[22 February 2011]
Horror is a unique film genre.
In some ways it is the purest, as it taps into our emotions directly, without the pretense of art. It has the ability to inspire disgust in politicians, fear in parents, and righteousness in many religious people. Simultaneously, it can invoke fascination in children, an excuse to be closer than normal for adolescent couples, and the thrill of irrational fear in the general population. In short, it scares the hell out of everyone in one way or another, and that’s a good thing.
Then again, some take it further than is probably psychologically healthy. In a recent New Yorker article, Guillermo Del Toro—the director of the Oscar-winning Pan’s Labyrinth—said of his obsession with the genre, “It’s as hard to explain as a sexual proclivity. Some guys like high-heeled shoes. I like horror.” He goes on to say that, in defense of the pulpier elements of his films, “In emotional genres [like horror] you cannot advocate good taste as an argument.”
Good taste does not describe the recent release of Hatchet II on DVD, but then again it’s not intended to. With the first Hatchet, director Adam Green echoed the seminal horror films of the 1980s while injecting humor into the storyline, resulting in what has become a new splinter genre, the non-spoof horror comedy. As if to underline the homage to ‘80s slasher films, Green also hired Kane Hodder, star of many of the Friday the 13th installments, to play a dramatic role. With Hatchet II, Green continues his homage to the horror films of his youth, bringing on Tom Holland, director of Child’s Play, to play the part of Uncle Bob.
Speaking from his home in Los Angeles, Tom Holland said of the current state of the horror genre, “There’s an energy in horror that isn’t in other kinds of movies right now. I also think that the horror community in Los Angeles, which includes Adam Green, consists of the most experimental and most creative people out there.” As for Hatchet II, “People need to see Hatchet II. It’s a lot of fun. Trying to find something entertaining today is really hard work. I mean outside of True Grit is there a film that’s been nominated for an Academy Award that’s truly enjoyable? We’ve had ten years of art films. Who wants to see them?”
While not everyone would agree with his description of the current state of cinema, Holland has a point. In a film industry fractured by digital piracy and increasingly reliant on the blockbuster to keep people spending money at theaters, the horror genre stands out as the one part of the film industry that seems to keep making financial sense. From the recent Paranormal Activity films to the Hatchet series, the horror genre typically costs less and nets more than its big budget Hollywood counterparts. Hatchet II was made for an estimated three million dollars, while the first Hatchet was made for half that, paltry sums in comparison to most feature films. In contrast, a modest film like The King’s Speech had a budget close to 15 million.
While smaller budgets, and faster shooting times (Hatchet II was shot in 30 days), result in some of the B-movie aspects of the genre, they also create a large fan base, drawn by the grass roots, DIY aspect of horror. Hatchet I & II‘s director Adam Green concurs that a film’s success isn’t necessarily tied to its budget, “If people haven’t seen Garret Edwards’ movie Monsters, that is a really, really great example of a movie that can almost stand beside a Hollywood blockbuster and he made it for like under $50,000. He did the whole thing himself and its got just amazing effects in it. And then there’s the whole Paranormal Activity thing which has now become so popular that it’s cool to say you don’t like it but that movie was such a huge success because it worked.”
Like others in the horror genre, Green began by making his own films in high school. “They weren’t very good but I was learning how to shoot and mainly what kind of shots you need to be able to put the movie together later.” Adam Green is the quintessential, self-made Hollywood director, having worked odd jobs before making his first film, Coffee and Donuts in 2000 for $400. It was on the merit of this project, which was subsequently bought by Disney/Touchstone to develop into a TV series, that Green was able to secure funding for his next film, the first Hatchet.
When talking with Adam Green you’re immediately struck by his candor, and forthright Boston attitude. This is a guy who you could have a beer with. About his success he says, “Before the first Hatchet movie I had never been anywhere in my life, let alone oversees, and now to have people lined up to see me with Victor Crowley [the killer in Hatchet I & II] tattoos is very overwhelming.”
He continues, “But Hollywood is a roulette wheel. Each project dictates what’s going to happen for you next and it doesn’t really matter that your project is critically acclaimed or won awards or has fans worldwide. It’s a matter of how many movie tickets, and DVD’s, and on-demand movies that you sell. That’s the only thing [the studios & investors] care about when it comes to whether or not you’re going to get to make another movie.” Tom Holland concurs, “The first film I wrote was The Beast Within , which was a great script, but it was not a successful movie and I couldn’t get a job for a year afterwards. I can’t tell you how crushing that was.”
Part of Green’s success is his talent for writing dialogue, something typically lacking in horror films. “This movie definitely appeals to horror fans because it’s very violent and very bloody,” says horror legend Kane Hodder, who plays deranged murderer Victor Crowley in both Hatchet films. “But, at the same time with horror movies so often all of the killing is great and all of the scenes in between are boring as shit. That’s not the case with the Hatchet movies. I don’t think anybody would dispute that the scenes in between the killing are just as entertaining, if not more so. It’s because of the dialogue that Adam writes. It’s just so well written that you’re riveted by what they’re saying to each other. It’s also really funny.”
Many people wonder, is Kane Hodder anything like the characters he plays on screen, including the deranged Victor Crowley in Hatchet I & II? “I’ve always said that my personality unfortunately is not that far off from the violent characters that I’ve played and I’m not trying to sound like ‘Mr. Tough Guy’ but it never takes me long to get into character. It’s a good thing that I have the type of job where your criminal record has no bearing on your success.” He chose not to elaborate but went on to say that, “Hatchet II was a much more difficult movie for me than the first one.” Which is somewhat of an understatement. During the filming Hodder was seriously injured, but kept on shooting.
He tells the story, “It took seven hours to shoot this one fight scene, where I curb R.A. [Mihailoff] and we didn’t really rehearse that much. We kind of wanted to make it more realistic so we didn’t stage that many things. About a half hour into shooting the scene I tore my bicep muscle. So, I had to do the fight with a torn bicep muscle for the rest of the day. It was pretty hard to do but I still like how the finished scene came out.” His attitude reveals a work ethic worthy of Lou Gehrig, “What are you going to do? There’s no one else that can put on the makeup and it would take three and a half hours to do it anyway, so you just have to work through the pain. And, I have a stuntman’s attitude so I’m not just going to quit. You have to go through with it, whatever it is.”
In a way horror is the proletariat to mainstream Hollywood’s bourgeoisie. Despite being present at the dawn of cinema (an 1896 Méliès film was named The House of the Devil), with few exceptions the horror genre has rarely been taken seriously as art. Even today, horror films are still seen as “genre pictures” and therefore not to be taken seriously by critics. Tom Holland couldn’t agree less. When asked why people should consider horror as more than simple cinematic gimmickry he says, “I think it’s the most interesting and most responsive genre out there. It’s also got more creative ferment than any other genre. What horror does is that it’s such an elastic genre that it reflects back to the audience their own anxieties, whatever they are. It crosses over into mainstream movies too, like Black Swan. That is really a remake of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, a horror film. It’s the same goddamn story.”
When asked about the future of the genre Adam Green answers with characteristic practicality, “In the past decade in the horror genre especially, it was mainly remakes that were the big studio movies and the big supported releases. Original stuff for the most part was condemned to limited release and straight to video. So, I’m happy to say that the studios have actually run out of things to remake so they’re going to have no choice but to actually do their job and try to find new stories to get behind. I’m definitely excited about that.”
Hatchet II is not necessarily cinematic art, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s about having fun, and distracting ourselves with cartoonish violence from a world in which violence is only too real. The people that made it, including Adam Green, Kane Hodder, and Tom Holland are the hardest working people in Hollywood. Give them a break and instead of downloading it, go out and buy the DVD. Then, perhaps they can keep doing what they were born to do: entertain us.