I remember hearing about “Hatchet” as it made its way through horror festivals and how it was this awesome throwback to 1980’s slasher flicks, collecting positive notices from genre purists — even if the formal critics were much more divisive. Yet I only started truly salivating when the first teaser trailer was attached to… something I’ve already forgotten about that I had seen in theaters… It was a very simple advertisement, focusing on all the accolades it was receiving by horror-flavored critics, while ominous music played in the background, matched with creepy shots of the swamp setting. Even though “Hatchet” would only receive a limited release, I made sure to buy my tickets opening weekend AND I… was kind of underwhelmed. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, but I am saying that I still felt the sting of disappointment, considering how the reviews kept telling me it was a “benchmark in horror” or “the best slasher in 20 years“. I thought “Hatchet” was merely OK and watched “Hatchet II” primarily out of obligation… and I still haven’t seen “Hatchet III” or “Victor Crowley” as of this writing. Yet over the years something unusual began to happen. “Hatchet” started to age gracefully ‘within my mind’. I might remember having a lukewarm reaction towards the film, yet my actual memories of the film made it seem f@cking awesome. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, which I attribute entirely to director Adam Green’s dramatic revival of the franchise in 2017. I’ve been stalling, but I think it’s time to finally confront the hatchet wielding monster known as Victor Crowley and try to make sense of my feelings towards his movies. Why wasn’t I a fan when all of my fellow slasher hounds were? Why does the movie seem so much cooler in my head now than it did 13 years ago? Why do I always make these review marathons seem more important than they really are? Hopefully I shall find the answers to these riddles and more as I explore Victor Crowley’s cinematic massacres, one by one.
(Written and Directed by Adam Green)
(Starring Joel David Moore, Amara Zaragoza and Kane Hodder)
“Hatchet” draws most of its inspiration from “Friday the 13th“, although I’m sure “The Burning” and “Just Before Dawn” also played a significant role in its development. Victor Crawley is the unstoppable, deformed menace who favors hatchets, but will happily kill you with anything he can get his hands on and the swamps of New Orleans are his hunting grounds. Like all good slashers, a colorful, eccentric cast of characters who look good alive, but look better dead inevitably stumble on his turf, where they will be butchered in grotesque ways while probably getting naked in the process. This sounds amazing, so where was my problem with “Hatchet“? I actually solved this mystery almost immediately and it made me realize how much I revere 1980’s slashers — ESPECIALLY “Friday the 13th“. Remember that teaser trailer which pumped me up? It sold me on something scary, but “Hatchet” is more of a comedy and for whatever reason, I found the humor to be more condescending than clever at the time. I can’t really offer much of a defense for those reasons, as I guess I felt duped by the marketing campaign, even though I don’t remember if I saw any of the other trailers. But before you start shaking your heads in disapproval, I am happy to say that is about as good as it seemed within my memories… and by good, I mean f@cking awesome — okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Good is enough.
Even though I remembered how hardcore the gore was, you can really tell that the filmmakers were struggling with a low budget. This production value is impressive in its own way because “Hatchet” is not only utilizing a unique setting, it’s actually making the most out of it. The Swampland’s are foreboding on their own and that’s before you get into the mythical murderer. Adam Green and his cinematographer keep the visuals moody with fog, cobwebs, partially dead raccoons, strange plant life, dilapidated houses and even an old cemetery. John Carl Buechler (director of “Carnosaur“, God in cinematic form, although he’s mostly known for his SFX work) supervised the gore effects and for this viewing, I could tell when corners were being cut. I have to admit that I even found some entertainment value searching for flaws in the prosthetics. Yet I say this fondness, because I recognize those same techniques in actual 1980’s slashers, making “Hatchet” feel like a genuine throwback. The kills are also really f@cking cool, because each one is practically its own money shot, worthy of being “the one” recognizable death in any other slasher. They’re twisted and gruesome and the effects work has come along way since the 1980’s, so we get to see some splatter that you may have never seen before. But what about the elephant in the room? What about the comedy? “Hatchet” was actually pretty f@cking funny. The cast is great and they’re given plenty of golden dialogue to work with, assuming they weren’t simply improvising. I loved the majority of their comedic timing and their characters are pretty interesting, so much so that I almost want to hold it against the movie when they’re killed off sooner than later. Even when they’d do things that usually annoy me, such as when tensions grow so high that they start stupidly fighting amongst themselves, they did so in such a hilarious way. I usually roll my eyes at gratuitous cameos, but Robert Englund and Tony Todd’s brief appearances had me in stitches. I’m baffled as to why I initially viewed this as “condescending”, as the jokes are pure fanservice.
Adam Green’s inexperience does occasionally show, although “Hatchet” is in an odd position where the flaws almost seem deliberate, as if they’re part of the joke. Yet even if this is true, I can’t say they always landed. For example, the score sometimes is strangely at odds with the visuals. You’ll have these spooky shots of the swamp, accompanied by silly background music. I might’ve liked the cast, but there were a few exceptions. Deon Richmond (Marcus) is a scene stealer for many, but his stereotypical “token black guy” archetype was more of a 1990’s thing, which doesn’t fit with the 1980’s aesthetic. Maybe that was the point? Richmond played the self-identified “token black guy” in “Not Another Teen Movie” and he’s more-or-less reprising that role here, but he seemed like he was trying too hard for me. I also wasn’t sure how I felt about Tamara Feldman (Marybeth). She plays it so straight that once again, I suspect that’s part of the humor, but sometimes she’s just a big wet blanket when playing off more amusing characters. Her acting is so good that it completely f@cks up the tone during the ending… which, without spoiling anything, is very reminiscent of 1980’s horror conclusions. The problem with comedic throwbacks attempting these kinds of finishes is that they’re too silly to take seriously, yet too bleak to be funny and the final moments left a bad taste in my mouth both in 2006 and 2019. I also find it strange that Adam Green never really attempts to build up suspense, which was such a big part of 1980’s slasher films. This isn’t really a criticism though because it’s possible that would’ve thrown off the comedy. “Hatchet” is too fast paced to really creep under your skin, but because it never slows down, it can safely rely on the jokes and the splatter — which this movie was obviously prioritizing anyway. Now if you’re not partial to slashers, I can’t bring myself to recommend this to you, even though the humor might cushion the blow. This might be a comedic slasher, but it’s not “Scream“, which I’ve always felt appealed more to those who are casual fans or even detractors of genre than the purists who made “Hatchet” a cult hit. “Scream” prioritized the story and satire, partially because the 1990’s social climate frowned on graphic violence. “Hatchet” is the type of movie you watch when you want to see tits hanging out or people getting their faces sand papered off or their jaws ripped in half. It’s low brow and proud of it! I’m glad I gave “Hatchet” another shot, as I had a lot of fun with it once I knew what to expect.Rating: 7/10
HATCHET II (2010)
(Written and Directed by Adam Green)
(Starring Danielle Harris, Tony Todd and Kane Hodder)
“Hatchet II” had a much more muted reception compared to the first one, which might’ve been why writer-director Adam Green chose not to direct the third movie… or maybe he was just tired of fighting with the MPAA, who refused to give these films “R” ratings. These battles lead to “Hatchet” having its gore trimmed down and “Hatchet II” struggling to find distribution, sabotaging its theatrical release. I rented it when it came out on DVD and I personally thought it was a flawed — but worthy — sequel, keeping in mind that I was seemingly the only slasher fan who wasn’t dry humping the first one. Now that I’ve revisited “Hatchet II“, my feelings… remain mostly unchanged. I think it’s very easy to dismiss “Hatchet II” as just another standard slasher and I do remember at least a few reviewers accusing Adam Green of “phoning it in”. This is what happens when you take the wet blanket in human form the first film, Marybeth, and make her the f@cking protagonist. In the first film, the joke seemed to be that Marybeth wasn’t aware that she was in a slasher comedy, so her actress played the role as straight as possible. This has the potential to be funny, except it ended up putting a damper on the humor and becoming even a little depressing because her performance was too good. Tamara Feldman has been replaced with Danielle Harris, but her characterization remains the same, except now the entire narrative is built around her. This means that the tone has to be A LOT more serious, which is going to throw off the people who came here for the comedy. I personally don’t have a problem with “Hatchet II” being a dramatic thriller, as Danielle Harris successfully carries the emotional weight of her character. You can make a very good argument though that this strips the franchise of its personality, so I understand the complaint — even if I don’t necessarily agree with it. As for the lack of style or energy, this is just Green adjusting to the new tone. Because there aren’t as many laughs, he has more opportunities to build suspense. The pacing HAS to slow down for this to work and excessive style would be more distracting than thrilling.
I personally thought Green taking the time to actually build up to the kills gave them more impact when the hatchet fell. The movie does take its time getting going and in hindsight, you can REALLY see some penny pinching throughout the first half. I would say that this is a bad thing, except that money saved presumably went to the more sophisticated gore effects. “Hatchet II” sports the same twisted — yet brutally imaginative — mean streak as the first film and it REALLY says something in this films favor when the blandest kill probably goes to the guy getting his face shoved into a boat propeller… which is still more hardcore than most slashers out there. But I can almost… ALMOST… sympathize with the MPAA because the effects are probably too good for the films own… good… The prosthetics and other practical techniques were arguably the best I’ve ever seen in a slasher flick, with one kill near the end standing out as the most AWESOME DEATH SCENE IN SLASHER HISTORY. The filmmakers also correct some of the mistakes of the first film, such as keeping the score a little more tonally in line with the visuals and relying a lot less on shots of blood splattering against trees.
I didn’t have a problem with Victor Crowley’s design or characterization before, but was it just me or did they scale back his facial prosthetics? Kane Hodder’s features seemed more noticeable, but if this is the case, I’m not complaining as it made him look freakier. I also liked how Crowley is much more durable than he was before, being able to withstand gunshots, whereas he was pretty easily stunned in the first film. I’ve just realized that I forgot to even talk about Crowley in my review of “Hatchet“, but he’s definitely a killer with a lot of presence. He takes a demented glee in his killings and the makeup and physical size of the character make him incredibly intimidating. If I have any complaints about Victor himself, it’s that the movies keep insisting he’s a scared man-child reliving the night of his death over and over again, but he looks like he’s enjoying himself too much for this to be the case. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the mythology surrounding him and I believe Victor deserves to be remembered alongside Jason, Freddy, Michael, etc. I’ll even go so far as to say that Victor arguably gives Kane Hodder more to do as a performer than Jason ever could, stuntwork aside. Finally — the cast all turn in stellar performances and their characters were pretty interesting for victim fodder, even if they were arguably underutilized. I especially liked Tony Todd’s Reverend Zombie, as you are never entirely sure how much you can trust him.
So… what’s the problem? Well, besides that very distracting plot hole near the end surrounding a characters identity?
Like I said, I was on board with most of the things that may have alienated some of the fanbase, but “Hatchet II” is a tonal wreck… Because the heroine is Marybeth, everything’s a lot more serious, but when she’s not on the screen… the characters suddenly become a lot more comedic. The humor is not as funny this time around, but even when it was, it stood out as incredibly inappropriate next to all of these dramatic scenes of Marybeth mourning for her dead loved ones. It’s almost as if the “ending” of the first “Hatchet” which annoyed me so much was stretched into this entire sequel. Some of the bloodier deaths would just feel ‘wrong’, following attempts to humanize the characters, ESPECIALLY when Marybeth is bringing genuine gravitas to the splatter. But it’s usually just characters like Vernon (Colton Dunn) feeling woefully out of place and really f@cking annoying, even though they wouldn’t have stood out as much in the first film. I also hope to f@ck Marybeth doesn’t return for “Hatchet III“, as I’ve really grown to dislike the character. She spends so much of the running-time riding that high horse, condemning others for endangering lives EVEN THOUGH SHE’S EQUALLY F@CKING RESPONSIBLE FOR GETTING EVERYONE KILLED, yet no calls her out on this! She f@cking blackmailed Reverend Zombie into starting this whole expedition, but conveniently forgets her own culpability when people start dying. At least in the first film her motivations were based around her hopefully finding her family, but she knows they’re f@cking dead now and yet she’s willing to risk lives just to retrieve their bodies. F@ck this character! F@ck this character so hard! So… yikes… yeah… “Hatchet II” definitely has some serious problems, but I’m still willing to defend a lot of the creative decisions behind it. The nice thing about this franchise is that it can endure problems with the scripts… problems with its tones… problems with the production values… as long as the death scenes are satisfying — and few slashers can truly compete with “Hatchet II” when it comes to providing satisfying death scenes.Rating: 6/10
HATCHET III (2013)
(Directed by BJ McDonnell)
(Written by Adam Green)
(Starring Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder and Zach Galligan)
“Hatchet III” has the unwanted reputation of being the “weakest” of the franchise, although the reception was more middling than outright hostile. This is going to be one of those difficult reviews, where you can’t really praise anything without subsequently criticizing something, or vice versa. For example, THEY’VE FINALLY FOUND A STEADY TONE! There are no inappropriate moments of comedy or misplaced attempts at drama, as the laughs, thrills and sniffles were all seamlessly woven together… It’s just too bad that “Hatchet III” is never especially funny, thrilling or dramatic…. DAMN IT! I will admit that I enjoyed most of the in-jokes though, with Adam Green’s cameo probably standing out as the film’s finest moment, but then… there is another cameo that really pissed me off… Why do new wave horror filmmakers think that fans want these kinds of appearances? Luckily, I can’t say I was ever bored as the movie is simply too short to be dull and the action seemingly starts almost immediately. But on the other hand, it’s really hard to get invested in the mayhem because the only characters who seemingly matter spend nearly THE ENTIRE MOVIE out of danger, participating on a side quest. Most of the running-time is dedicated to annoying, unpleasant or interchangeable background characters bitching at each-other before dying. This stung the hardest for me, because both of its predecessors had pretty good supporting casts and if I didn’t like specific characters, at least they showcased personalities. The only one I made any kind of attachment to was Andrew (Parry Shen, in another new role), but only because he’s such a familiar face. The actor is given virtually nothing to do but run around and look scared, so his talents were wasted. What about Marrybeth? She’s hostile and bitchy towards everyone, making her even more unappealing than she already was. Danielle Harris is such a good actress and she spends the entire f@cking story in the back seat of a cop car telling people to f@ck off. I HATE THIS CHARACTER SO F@CKING MUCH! But do you know what?! EVERYONE ELSE IS ARGUABLY F@CKING WORSE! They’re equally mean or morally scrupulous, or just plain stupid… or all of the above.
But at least we get to see them all die in awesome ways? Right? RIGHT!? Well, yeah… sort of
While this is neither a praise or a criticism, “Hatchet III” seems to favor action more than horror, as there is a lot more bullets flying and even an explosion or two, but there aren’t any attempts at building suspense or crafting scares. I don’t hold this against the movie… in theory, but I found the action scenes to be less exciting than the fewer throwdowns of its predecessors. There’s one fight you’re actually kind of looking forward to seeing, as it’s “Kane Hodder Vs Derek Mears“, both former Jason Voorhees’s, but it’s so disappointing that I think they were actually trying to make a joke out of it… I didn’t laugh. BUT — there is a light at the end of this tunnel! The kills are pretty good, with the effects work having the right balance of campy and convincing, without ever resorting to CGI. BUT — I told you I can’t praise anything without criticizing something and in this case, it’s that the gore might be good… but it’s not AS good. I initially suspected that the filmmakers had simply run out of creative ways of massacring people, as most of the kills felt like variations of Crowley’s classics. But then I started thinking about Adam Green’s previous battles with the MPAA and now wonder if director BJ McDonnell simply didn’t want to engage in those same fights. There is definitely a lot more death, but it’s a case of quantity over quality as we don’t get as many eye-fulls and they just don’t stand out as much. Ugh, I feel like such an asshole even whining about this, as “Hatchet III” is still gorier than most slashers and if its predecessors hadn’t set the bar so high in terms of gruesomeness, I’d be singing all sorts of praises to the splatter god. The disadvantage of every sequel is that expectations are placed on their shoulders that we wouldn’t burden any other film with. BJ McDonnell was a camera operator on the first two films and Green personally selected him to direct direct this entry — which was originally intended to be the conclusion of a trilogy. McDonnell adequately recreates Green’s visual style, but it just doesn’t feel the same. I might’ve complained about some of Green’s decisions and ideas in the past, but at least they came from a place of inspiration. I’m not saying McDonnell lacked passion for the project, especially considering how troubled the production was, but he was more-or-less bringing someone else’s vision to life. The final product is inevitable going to end up feeling… restrained… manufactured… not as good… I think I would’ve enjoyed this entry more if I hadn’t seen it as part of a marathon, as I might feel less inclined to draw comparisons to its predecessors, if they weren’t so fresh on my mind. “Hatchet III” is still an acceptable slasher and even if the inspiration behind-the-scenes fizzled, everyone involved is still competent enough to craft a gnarly splatter effect… or two… or twenty… probably more.Rating: 5/10
VICTOR CROWLEY (2017)
(Written and Directed by Adam Green)
(Starring Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz and Kane Hodder)
On August 22nd, 2017, fans flocked to the Frightfest Film Festival for a 10 year anniversary screening of “Hatchet“, but were stunned when Adam Green unveiled a new sequel — filmed entirely in secret — instead… F@CK! YES! Regardless of whether the film would turn out good or bad, that is an awesome way of premiering a movie. Even someone who was lukewarm towards Victor Crowley such as myself (at the time) was taken in by the enthusiastic reactions. Admittedly, I couldn’t watch the freshly titled “Victor Crowley” for awhile because I hadn’t seen “Hatchet III” and I didn’t really want to see “Hatchet III“, but I’ve finally reached the finish line. The advantage of waiting is that I’m less likely to be influenced by the hype and we all know that my cinematic insight is so keen that you’d certainly trust my judgement over your own. Because I was not in the audience with overly enthusiastic fans, I could use my super critic eyes to deduce that “Victor Crowley” was the cheapest of the saga… even though apparently it had a bigger budget than the original film, so I was wrong… Okay, so maybe I need some super critic glasses… I don’t know where Adam Green filmed this, but it seemed like there was very little variety in the locations, with most of the screen-time being dedicated to a a single, small set. But do you know what? The filmmakers made it all work. The colorful lighting and the equally colorful personalities of the cast kept me thoroughly entertained. I thought “Victor Crowley” was hilarious, easily the funniest of all the “Hatchet” movies. I also found Green’s ways of working around the low budget to be clever and even inspiring. BUT WAIT! MY HEIGHTENED CRITIC SENSES ARE TINGLING! There is one specific scene that is uncharacteristically dark, except this time it didn’t spoil the festivities. Why is this? I saw it as Green deliberately trolling people like me who complained about the tonal issues before. I can’t give a good reason as to why it works better here than the equivalent from the first “Hatchet“, other than the joke simply landing better this time, but “Victor Crowley” never frustrated or annoyed me. Adam Green’s passion for the saga has clearly been revived, as this has the same energy and style of “Hatchet“, but he’s gained enough experience over the decade to have a better grasp of what works and doesn’t work.
Oh yeah, what about the kills? Those are kind of important to a slasher…
THEY ARE F@CKING — er, I think I preferred the ones from “Hatchet II“… STILL F@CKING AWESOME! The gore effects are a lot more in line with the original “Hatchet“, in that they seem to be deliberately fake looking. The kills lack the finesse of the previous two flicks, but that’s not necessarily a criticism, because I suspect that Green favors schlock over sophistication anyway, so I’ll favor it along with him. Green appears to have skipped the MPAA altogether and “Victor Crowley” shines as an unrated bloodbath. You never know how f@cked up it’s going to get… and it gets pretty f@cked up! The kills are twisted, gruesome and “fresh”, sporting some ways to die that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. There wasn’t a single death wasted, with each body expanding on Victor’s bloody repertoire. Kane Hodder reprises his role as Victor Crowley and he’s about as menacing as he’s ever been, with one moment standing out as legitimately scary. I hate (love) when I can see the jump scare coming, yet it still makes me leap into the air when it strikes. As much as I enjoyed “Victor Crowley“, I don’t know if I would’ve appreciated it as much had I not just seen “Hatchet III“. Both films balanced thrills and giggles more evenly than the first two entries, yet one doesn’t provide enough of either and the other satisfies as both. One was so low on new ideas for kills, while the other should probably be institutionalized for its grotesque imagination. One feels lethargic, as if the filmmakers were tired of this series, while the other feels rejuvenated and ready to move forward with the series. “Victor Crowley” might not be as memorable as “Hacthet“, but I think it’s my personal favorite entry within the franchise. It retains the strengths of its predecessors, while ironing out the wrinkles. My only true complaint is… the post credits scene… for some sins of the past cannot be forgiven.Rating: 7/10
I’m really happy that I went through with this marathon. I was not only able to make peace with a movie that I was initially disappointed with, but we ended up becoming buddies and I was even able to enjoy playing with all of its children — yes, “Hatchet III“, even you. Adam Green has had an interesting career and I hope he continues making movies, as “Frozen” (no, not THAT one) and “Digging Up the Marrow” were just as fun in their own ways. But I’d only want him to continue with this specific film series if he remains passionate about it… and I’d only want this film series to continue if he’s at the helm, as I feel Green is the only director who can make this kind of wild material work. It’s his baby. So… yeah, this ended up being a pretty entertaining franchise and I’m excited for its future. F@ck Marybeth though.