Reviewed by MattFini
Starring Joel David Moore, Tamara Feldman, Deon Richmond, Kane Hodder, Mercedes McNab
Directed by Adam Green
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
‘Old School American Horror’ never quite rears its head in Hatchet – the 2006 slasher flick that had genre fans thinking they’d be taking a trip back to 1982 in order to relive the gory days of hack ‘n slash horror. But one can’t blame writer/director Adam Green for the misdirection of an overzealous marketing team. Because if this one never really takes us back in time, we can, at least, appreciate it for what it does bring to the table.
What we get is a relatively brisk pace (78 minutes, sans end credits), a colorful cast of characters (some annoying, some sympathetic) and one of the meanest resident slashers the genre has birthed in recent years. What’s not to like? Green understands one of the subgenre’s crucial and cardinal rules and therefore spends some quality time acquainting us with this batch of hatchet fodder before sending them traipsing through ol’ Victor Crowley’s territory. Joel David Moore is perfectly likable in his awkward earnestness while Deon Richmond is his snarky best buddy – complete with some enjoyable one-liners along the way. Tamara Feldman is the mystery woman who obviously knows more about the mythical killer than she’s letting on – keeping her character buoyed with compassion, even when Green’s lesser characters aren’t terribly deserving. And once Green lulls his audience into caring for these poor schleps, he gleefully hacks them to pieces courtesy of four-time Jason Voorhees, Kane Hodder, who slips into the latex amiably while swinging a mean axe to boot.
Where Hatchet loses its way for some (myself included) is in its over-reliance on comedy. The first act spends much of its time establishing characters/relationships with some genuinely humorous moments but refuses to yield once the action moves to Crowley’s swamp. Robert Pendergraft’s fantastic (read: practical) gore FX play exceptionally well in an age where CGI rules the day, resulting in some downright vicious set pieces. So if this one doesn’t get by entirely on its charms, the special effects go a long way toward making it work. Once our swamp slasher comes calling, suspense is jettisoned in favor of a barrage of ill-advised one-liners that only really succeed in robbing the film of some much-needed tension. These soon-to-be victims don’t have to be cracking wise when their lives at stake. It’s a tough act to pull off even in the best parodies (which this is not).
With Hatchet II’s theatrical release looming large on every horror fan’s radar, Anchor Bay doles out Victor Crowley’s first killing spree in 1080p high definition for your viewing pleasure. And what a great job they’ve done of it, too. Black levels are this transfer’s strongest asset, offering inky blacks rife with all sorts of detail; actor’s clothing, swampy backgrounds and splatter FX refuse to drown in the overwhelmingly dark palette. Skin tones look natural, and textures are impressive all around. For comparison’s sake I popped in my old DVD and alternated between the two. There’s no question that the Blu-ray would be an improvement over a compressed transfer, but this is a worthwhile upgrade for anyone who really wants to experience an impressive recreation of the film’s (limited) theatrical exhibition.
Audio holds up nearly as well – ambient sounds and music benefit the most from this Dolby Digital 5.1 True HD mix. It’s a loud and often aggressive film, and the soundtrack plays a big part in selling this design. Rear channels are always working – be it music, jump scares or other sound effects that help set Hatchet’s mood. The only drawback is that dialogue is softer than the rest of the lossless mix, making for a minor inconsistency in listening. It doesn’t completely hinder the experience as dialogue isn’t inaudible, but it occasionally lacks the crystal clarify of the rest of the mix. It’s still a good track that allows viewers to enjoy a theatrical experience (complete with effective jump gags) in their own home.
In terms of the Blu-ray’s exclusive extras, we get one thing: a brand new audio commentary from writer/director Adam Green and star Kane Hodder. I was advised by a good friend of mine to avoid this track for the simple fact that it includes some Hatchet II spoilers. I’ll confess to skipping around a bit on this front because I don’t like it when things are ruined for me beforehand. Regardless, from what I did hear, the track is lots of fun.
Kane Hodder is always an amiable guy, and his conversation with Green here is a lot like eavesdropping on two friends catching up. We’re treated to lots of behind-the-scenes details which helps paint an evocative picture of low-budget filmmaking. I had to tear myself away from this track, and believe me, I’ll be taking it for another spin as soon as I catch Hatchet II.
The rest of the stuff is ported over from the film’s 2006 DVD release including a second commentary with Green, DP Will Barratt and cast members Joel David Moore, Tamara Feldman and Deon Richmond. It’s a lighthearted and anecdotal discussion that makes for a fun way to pass 84 minutes. Also from the DVD is the forty-minute Making of ‘Hatchet’, which spans the genesis of the story through the filming of it. Meeting Victor Crowley is a ten-minute interview with Kane Hodder wherein he divulges his technique on stepping into a killer’s shoes. Two featurettes examine the smattering of gore FX while a gag reel and trailer round out the package. Another odd inclusion is A Twisted Tale, which shows us that Adam Green is buddies with Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider.
Four years after its initial release, Victor Crowley’s debut has its share of fans and detractors. Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray debut makes for a worthwhile upgrade for fans looking to enjoy the bloodbath in the best possibly quality. It features excellent video and solid (if not great) audio and comes wrapped in a nifty new audio commentary that is, surprisingly, worth everyone’s time. The rest of the extras are oldies but goodies while the film itself remains an incredibly polarizing work in the slasher subgenre. Personally, I found Green’s overabundance of humor a bit too silly for my taste, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the much-hyped sequel will be much more to my liking.
3 out of 5
4 out of 5