[11 February 2011]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
When last we left horror satire Hatchet, it was earning accolades from fright oriented websites and pleasing genre lovers with its deft combination of goofiness and gore. Fanatics for Adam Green’s slasher throwback couldn’t wait for the souped up sequel the original promised. What a difference a few months makes, however. Green went on to make the well received “straight” thriller Frozen, and then the continuing adventures of the mutant Victor Crowley earned an impossible to market NC-17 from the MPAA. So Green decided to do something devious and release Hatchet II sans rating, and he actually got theater chain AMC to agree to a (somewhat) wide release. Two days in, however, the film was unceremoniously pulled from screens, leaving audiences scratching their already fevered brains over such a startling turn of events.
Perhaps the company were merely reacting to the fact that, all in all, Hatchet II was/is not very good. Unlike the first one, which had a nice balance of splatter and stupidity, this update is just dull. In picking up directly where the first film left off - albeit with a new, more recognizable scream queen in the lead - we are thrust into the misadventures of this monster without the necessary mythology. Lucky for us, Green decides to forgo much of the massacring until an hour in…and this is only a 80-some minute movie. When it does arrive, we are more than grateful for the grue. As a matter of fact, the clever killings almost save Hatchet II from being a dismal waste of time. Without them, not even the obvious terror iconography could save us.
After escaping the clutches of the vile Victor Crowley, Marybeth makes her way to the house of Jack Cracker, who warns her not to stay in the swamp for much longer. Naturally, she leaves and he pays for his indiscretion. Later, Marybeth returns to the emporium of one Reverend Zombie, asking questions about Crowley and her father. Turns out, her dad was one of the three kids who caused our maniac to be mutilated and burned alive in a prank gone pyrotechnic many moons ago. Hoping to gather a posse to return to the bog, Marybeth gets the Rev. to put a $500 bounty on the head of Victor Crowley. The offer attracts the attention of some good old boys, a single horny good old gal, and an African American hunter more interesting in cookies and nookie than tracking a killer. Little do they know that as they travel back into the watery hell, the con man preacher has a plan for all of them - and none, including Marybeth - are coming back alive.
With its collection of former/current horror filmmakers (Tom Holland, John Carl Buechler) and recognizable scary movie stars (Danielle Harris, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder), Hatchet II promises a heartfelt and hilarious homage to the fear we all love to dread. But there are problems o’plenty with this otherwise blood drenched valentine. Green forgets that nothing kills the fun of a fright flick faster than endless exposition. In fact, the first scene is a clear example of how talking trumps the potential terror. As Marybeth (Ms. Harris is full arched eyebrow mode) argues with Jack Cracker over the whole Crowley thing, we grow antsy. Similarly, Todd’s Reverend Zombie gets a 15 minute monologue that does little to forward our fun. By the time we get to the swamp and the cavalcade of cliches riding shotgun (redneck, lothario, idiot, harlot, etc.) we recognize the ploy. Green is just biding his time, waiting until nightfall, and his F/X, show up.
The deaths are indeed delightful, a combination of the nasty and outrageous made even more memorable by a lack of MPAA control. Torrents of the red stuff flow freely from headless necks and torsos reveal ample fake entrails. We get a belt sander to the brain pan, a double chainsaw vasectomy, a propeller to the face plate, and hatchet head smash. As for Crowley himself, Hodder is clearly covered in the fakest kind of fright mask, but there is still a nice level of grue to the deep groove in the fiend’s puss. In fact, it’s safe to say that the gore is the best thing about Hatchet II. It’s not trying to be ultra-realistic or torture porn unpleasant. Green clearly remembers the days when direct to video meant pushing the boundaries of bravura bloodletting. Here, he delivers the body broth by the gleeful gallon.
But in almost all other attributes, Hatchet II fails. While it’s not meant to be scary, it’s too slight to be much of anything else. We don’t really get involved in Marybeth’s plight, could care less about Zombie’s underhanded plan, and wonder, if truly undead, how anyone can actually kill Crowley. We get lots of mixed messages along the way (“I hurt him. If I can hurt him, I can kill him.”), but Green is not interesting in the kind of cracked logic a monster movie maintains. He just wants to gather his victim fodder, give them a halfway decent reason to go back to somewhere that they rightfully know they should avoid like the plague, and then pick them off one by one. Cut to the credits and await the inevitable tre-quel.
Here’ s hoping it doesn’t happen. Hatchet had so much promise that to see it wasted here within such a sloppy second go round is just disheartening. Green can argue all he wants about “making the movie he wanted”, but there is obvious a limit to how long a throwback mentality can work. Maybe Hatchet II is trying to something mega-meta. Maybe it’s doing exactly what many horror films in the early ‘80s did - that is, trade on whatever made their origin story work, while amplifying the body count and discarding the unnecessary nuance. Forget making a better film - just make the same movie and count the cash. Fortunately, there are enough diabolical deaths to carry us over the dull bits. Without the viable vein juice, this would simply be a hatchet (II) job.