Usually when I start off a set visit report, the story begins for this writer as I walk onto the set. For Hatchet II, however, the story starts about three years earlier than that. See, in October 2007 I was just starting off my horror journalism career, and one of my very first in-person interviews while visiting LA was an up-and-coming horror director, Adam Green.
Green, whom I met that summer in Chicago at Flashback Weekend while he was there promoting Hatchet, was one of the key factors in getting me to follow my passion for writing and for horror. True to his supportive roots, Green agreed to meet with me while I was in town to talk about his throwback to the slasher genre. During the interview we started talking about Hatchet II and the future of his potential franchise, and Green mentioned he wasn’t sure if he’d be the one to bring Victor Crowley back to the big screen for fans. It wasn’t until recently though that I came to learn just what was holding him back from working on Hatchet II.
“I passed on directing Hatchet II five different times before saying yes,” said Green. “I actually hated Hatchet by the time it came out. It took so much out of my life that I needed to go and do other types of movies before I could come back for this. If I had done Hatchet II three years ago, I don’t think it would be half the movie it is now.”
So is Hatchet II everything Green had been hoping for all these years? Based on what I experienced during my set visit in Los Angeles, I think the fans will be more than pleased with what Green and his cast and crew have cooked up this time.
Now, with all those doubts about coming back for Hatchet II long behind Green, I asked the writer/director to talk about that first moment of being back in the swamps with Victor Crowley and his new batch of victims.
Green said, “I feel like the biggest moment of the entire shoot for me on Hatchet II was that first shot when we were set to roll cameras. Here I am standing five years later after the first shot on Hatchet, and I am standing there with mostly the same people who worked on that project. You could hear us cheering all the way to Pasadena with how loud we were right before we began. It was an amazing feeling.”
As I entered the soundstage in Silver Lake this past January, the first thing I noticed was the swamp that had been carefully constructed, mimicking the Louisiana swamps that serve as Victor Crowley’s deadly stomping grounds. However, that authenticity came with a price I soon learned as I was handed a face mask and was encouraged to wear it to avoid any sort of spore-related illness that had plagued both the cast and crew while filming.
“Because our art director is so amazing, we ended up with a real swamp on our soundstage – everything kept growing, which was surreal and definitely unexpected,” explained Green, “but when you have plants and trees growing indoors like that, subsequently everyone started getting sick. We had to start wearing these masks; then people got hit with swine flu, and we even had someone swallow part of a fork and get rushed to the emergency room. We kept going even though we were getting hit with the weirdest shit imaginable.”
Part of how the movie kept its momentum despite the rampant illness that plagued the set was the ‘get it done’ attitude of many of the cast and crew on Hatchet II, particularly actor AJ Bowen. Imagine my surprise as Bowen approached me during my set visit as one of the PA’s working that particular day.
For the record, I think Bowen is one of the more exciting genre actors working in horror today, and I found out that day he makes one hell of a cup of coffee, too.
“We shot for 20 days in Los Angeles, and I was supposed to be off for four of those days,” said Bowen. “Three of those days I came in to work on set, and the fourth day I just went to hang out. I never wanted to be away from set; it was that infectious being there. Adam really knows how to pull together the right people to work together, and I know I wasn’t the only one who pitched in to help out when we needed it. For all of us, we just wanted to make sure the movie got made so we did what we could do to help out.”
That feeling of family was something intentional on Green’s part when he began putting together the cast and crew for Hatchet II. The writer/director said, “We started talking to the cast before we had the script finished. Everyone involved was a friend of mine so there really was a feeling of family on set, which is what I wanted for this project. But even when you’re working with family, there’s still a certain level of pressure on you as the director because you don’t want to let anyone down – whether it’s the cast, the crew or even the fans who have been loyal to you since Day One.”
Bowen, who describes his character Layton as “a lover, not a fighter” talked about how Green’s infectious enthusiasm drew him to the project initially. “When Adam called me, the script for Hatchet II hadn’t even been written yet, but he wanted me to be a part of it, and I signed up just like that,” explained Bowen. “What’s really cool is he then wrote the part of Layton specifically with me in mind so he could get the right performance out of me and play to my strengths but still give fans a chance to see a different side of me. What I can tell you about Layton without giving too much away is that he’s definitely a lover, not a fighter.”
For Bowen, though, Hatchet II has been more than just another acting job. It has been the catalyst for a whole new chapter in his career. The actor said, “I’ve been fortunate that two of the bigger projects I was involved with before Hatchet II made the festival rounds, and as an actor that can take a lot of your time. After I finished filming both The Signal and The House of the Devil, I had to work on promoting The Signal and after that went right into promoting House of the Devil. One day it hit me that I hadn’t worked on a feature in a very long time, and I felt like I was at an impasse with acting.”
“My wife was out of town, and I started thinking about returning to culinary school,” Bowen added. “I was literally about to call her one morning to tell her my decision, and just as I was getting ready to call, Adam called me and asked me to meet with him at the ArieScope offices. That day he asked me to be part of Hatchet II, and that really helped reinvigorate me as an actor. Since Hatchet II I’ve worked on five projects that are all going somewhere, and most of that is due to Green making that one phone call. This project has been nothing but a blessing for me and my career.”
In Hatchet II the one surviving character from Hatchet would need to return: Marybeth, the loner in search of her missing father and brother who fell victim to Victor Crowley. For the sequel, though, Green recast the role previously held by Tamara Feldman with one of horror’s premier scream queens, Danielle Harris.
“Danielle actually auditioned for the part of Marybeth for the first Hatchet, but I was scared back then if I had too many genre names in the cast, people wouldn’t take the movie seriously,” explained Green. “When we were getting ready to start thinking about Hatchet II, Danielle was the first call I made. This time Marybeth is not a victim; she turns into a badass and has to carry most of the movie on her shoulders. Danielle amazed me every day she was on set – she was such a warrior.”
Another bold casting choice Green made was asking “Master of Horror” writer/director Tom Holland to be part of the cast as Marybeth’s uncle, Bob. Tom, who is best known to horror fans as the man who created Chucky and gave us the sexy Jerry Dandridge, said he was probably the person most surprised that Green asked him to be part of the cast of Hatchet II.
Holland said, “I was flabbergasted when Adam asked me. We had become friends over the years at the Masters of Horror dinners. One night Adam and his now wife Rileah had me and (my wife) Kathi over for dinner, and he asked me right there. You really could have knocked me over with a feather after he was done asking.”
Most horror fans might be surprised to learn that Holland actually worked as an actor very early in his career. We spoke about how it felt being on that side of the camera after such a long time. “Acting again was harder than I thought. It’s not like riding a bicycle because it’s a muscle that has to be exercised. It’s an art form, but it’s also a technique. It takes practice, which is why so many actors spend so much time in class.”
Holland credits a lot of his ease back in front of the camera to Harris, who helped him get back into the swing of acting. “There were a few times where Danielle saved my performance on set,” explained Holland. “She connected with me and brought me back into the scenes. She would help me forget about the camera, and because of her the lines I would forget came back and flowed. Danielle’s a terrific actress, and I will always be thankful for the experience to collaborate with her and everyone on Hatchet II.”
From what I experienced on set, Green really did have a solid family in place on Hatchet II. During some of the stunt set-ups between takes, most of the crew and cast would chat about shots, ask how people were feeling, and make jokes with each other. It was remarkable seeing everyone being so passionate despite the challenges they were facing while filming.
“Part of the charm of making the first Hatchet was the guerilla filmmaking it took to get it made, and I didn’t want Hatchet II to feel completely different than it either so our crew really worked with me to keep with that original spirit,” said Green.
Part of what was different for Hatchet II was giving Victor Crowley (played by Kane Hodder) a bit more to do this time around. “We’ve refined Victor’s makeup so he can move better, and we gave him more of a story this time around, too. As a fan I always hate when franchises change the villain during sequels so we didn’t change too much, out of respect to the fans,” Green added.
One other big change this time around for Hatchet II is a much bigger body count. “We have 17 kills this time, as opposed to the seven kills from the first Hatchet, so we have a lot of cool shit cooked up for fans,” explained Green. “We have a bigger budget this time so we got to experiment more than on the first Hatchet. Everything about this film is bigger than the first, and that includes the stunts. One day we had blood mortar cannons that shot off, and there was not one inch of our set that wasn’t covered in blood. I was working inside Victor’s shed, and somehow I was still covered. It was really badass.”
Blood mortars and body count aside, Bowen said that Hatchet II will definitely leave fans satisfied. “All the questions from the first Hatchet are answered. We pick up right where the first Hatchet left off. The second has some insane gore, but aesthetically, tonally and visually, it still feels like the first film. I’ve seen all the kills, and fans are going to love it. It’s definitely a darker, more serious Hatchet film than the first, but it still has the heart and humor at its core.”
Green, who has become well known as someone who’s loyal to both the genre and his supporters, said, “The first Hatchet was a love letter to the genre. The second Hatchet is a love letter to all the fans that supported me along the way, believed in me and promoted the hell out of the movie. I just hope I deliver for all of them because they’re the reason I keep getting to do what I love.”
Hatchet II will be having its world premiere at the London Film4 FrightFest (August 26-30). Hit up the link for more details.
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