Today I will be watching a film that was a real darling at Fantastic Fest III, the first I ever attended. Unfortunately I missed it because I didn’t arrive until day three. I had heard a lot of people talking about this and how much they liked it, but it would have made my list just based on its cast. The film in question features three legendary horror icons: Robert Englund (Freddy), Kane Hodder (Jason), and Tony Todd (Candyman). I was interested to see these titans of terror used in alternative capacities. Having lived in Baton Rouge and having been to New Orleans several times with differing but still frightening results, I was also interested to see a horror film set in New Orleans. It is such a creepy city and I really think there should be more horror films set there. All said, HATCHET seemed like it would be the perfect movie for me.
It was not.
HATCHET is your basic slasher flick. A group of dopes take a haunted swamp tour deep in the bayou that happens to be inhabited by a killer named Victor Crowley with a dark past. Then they get picked off one by one in not so nice ways utilizing several different tools. The group then gets whittled down to a couple survivors who fight said killer. Credits. Pretty standard stuff going on here, in fact it’s conceptually oversimplified. Writer/director Adam Green uses American horror standards to recreate the feel of an 80’s slasher flick. He focuses on gore and jump scares, intentionally giving us flat, vapid characters and stilted writing to create this illusion. The inclusion of the aforementioned horror icons didn’t hurt none either. Being an avid fan of slasher films from the 80’s, this should have been like chocolate covered popcorn for me.
But the problem is that Green does not know how to strike a balance between homage and quality. The cheesiness of his source material becomes a crutch and it seems no care was put into the script at all. There are some really funny jokes in the spirit of the 80’s flicks but still entirely contemporary, yet even those start to sound desperate and lazy as they appear again and again. Imagine if Quentin Tarantino just threw a mess of references from his favorite films in a bag, swung it over his head a few times, and let it fly; compiling a movie out of the ones that landed outside the bag. That is exactly what HATCHET feels like because Green does nothing to make this movie his own.
I understand some of the acting is bad on purpose, but oh dear God that blonde chick did not die soon enough. I get why her character was written so stupid, but it was stupid played for laughs and the actress was not funny. The real bitch is that we don’t even get to see her get killed, denying us that one, tiny iota of satisfaction. Joel David Moore was decently charming at times but hopelessly out of his element at others. Kane Hodder looks like he is having more fun playing Crowley than he ever did as Jason, but even his performance runs cold after a while. I think the issue is that, in setting out to make a throwback film, Green makes a film that is nothing special, that feels very old hat. I was bored out of my mind by about the fourth limb removal.
For hardcore horror fans, the selling point of HATCHET is the gore, which feels like a Fangoria-produced showcase for splatter effects. Which is weird because I had a lot of fun watching H.G. Lewis’ Wizard of Gore, a movie that gave me this same impression, whereas HATCHET just left me frustrated. I think it’s because Lewis’ film seems experimental and unassuming while this film seems to be fully convinced of its greatness. There is literally a scene where Crowley rips entrails out of a guy and just throws them against a tree in slow motion. It’s completely pointless and kind of a lame effect. But there are some decent hackity-hack effects and one particularly nasty head splitting scene, so it’s not all bad.
The music is God awful, though. It was so bland and generic that it sounded like something from a backyard horror film you buy in a 50 movie set for $8. Again it might have been that Green thought he was referencing old 80’s slashers but I still call bullshit because there are some really great horror scores from the 80’s. Manfredini’s stuff from the original FRIDAY THE 13TH is fantastic, as is the music in NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. It’s not a given that the music in an 80’s slasher film is going to suck so why sacrifice entertainment value to include that reference?
There is also a line of dialogue in HATCHET that turns my stomach. When they go into Victor Crowley’s back story, he is described as a harmless, sweet boy who was simply born deformed. Green goes to great lengths to establish that he’s innocent and that the other kids torture him, but one of the characters later makes some comment about how Victor was never human. What?!! Why? I mean sure, when he’s killing everyone with various farm implements I can understand making the claim that he IS not human, but to say that he WAS NEVER human is to say that he was inhuman as a kid (when his only crime was being born deformed?). Given what the script has established, having a character say that seems inappropriately hateful. And it’s not even said by one of the characters who are played stupid for laughs, instead by the one with her shit together the most. Wow, that’s either really bad writing or Green needs to get into fucking therapy.
And then HATCHET finishes with an ending that is supposed to be shocking but if you’ve seen any of the films Green is channeling it could not be more telegraphed. The ending does not pack enough punch to warrant the sudden cut to black and the pause before the credits roll. Again HATCHET is convinced that it is going to scare you so much that you will need to take that pausing moment to catch your breath. Bullshit! This is nothing more than a run-of-the-mill horror flick trying to be something it’s not. It frankly doesn’t even deserve a second viewing. HATCHET tries to trick you into thinking it’s a good movie by calling to mind much better slasher films from yesteryear but Green puts no individual mark on it, leaving the whole thing to fall flat.