This was the film that horror fans had been waiting for ever since it was announced. If you're a fan of Deadpit.com or other horror websites, you probably heard about this film around the mid-2000's. The hype for it was ridiculous. It was touted as a return to the fun 80's slasher flicks and one of its taglines was simply, "Old School American Horror." The film's writer and director, Adam Green, also became very agitated when people downloaded the film online before it was even released, going as far as to refer to them as, "evil fucks." Regardless, fans were really eager to see this film but due to countless delays, they would have to wait until September of 2007 when it was finally given a limited theatrical release after being screened at numerous film festivals. I didn't become a member of Deadpit until 2009 so I was unaware of the hype the film had accumulated. I'd first heard about in the documentary His Name Was Jason and had seen it in stores before then but think didn't anymore about it. However, the kill they showed in that documentary was so awesome that it piqued my interest. That October, I went on a big horror film buying spree and Hatchet was one of the many films I got.
At the time, I didn't know what The Creepy Kentuckian and Uncle Bill's opinions were of Hatchet. Here's where my story about this film gets interesting. When I watched it for the first time, I must admit that I did have fun. I liked the comedy and, being a fan of slasher movies, I really enjoyed the gory makeup effects and the killer, Victor Crowley. Not long afterward, I found out the hatred CK and Uncle Bill had for the film. To say they despise it is an understatement. They felt absolutely let down by all the hype and said that the gore was the only good aspect of the film. I started to think about that. Eventually, I watched Hatchet again and had the complete opposite feeling to the one I had the first time: "God, this movie sucks!" Now, I wondered if that reaction was influenced by the opinions of the Deadpit crew and after thinking about it, I don't think it was. I think I was now off the euphoria I'd had the first time I'd seen the movie, (due no doubt to the impressive gore) and realized that this movie does pretty much blow.
The story is old territory as far as slasher movies go: two guys in New Orleans take a ghost tour of a supposed haunted swamp along with other tourists and they run into a local legend: Victor Crowley, the vengeful undead spirit of a deformed child who died years ago. Crowley proceeds to brutally murder them one by one and the survivors must find a way to either destroy the zombie-like killer and escape the swamp. Again, old territory but that's okay. Slasher movies have never required a deep story.
As has been noted, the best thing about this movie is the incredible gore effects by John Carl Buechler, one of the best effects artists in the business. They really are incredible. There's plenty of limb severing, head-twisting and smashing, impaling, and, which is what made me want to see the film, a scene where Crowley grabs a woman's upper jaw and pulls back, ripping her head open. It's a spectacular gorefest so you do get your money's worth in that respect. Too bad the kills are only a few minutes of this film.
One other good thing about the film is Kane Hodder as both Victor Crowley and as Crowley's father in a flashback. In said flashback, we see what happened when Crowley was a deformed kid, cared for only by his father, who shielded him from the cruel world. Hodder is quite sympathetic as the father and clearly loves his son, despite the fact that he's hideous. One Halloween night, some pranksters accidentally set the Crowley house on fire. Mr. Crowley tries desperately to save his son but ends up unintentionally killing him when he chops through the door with a hatchet and hits Victor, who was pressed up against the door, in the face. Mr. Crowley never recovered from it and died of a broken heart years later. There's a shot of Hodder sitting in a chair, looking sadly off-camera, with tears coming out of his eyes and it actually is quite touching. Mr. Crowley clearly loved his son and feels that he failed him by accidentally killing him. Hodder is a much better actor than most people do give him credit for. Granted, I wouldn't hire him as the lead in a film but when given the right material, he can pull it off.
As the undead adult Victor Crowley, Hodder brings the same menace he brought to the role of Jason Voorhees. He actually is quite menacing with his quick movements, constant yelling, and horrific ways of killing his victims. Hodder is also one of those people who stays in character a lot and apparently kept chasing the actors even after Green yelled cut. In that respect, it does work. The other actors do seem genuinely frightened of him and honestly, if I was an actor in that film and had that constantly chasing me, I'd be scared shitless too!
Effects wise, the design of Victor Crowley is also well done but that leads us to a common criticism. Many people that feel that Crowley is a plagiarism of Madman Marz, the killer in the beloved slasher movie, Madman. Now, at this point, I have not seen Madman but after looking at images of the killer and comparing them with Victor Crowley, I can't help but agree that there is a resemblance. I'm not saying that they did copy the design, it could just be a coincidence, but it does make you wonder. Even more telling is an interview Deadpit did with John Car Buechler a couple of months after the release of Hatchet. They asked him about the resemblance to Madman and he flat out denied it, to such an extent in fact that it seems like he was trying to change the subject. Now, I just want to say that I'm not influenced at all by my affiliation with Deadpit. I'm friends with the guys but I disagree with them about many things. However, listening to that interview, it is more than a little suspicious. Again, I don't pretend to know anything but it's still there.
The cast in this movie is not the most inspired either. Slasher movies have never been known for good acting but the problem the actors in this film have is they have to take part in stupid comedy when they're not being butchered. Joel David Moore plays Ben, the lead of the film who complains through the first half about losing his girlfriend of eight years and it gets old really fast. Tamara Feldman as Marybeth, a young woman who's searching for her missing father and brother, is passable. She's not deep but not annoying either. Deon Richmond as Marcus is a character I liked initially and I still kind of do but he is the stereotypical sex-obsessed, funny black guy and really makes the movie feel like a Wayans brothers film. Mercedes McNab as Misty, the dumbass porn star and Joleigh Fioreavanti as Jenna, the snobbish one, are both really annoying. Misty is especially, thinking there's a difference between cops and the police, as well as one really dumb moment where she checks her cellphone's messages and is disgusted by the guy who called. (God, I wanted her to shut up!) Parry Shen as Shawn, the bogus tour guide, also grates on my nerves a lot, mainly because he's such an asshole when things go down the tube. None of the other characters are that memorable but I don't remember hating any of them.
The comedy is what really sinks the film. Adam Green claims this movie is a throwback to 80's slasher movies but while those movies often did have comedy thrown in, none of them had comedy this unabashedly stupid and annoying. It feels like you're watching a really gory Scary Movie at points, it's so dumb. Most of it comes, as I said, from Deon Richmond's character Marcus, who plays up the stereotypical funny black guy. I admitted that I kind of still find some of his stuff funny but after a while, it gets old. It feels like he's trying to be either Tracy Morgan or a character in the Wayans brothers' movies, neither of which I find funny but whatever. One excruciating moment is when three of them hear a sound in the bush and they make Marcus go investigate. One single shot is held for an incredibly long time and while it is funny initially, it starts to get annoying and makes you think, "Just check the damn bush!" Like I said, that stupid bitch Misty is really annoying with her valley girl act. On their way to the swamp in the bus, Ben tries to get to know Marybeth, who clearly wants nothing to do with him, and he just rambles on and on about how failed as a lover to his ex. Biggest problem is that it takes so long for Victor Crowley to appear and it's just been stupid comedy up to that point. And even after the killing begins, there's still comedy. As I said, there are slasher movies that have a sense of humor about them but not laid on this thick! This is not supposed to be a comedy! It was marketed as a slasher film and that's what it should be, not a gory Scary Movie clone!
This movie is also one of many independent horror movies of the 2000's that employed one annoying gimmick: get some popular genre stars and heavily tout their being in the film, even if they're actually onscreen for a few minutes. I don't count Kane Hodder as part of it since he has a big role. However, Robert Englund appears in the pre-credits sequence as the father of Marybeth. He's out fishing in the swamp with his son when they're both killed by Crowley. What was the point of having Englund in the film if you don't give him much to do? Even worse is Tony Todd, who appears for less than five minutes as Reverend Zombie, a man who use to do ghost tours. His only purpose is to tell an apparently scary story with his creepy voice and then he scream, "He sued me, the cocksucker!" Again, what was the point? To get genre fans to see the film, that's what. That's the only reason these films do that because they know that's one of the few shots they have in getting an audience and it's quite low, if you think about it.
Like Eli Roth, Adam Green seems to have an inflated ego. His touting Hatchet as a return to old school horror should be proof enough but what he said when a sequel was announced was even more unbelievable. He was working on another film, Frozen, but he said he hoped to get a chance to make Hatchet II before a "lesser filmmaker" stepped up. This guy clearly thinks he's a hot shot. Another bit of proof to that effect is how he constantly gets his friends to start internet campaigns and hype his films up long before he's even actually shot them. The hype machine should start after the film is completed and when a release date is looming. I understand that independent filmmakers want their movies to be seen but that's not a very respectful way to do so. Also, Green was clearly planning a sequel when you see the ending of Hatchet. Ben and Marybeth escape but they're suddenly attacked in the boat by Crowley and as Marybeth struggles with him, the film abruptly fades to black and the credits roll. It doesn't even feel like an ending. It's like they just ran out of film and went with it. This is such an obvious, uninspired sequel bait that I even rolled my eyes the first time. Horror movies have been doing that for a long time now but it's really starting to get annoying that they can't just end a story and do a sequel later.
Hatchet, in the end, is a big example of a movie that promised one thing but delivered another. Adam Green did eventually make Hatchet II, which is apparently so unbelievably bad that it was pulled from theaters the Monday after its release! Even worse, there's supposedly not one but two more sequels planned. I may review Hatchet II at some point just to see how crappy it is but for now, I've had enough of Victor Crowley. Oh, and the first movie's ending credits has a Marilyn Manson song where he screams, "Are you ready for the new shit?" All I can say is, "Yeah, because it can't be any worse than this... or can it?" Ugh, where's the Tylenol?