who quarrel relentlessly whenever they aren't pretending to be sapphic best friends as the camera rolls. Misty is a stand out – the unbelievably dumb blonde who has to ask if she needs to put an area code in front of 911, and thinks cops and the police are different things!
Of course, a slasher movie would be nothing without its villain. Victor Crowley is a perfect addition to the slasher movie villain horror hall of fame. Whilst, obviously derivative (this is after all a homage), the back story perfectly sets things up – and explains why the already hideously deformed Crowley was given an extreme makeover accidentally by his father and now sports a snazzy hatchet face. Cowley himself (played as well by ex-Jason Kane Hodder) is a cross between the Elephant Man, Jason circa FRIDAY 2 (1981), the killer in HUMONGOUS (1982), and with a dash of Farmer Madman Marz in MADMAN (1982). Hulking but nimble, this monster is no slow methodical nutjob – rather he sprints after his victims like a psychotic Linford Christie!
HATCHET ups the fun stakes by revelling in the subgenre's well worn (but ever enjoyable) clichés. As to be expected, Crowley it seems can be knocked out but he's soon up and ready for more mayhem. There's also some great chase scenes, with the one in the eerie graveyard providing some solid popcorn jolts (the moment when Crowley stands up into shot behind the surviving characters is a great, even if it is deliriously silly). The cameo's are also a blast, with Englund playing against type as an ill-fated, homophobic gator hunter – and his hick son (played by BLAIR WITCH's Joshua Leonard). Plus there's CANDYMAN's Tony Todd puts in a fun turn as a spooky – and spooked – tour guide.
If there are any downsides, the humour may not work for some (I remember how much I was put off CABIN FEVER (2002) after discovering I was watching a comedy after the ads had make it out to be a straight terror flick). Also, whilst Tamara Feldman is fine as the shoe-in final girl, it's hard to believe that, with her model good looks, she would be cut from the same block as her missing redneck brother and father. I'm in two minds about the ending (which, obviously, I won't spoil here), but felt it somewhat went against the fun popcorn nature of what had gone before.
Recently the slasher flick has seen a resurgence, with other enjoyable comfort horrors like DARK RIDE (2006); the fresh take on old material, THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON (2007); and the just plain wacky, THE TRIPPER (2006). I was drawn to the subgenre back in the early 80s by the popcorn, good time (but occasionally nasty) slashers like MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981), HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981) and a countless others. Despite the overly comedic elements, HATCHET has that same pulse-pounding ironic joie-de-vive that all the best slashers have – so despite some flaws – and despite it not being the best horror film of the last 20 years as some have breathlessly claimed – it comes highly recommended for all fans of the subgenre. I mean, who can resist a good backwoods slasher flick? I know I certainly can't.
female:4 / male:7
1) Male found gutted
2) Male dismembered
3) Male hacked in half with hatchet
4) Female has head ripped in half
5) Male has head twisted off
6) Male decapitated with a spade
7) Female has face taken off with a hand sander and then impaled on spade handle
8) Female dismembered (offscreen)
9) Male has both arms ripped off
10) Male has arm ripped off (presumed dead)
11) Female presumed dead