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Hatchet

Well, I guess now it’s officially a pattern. The pattern goes like this:

  1. small independent horror movie plays a few small film festivals.
  2. People on the internet go ape shit because they got to see it first.
  3. Buzz spreads for a year or so.
  4. Anchor Bay (#1 releaser of horror movies in the VHS days) buys rights, gives tiny theatrical release.
  5. I see it on DVD.
  6. god damn it, why don’t they make good ones anymore

This pattern started with BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON and fortunately this one is not as asinine as that one. It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t cut the mustard. Believe me, I wish it did. I see mustard everywhere and I want nothing more than for that mustard to be cut by a movie like this. But just being above the standards of the DTV giant snake movies is not a horror resurgence.

HatchetI had hopes for HATCHET because unlike BEHIND THE MASK there’s nothing postmodern or meta about it. It’s just a straightup slasher movie about a big, unkillable freak chopping people up in the Louisiana swamp. His name is Victor Crowley and he’s played by Kane Hodder, who played Jason in some of the later FRIDAY THE 13ths. Victor has a backstory kind of like Jason meets the guy in THE BURNING: he was a deformed freak who kids treated bad, then his dad (also Kane Hodder) hit him in the face with a hatchet and also I think he was set on fire or something, I forget.

I enjoy and miss this type of movie, but I can’t give it a pass just based on nostalgia. I like using that blues analogy for slasher movies, I think I made it up in my HIGH TENSION review. I believe that slasher movies are a classic American artform not equal to but similar to the blues. There are simple, familiar tunes that you follow, and you put your own spin on it, but you don’t have to get too fancy, you still want it to be recognizable. Well, thankfully the song is recognizable in HATCHET. But on the other hand it’s a pretty cheesy Blues Hammer type of take on the song. It just isn’t cool.

And this is gonna fuck up my analogy but I think one huge problem is the music. Low budget directors, listen up. You may not want to spring for real film, I understand that, I’m getting used to that. I wish you would make it look like a real movie but if you can only afford digital or whatever that’s between you and St. Peter. But if you don’t have some incredibly talented dude making weird sounds like Tobe Hooper did way back on the original TEXAS CHAIN SAW, or a very original keyboardist like John Carpenter, then please, I beg you, don’t be a cheapskate. Get a small orchestra. I don’t care how good the technology gets, a keyboard is a keyboard. A keyboard is not an orchestra. And when you try to play it like an orchestra you make an ass out of you and Victor Crowley.

Yeah, maybe those FRIDAY THE 13ths were cheap but it doesn’t seem like anybody told Harry Manfredini that. He classed up the joint with his PSYCHO violins and experimental sounds. Even on part 3 when he turned it into a dance tune he still knocked you on your ass. But the keyboard violins in HATCHET sound like some fuckin LEPRECHAUN movie or something. It would be better to have no music than to have this.

I don’t think the look is cuttin it either. How do you make a horror movie in the Louisiana swamp and have no atmosphere? The whole thing looks like people in front of some trees at night, but with a flood light on them, and a smoke machine in the background. There’s no sense of place, no feeling that there is any swamp beyond this little chunk we’re looking at, no sense that they have moved from where they started out.

There’s not much cleverness here either. There’s a part where a guy says that the touristy swamp tour is “about as fun as a bag of dicks,” that’s about it for successful jokes. And I kind of like the abrupt ending in the middle of mayhem. Also there’s a part where a guy keeps getting body parts thrown at him, that’s pretty funny. But otherwise not much to surprise you.

I guess because of the genre they figure they can get away with all the characters being cliches (wannabe actress, dumb blond girl, jive talkin black guy). Fine, but making them all obnoxious is not the same as making them funny. Even the lead (a guy from ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL) who is obviously supposed to be the most sympathetic they make you hate by joking about how obsessed he is with his ex-girlfriend. I agreed with his friend that he should shut up. And by the way, the token black guys in slasher movies are usually a streetwise tough guy stereotype (see FRIDAY THE 13TH 3-D, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, TEXAS CHAINSAW 3), not a bug-eyed Steppin Fetchit scaredy cat. This guy is so afraid he climbs up a tree and refuses to come down.

Although it’s obviously made by fans of the genre I think they made a mistake by not staying closer to the traditional story setups. Instead of having a group of friends in the same area getting picked off one by one without knowing it at first, they have them all stuck together after their boat sinks. So there’s too much time with a big group of people arguing about what to do and where to go, and not enough suspense about who’s gonna get it next and who’s gonna figure out what’s going on.

Also dude, putting Robert Englund and Tony Todd in cameos is kind of lame. If they had good roles that fit them well that would be kind of cool, but these are both dumb characters and bad performances. Freddy and Candyman deserve better. I guess of the ’80s and ’90s horror icons it’s Mr. Hodder who comes off the best, but I don’t think his Victor Crowley is gonna join the pantheon. Basically he’s an elephant man wearing overalls with dubbed growling and roaring like the Toxic Avenger. Not really scary or funny, not sure what they were going for there. Maybe sad?

I wonder, what is it that makes me harder on these movies than the rest of the internet? Am I a horror snob? I don’t think so. In fact among my horror fan associates I’m considered the chump with the low standards. I’m the guy who at least thought the John Carpenter episodes of Masters of Horror were pretty cool. Who liked HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES and DEVIL’S REJECTS and the remake of HILLS HAVE EYES. Who still stands by WOLF CREEK and secretly bought a copy of SILENT HILL and paid money to see HILLS HAVE EYES 2 in the theater and actually had high hopes for it. I want to love this stuff.

My only guess is maybe alot of the writers who have been praising this one are more casual horror viewers. They are not the people like me who try to watch all the horror movies that come out, who have seen all the sequels to all the big horror series, even when they know they’re gonna suck, who see the remakes of their old favorites and compile lists of what’s wrong and right with them. And that is a good lifestyle choice on their part and has the added bonus of making them enjoy a movie like this. I guess if you have not found a place in your heart to appreciate Jason popping eyeballs out in 3-D then there is more of a novelty to watching a clumsy modern reflection of that type of movie. There is a residual joy that makes it in there and it will get you drunk if your tolerance level is low. That’s a theory.

And I wonder if part of my problem is there’s some element of a time capsule to those movies, a kind of fetishism for the period they were made in. There’s something about how the film looked back then, how the scenes were lit, how the effects were done, how it looked on location in Connecticut, the hairdos, the clothes. What if I saw this exact half-assed movie, but it was made in 1986? Would it somehow become more enjoyable? Would its flaws seem more forgivable because after all it’s from the ’80s? I don’t know. These are questions to consider.

What I do know is that here in 2007 this movie didn’t work for me. It didn’t rub me the wrong way like its asshole cousin Leslie Vernon did. But if director Adam Green is a blues guitarist he’s no Howlin’ Wolf or even Steven “Slow Hand” Seagal. Thanks for keeping it simple but now you gotta take that template and you gotta smoke. What good is a slasher movie without tense chases, “holy shit!” moments, surprises, or even good laughs? A good straightahead genre movie is a showcase for directorial chops. I mean maybe this isn’t fair but consider holding this up next to THE EVIL DEAD. That’s not a slasher movie but it’s a low budget independent horror movie by a then-unknown director. There was nothing original about the story or characters, but everything was original about the filmatism. Just about every scene has some part where it knocks you on your ass with a shot or a gag or a home made special effect. Raimi and friends actually had less in their arsenal, because they used their friends as the cast (not established TV and movie stars) and I’m betting the budget for HATCHET was several times over EVIL DEAD’s $350,000. But the EVIL DEAD crew had invention and wit coming out of their pores and they were getting its greasy fingerprints all over their lenses. That’s what a breakthrough independent horror movie used to be: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, HALLOWEEN. Now it means any shoddy tribute to those movies that somehow got played in theates.

Anybody remember that movie BAD DREAMS, it had this cult leader killer guy who it kind of seemed like they were trying to position as the new Freddy Krueger. What was that guy’s name again? I don’t remember either. Victor Crowley, you might want to look that guy up and see if he needs a roommate. I think Dr. Giggles has his phone number. They used to hang out with Wes Craven’s SHOCKER.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Friday, September 28th, 2007 at 11:11 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

18 Responses to “Hatchet”

  1. I just watched this for the first time last night and your review is dead on. I only write this comment to say that I think you should have had the same take on Jason X. You loved that, but I think it was right on par with Hatchet as far as being cheesy and poorly-executed. At least Hatchet had better gore.

  2. I don’t remember or care what gore is in HATCHET, but I remember in JASON X he spins somebody on a giant drillbit, and freezes somebody and shatters them, and manages to cut off a guy’s arm even while frozen. Yes JASON X is cheesy as hell, and has lost some of its shine for me after I’ve watched it a few times. But it’s loaded with absurdity and cleverness, which HATCHET is not.

    HATCHET asks “What would happen if we made a Jason movie but made up our own character so it’s different?” and the answer is “well, seemed like a good idea I guess, let’s go back to our day jobs now so we can get health insurance again.” JASON X asks “what would happen if we made a Jason movie but sci-fi?” and it answers with at least ten or fifteen really funny ideas (he would turn into a cyborg, he would fight a robot, he would be frozen by David Cronenberg, people would get their limbs put back on after he chopped them off, he would be tricked by virtual reality, etc.)

    I don’t see the comparison to HATCHET other than both being cheesy and low budget slasher movies. I guess both try to play with the traditions of slasher movies, but JASON X is the one that seems to understand those traditions and come up with fun ways to use them.

  3. I kinda like Hatchet, but there’s no comparison to Jason X, a movie that I will literally (as in the dicitonary definition of the word “literally,” as opposed to the colloquial definition that means “figuratively” [which is the opposite of “literally,” in my opinion]) watch anytime, anywhere. Hatchet did have that one kill where Kane grabs that dude’s upper jaw and pulls the top of his head back like a Zippo and you can see his cheeks stretch and snap like mozzarella. The gore was by Friday VII director John Carl Buechler, a dude who always turns in good work, even when he directed the first, not-as-bad-and-subsequently-not-as-awesome Troll movie.

  4. I like Hatchet, I think it hits all the right notes for me as someone that enjoys slasher films and isn’t weighed down by nostalgia for the look and feel of 80’s ones. I also respect it more then all the dipshit remakes and reboots and whatever the fuck Platinum Dunes is making this week (although I did genuinely enjoy their Jason movie and look forward to seeing what Rorchach does with Freddy)because at the very least, it seems like Adam Green et al were genuinely trying to create their own monster with his own mythos and set up that existed outside of any nostalgia meters. If you like or dislike Hatchet it is entirely because of the film itself and not because of the weight of almost three decades of cinema supporting it. Granted I would have preferred it if they had moved away from the fucking swamp where every other fucking slasher movie gets set, but worse things have been done.

  5. I will also add that I agree with Jason X being fucking awesome.

  6. Vern, I think the difference in our takes on Jason X is that you view it as asking “what would happen if we made a Jason movie but sci-fi,” and I view it as a franchise running out of ideas so deciding to set it in space. That tainted the whole thing for me and I am unable to view it without that mindset. I don’t think either of our takes is wrong, and were I able to view it in the way you do, I can see how it would be more enjoyable and I concede your points. But for a person coming into Jason X and Hatchet expecting straight brutal slasher films, surely you can see how I would walk away from both disappointed.

  7. I think that when it was pitched, Jason X probably was just them running out of ideas and going in such a goofy manner. But in EXECUTION you can tell that the writers, director and everyone involved clearly took none of this seriously and decided to just do every crazy idea that could be done with Jason on a space station in the future and ran with it. It’s the tone and the execution that makes that movie a winner. For another example go watch Bride of Chucky, which similarly took an unbelieveably overplayed, low rent idea and just went apeshit crazy with the execution. At about the time Chucky and Tiffany have a kung fu fight with shovels in the graveyard with lightning striking, event the harshest critics had to conced there was a genius at work in that movie. At about the time Jason beat one holographic teenage to death with another holographic teenager, you have to concede someone working on that movie was brilliant in some way.

  8. I was looking forward to “Hatchet”

    It was filmed right here in the very city/town/whatever I lived in.
    Nerd-pleasing cameos (in my very own city/town/whatever I lived in!!)
    Then the thing started to get a bunch of rave reviews from conventions and festivals and what have you.

    I was quite pumped to see it and saw it the day it (finally) got here.

    I can honestly say if I was not with a friend I would have gotten up and walked out of it. I will go further to say I feel it was one of the worst horror movies I’ve seen in years (luckily for it ‘Behind The Mask’ was made so ‘Hatchet’ it pretty damned good compared to that)

    As for why I liked ‘Jason X’ and hated this, I guess the biggest reason is because ‘X’ was funny when it was trying to be and the guys who made ‘Hatchet’ was not. Also as vern stated ‘X’ had far more memorable kills in my opinion. In fact I can’t be bothered to remember much of anything at all from ‘Hatchet’ other than the filmmakers were under the impression that they were hilarious when the fact of the matter was that they were not.

    I’m usually a huge sucker for movies shot locally (many have accused me that that is the only reason I love John Woo’s “Hard Target” so much, I disagree but I guess I’m too close to comment) but I can safely say that this movie did nothing for me and I thought it was quite below par.

  9. The cameos were the actual nadir of Hatchet for me. Having those guys just randomly pop and say a couple lines and then disappear just completely pulled me out of the universe that the movie takes place in (what is up with filmmakers feeling the need to put all the ‘jokes’ into the mythology part of the movie? That should be when the characters are laying out the history of the not quite reality that the heroes are about to enter and be sliced and diced in, the history upon which the filmmakers will hang all their dread and anticipation before the actual bloodletting begins. But in Hatchet and a couple others, that’s where they see fit to throw in a couple easy punch lines, and its not until actual carnage ensues that people shut the fuck up and act scared. I don’t get it). Having said that, Adam Green has stated that if he ever actually makes a second Hatchet movie, it will feature Tony Todd’s character Rev. Zombie in a big way, which I think is a cool scenario, having that dude go up against the crazy Victor Crowley. IF THEY PLAY THE FUCKING THING STRAIGHT LIKE REAL ACTUAL FUCKING PEOPLE. NOT ASININE FUCKING CARTOON CHARACTERS.

  10. Like “Bad Boys II” & “Transformers” (man we really need to find a new whipping boy other than Bay, or at least start finding nice things to say about him, but it’s just so damn hard when he is the poster child of what I don’t care for in current film making) the constant ‘jokey’ atmosphere & never take it seriously for even a micro-second killed it for me.

    Like the previously mentioned films, if the humor was funny then I may not be so negative then but as the humor is not only not funny and is excruciatingly awful I end up having a problem with it. Especially when the filmmakers want you to take it seriously all of a sudden in the 2nd half/last act.

    So to all you filmmakers out there: cut that out will ya?

  11. The problem with any whipping boy that isn’t John Frakenheimer’s supposed bastard son is that hacks (or whom I consider as such) like Rob Cohen, Albert Pyun, McG, Renny Harlin*, Uwe Boll is that none of them really are successful or highly praised on the level of Baynito Michaelini.

    Those guys are basically jobbers (in varying degrees) at this rate, though Boll’s ability to raise funds and get his projects produced still…that shit has to be commended, even if he might be running low on Nazi gold. Cohen had that brief flash with FAST & THE FURIOUS, but that evaporated with STEALTH (and XXX’s underwhelming box-office didn’t help).

    McG had a rather public strikeout with SALVATION, and he wasn’t that respected in the first place.

    Pyun has been DTV since the 1990s. At least.

    But Michael Bay is something else. The only reason he’s held up in esteem by some people is because of his box-office. Without it, why would anyone give a goddamn about him? Then again, he permanently pissed me off when after THE ISLAND tanked hard, he compared himself an auteur martyr this side of Spielberg, Kubrick, and Zemeckis.

    What an asshole. For one thing, Spielberg has had a few bombs, but they’re worthy bombs, i.e. A.I. or MUNICH or EMPIRE OF THE SUN, etc. Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON didn’t care if most people were alienated by it, but those that weren’t, admire the shit out of it. And well I enjoyed Zemeckis’ early bombs like USED CARS and I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND. You know back when Zemeckis cared more about making quality films instead of the latest CGI technology.

    *=Now I know alot of you are fans of Harlin, and yeah CLIFFHANGER and DIE HARD 2 are watchable, even that recent DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE clone 12 ROUNDS of his too…but nobody will disagree with me when I say that he’s effectively a hired gun at this rate. 12 ROUNDS getting knocked out didn’t help either.

  12. I didn’t think the jokes were that bad in Hatchet. There were just too damned many of them.

    Club Dread did the same thing, but that was supposed to be a comedy so I let it go. (Plus I love Broken Lizard unconditionally) Maybe the guys that did Hatchet should have went lighter and made a straight up comedy instead. The kills were cool, but so what. When they sucked out every bit of tension with a bunch of jokes what’s the point?

    I do agree that the ending was cool. And I kinda liked the Crowley guy. It wasn’t terrible, it just could have been better if the people making it would have focused more on either the horror or the comedy because they kinda half-assed both of them.

    As for Jason X. That movie reminds me of Gremlins 2 in a lot of ways. In the commentary the director said that Jason X was supposed to be Freddy vs. Jason but it fell through and since they already had all this money and equiptment they figured what the hell…

    I bring up Gremlins 2 because both movies are just crazy movies where the filmmakers are given a blank check to go nuts. I honestly wish there were more movies like that.

  13. I have to put my neck on the block and defend Uwe Boll. His movies may be bad (although I enjoyed Seed and Postal) but I think there’s a lot of people who give him crap without even watching a frame of his movies which is unfair.

    Also if you listen to his commentaries he clearly has a love for what he does. I would imagine that ifall he had was a cheap camcorder from Best Buy he would still be making movies in his free time with every penny he made working at the Taco Bell. If Michael Bay wasn’t making money off of his movies, I think he would be selling cars at a dealership and spending his free time trolling the strip clubs for some coke. Nothing wrong with that, but I just don’t think Bay’s heart is in it whereas I believe Boll’s is.

  14. Well I actually watch Boll’s movies, save for that BLOODRAYNE sequel and SEED. Mind you, I watch them like I do that terrific “Wrestling Gone Wrong” website, which in video shows goofs, botches, and horrible injuries that’ve occured in Pro Wrestling. You know like Sid Vicious’ getting his foot screwed 90 degrees. Check it out sometime.

    He is a hack, but I do agree with you that I would probably rather talk to Boll about movies than Bay*. Two recent things about Boll did impress one. First that whole boxing challenge where he did fight movie critics who trashed him, and he promptly whipped their ass like cookie dough. He backs up his shit, I respect that.

    Two, remember that Internet petition demanding Boll retire? It had gotten 200-300,000 signatures, and someone asked Boll about this, and his response: “I’ll do it only for a million!” I LOVE that he’s both confrontational with his (mostly anonymous) haters on the Internet, and sorta embraced his Ed Wood infamy. So yeah I’m a fan of Boll, in every way except as a filmmaker.

    BTW, I just noticed how I’ve been spamming Vern’s joint up like a crackhead for no good reason. Vern and everyone, I apologize and will take a day or two off, maybe by the weekend, before I post again. You know, let our little haven breath a tad. Sorry.

    *=Ever heard to Bay’s commentary tracks? Fucking juvenile airhead. Plus, he’s like Paul W.S. Anderson, or guys who grew up in the 80s wanting to emulate James Cameron and thought Cameron was all about explosions. You know, they missed the fucking point.

  15. I will also sing the praises of Club Dread, a movie that becomes funnier and stronger the more times I watch it. It’s not a spoof of slasher movies, it’s an actual slasher movie that happens to be a comedy. Good stuff.

    Y’know, I didn’t read to many interviews of Bay after The Island (or any of his other movies really) but the one I did read actually impressed me a little. This was right in the middle of that whole pass the blame game that ScarJo and the producers were doing with each other, and Bay simply came out and said that whenever a film fails like that it’s the director’s fault, and he was to blame. I respected his ability to do that, but if other people tracked down other quotes, then there is really no arguing that.

  16. Really? He said that?

    I am only shocked because on the audio commentary to ‘The Island’ he sings his own praises and lays the failure of the movie squarely on Dreamworks’ marketing department.

    He states the film’s title “was too complicated” that was “too hard to market” (?)
    He goes on to state that Dreamworks’ marketing “tried to be too smart and too intelligent man movie” and goes on and on about how the marketing department fucked his movie
    He states that proof that his film is great is because it did well internationally (where Warner handled the marketing) and is one of the top 10 highest grossing movies in Korea.
    -for better clarity I must admit that I’m citing more from the agony booth (http://www.agonybooth.com/agonizer/The_Island_2005.aspx?Page=3) than from memory (oh and I don’t want to be accused of plagiarism, that too)

    So yeah colour me shocked he actually said that in an interview because on that commentary track I can assure you that he pretty much states he’s the last person on Earth who is to be blamed for the film bombing.

    That said I feel ‘The Island’ is hands down his best movie and would have actually been good if not for the dumb-as-dirt second half of the movie (see I knew I’d find something (kinda) nice to say about him)

    As for Boll: I dig his train wrecks and actively seek them out. So far my favorite is ‘Alone In The Dark’. Sure I’m bummed we didn’t get a *real* movie out of the game but when the movie made is so what-the-fuck!? crazy stupid who cares.

  17. Yeah, I read that quote in at least one publication, I think it might’ve been the Boston Globe. If in his commentary he passed the buck to someone else then, well there you go. If he said that those were the problems with the movie being sold, well then I think he might be mistaken, because for my money, the problems with the movie’s ads were that it sold all the second half wham-bang explosion-y parts and gave away all the secrets that the first chunk actually did a good job building and teasing out. Had the trailers not blatantly shown Buscemi explaining that the people were clones, then I would have enjoyed watching the story unfold. Oh well.

  18. I stopped watching HATCHET during Tony Todd’s cameo. Not because his cameo was bad, but because I had already given up on the movie and was lingering in my parent’s living room on the off-chance something entertaining would happen.

    The opening segment is horrible (a wasted cameo by Robert Englund, who apparently doesn’t know how to smoke a pipe) with zero tension, horrible dialogue, horrible music, bad lighting that makes the setting look fake (I agree with you on that especially, Vern) pointless shots of tits, and an excruciating opening credit scene.

    I cannot believe it won 1st place at Fantastic Fest.

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