Ever since I was a little kid (give or take decades) I’ve always wanted to like the HATCHET movies. They talk a good game about bringing back “old school horror,” they’re throwbacks to the ’80s slashers I’m in love with, they have Kane Hodder as a deformed hillbilly swamp maniac and some funny gore ideas. I also kinda liked writer/director Adam Green’s other movie FROZEN, which of course is sweeping the nation and capturing the hearts of little princesses of all ages who want to see a thriller about people stuck on a ski lift.
On paper HATCHET and HATCHET II are right up my alley, but in practice they took a different street. They’re not comedies, but I found them too self-conscious, too jokey, not atmospheric enough, not structured correctly to be an effective slasher story. I remember the first one as a bunch of actors walking around in a big group on a small, fake-looking swamp set pretending to be lost. I just couldn’t get into it.
So I’m proud to announce that I finally pulled it off. I really liked a HATCHET movie! Part III specifically. Maybe we can credit new director BJ McDonell (promoted from steadicam operator on the first two in the series), but to be fair I-II director Green did write this and was very hands-on as a producer from what I’ve read. Maybe practice makes perfect. After 10,000 hours of making HATCHET movies you get really good at it, like Malcolm McDowell says.
It benefits from being treated as the finale to the trilogy, so it has a great opening and ending and a simple, action-packed plot that’s over in 80 minutes. Actually it feels like a feature length third act.
It starts where part II ended. I don’t remember it well enough to be sure if they repeated footage or not, but Final Girl Marybeth (Danielle Harris, MARKED FOR DEATH, THE LAST BOY SCOUT) supposedly kills the undead swamp slasher Victor Crowley. She shoots him in the face and punches through the hole and fist fucks his head. Then she stumbles into the Jefferson Parish Police headquarters covered in blood, toting a shotgun and Crowley’s scalp, and mumbling “I killed him. I killed him!”
This does not go over well with the police. The redneck chief (Zach Galligan from GREMLINS) arrests her and stupidly believes this little shit-talker in yoga clothes is responsible for the gigantic massacre of parts I-II, which an army of officers and medical examiners are sent out to clean up after. (I guess believing Bruce Campbell killed the whole police station in MANIAC COP isn’t that bad after all.) There are many bodies, including the headless Crowley, who does not take kindly to being put in a body bag.
I didn’t like how HATCHET had everybody walking around together in a big group instead of the slasher tradition of splitting up and getting picked off one by one. But here it works because the group are all cops with guns and when they find Crowley it’s time for a sustained sequence of action and over-the-top gore. Four cops surround Crowley and beat him with night sticks, but this turns into reverse police brutality pretty quick. He sends them flying like bowling pins. Then he raises a guy above his head and tears him in half, chops off a guy’s head, slices a guy’s leg out from under him, pins a guy down and rips both his arms off, etc. I think my favorite is the guy he grabs and flips while his gun is firing, then stomps on his head with his big work boot and turns it into mush.
He takes the rampaging berserker type of slasher to the extremes you always wish they would go but never think they would. Also he answers that common question “Why don’t they shoot him?” Well, in this one they shoot him many, many, many times, with no effect.
Meanwhile a reporter who has been disgraced by her belief in the Crowley’s ghost urban legends (Caroline Williams, Stretch from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2) and who is the chief’s ex-wife manages to get Marybeth out of jail because she believes she’s the only one who can stop Crowley from continuously resurrecting like the ghosts in Pac-Man. This is the weaker part because after that badass opening it confines Marybeth to a car for most of the movie. Also, her fuck-you attitude starts to seem less Snake Plissken and more Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN II director’s cut. But she gets to have a good climactic showdown.
There are more guest appearances by horror luminaries and what not, all more organic than Tony Todd and Robert Englund’s corny appearances in the first one. I’ll SPOIL just this one: Derek Mears (the remake Jason Voorhees) is an alpha-cop who comes face-to-face with Hodder (part VII-X Jason). He calls him a pussy or something but Crowley punches into his belly and pulls out his spine and skull and wiggles it around in victory.
There’s a little bit of the stilted acting and dialogue of the other ones, but mostly it comes off more natural and gets the right tone I’m looking for: enjoyably absurd but not exactly tongue-in-cheek. Or at least it’s a very dry sense of humor. One way it’s funny is in its brutal treatment of the characters. It sets up all these relationship b-plots and stuff but then these characters who I really thought would survive just keep getting torn up. For example one character (SPOILER for what happens to unnamed character) suddenly gets his/her head ripped off, blood sprays out of the stump and then Crowley hurls the severed head like a baseball and beans Marybeth on the head with it. Ouch! That’s what I want to see.
I am a firm believer that people in real life don’t always think of the smartest possible thing to do, and therefore it is not usually worth criticizing when the people in a movie don’t either. But I do have to point out that the Jefferson Parish Police Department is foolish for not calling in the Sheriff’s Department. I know they say the only person who can kill Victor Crowley’s ghost is the last remaining relative of the guy who killed his living body. But the fact is he could also be killed by Deputy Chief Steven Seagal – that’s right, Steven Seagal – and the rest of his crew from Steven Seagal: Lawman.
So anyway, this one made sitting through the other two worthwhile, though you could watch it on its own.
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.