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Hatchet II (Blu-ray / DVD)

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Hatchet on Blu-rayReviewed by MattFini

Starring Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, Tom Holland, R.A. Mihailoff, A.J. Bowen

Directed by Adam Green

Distributed by Dark Sky Films


Unless you were living beneath a mountain of rocks at the beginning of October, chances are you’re well aware of the controversy surrounding Hatchet II and its ill-fated three-day run at select AMC Theaters across North America. When it was unceremoniously yanked from its last corporate-run venue on Sunday evening, horror fans the world over were asking why?

We still don’t know for sure. Not really. To those of us who’d managed to catch a screening that weekend, the controversy seemed even more ridiculous. Sure Hatchet II was the first wide-release (kind of) horror film to go out unrated since 1986’s resurrection of the Sawyer family, but it certainly wasn’t any gorier than the last Saw movie (and a lot less mean-spirited, to boot). That thing opened with an R rating and on 2800+ screens without incident. One doesn’t require keen powers of observation to note the MPAA’s rating process is both hopelessly flawed and suspiciously skewered when it comes to dealing with independent films. Hatchet II proves this.

The only thing ‘controversial’ about this sequel is the aforementioned box office situation. It’s certainly not the opening scene in which a victim has his intestines torn from his stomach and is promptly strangled to death by them. Nor is it the ludicrous (and crowd-pleasing) chainsaw murder which obliterates two grown men instantly and efficiently. Sure, there’s a relatively un-explicit sex scene that tosses in some blasphemy for good measure and a climax that sprays karo syrup in the face of our heroine like it’s an Evil Dead movie. Anyone already acquainted with Victor Crowley knows what they’re getting into before the disc even hits the player and none of it approaches the levels of violence and brutality previously glimpsed on multiplex screens in recent years. As Hatchet II’s writer/director, Adam Green, puts it, “my movie is about a swamp ghost with a belt sander.” Controversial indeed.

HatchetPicking up right where the events of the first film ended, Marybeth (Danielle Harris, this time out) manages to evade our resident slasher long enough to get back to town and alert Reverend Zombie (the returning Tony Todd) as to what’s happened. Zombie doesn’t take the news lightly, instantly rounding up a posse of rogues for a trek back into Victor Crowley’s swamp to end his reign of terror once and for all. Needless to say, mistakes are made and people die. Horribly.

Before we get to the slaughter, however, Green’s script spends some time fleshing out Crowley’s back story. We’re treated to some superfluous hows and whys pertaining to the killer’s protracted existence, and while it’s fun to see Kane Hodder sans prosthetics in these scenes, Green inadvertently stalls the momentum of his film by dragging it through this expository muck. The intention here is to re-establish Crowley as a campfire story despite the fact the first film has already accomplished this. It feels a bit more like padding this time around, even if it’s somewhat salvaged by Tony Todd’s committed delivery to the mythos.

It’s fun to see the assorted genre faces at work here. Todd is lots of fun as the unscrupulous reverend and Danielle Harris makes a better heroine than Tamara Feldman did in the original. Fright Night writer / director Tom Holland steps in front of the camera and it’s fun to see him – even if he’s better suited behind it. My personal favorite Leatherface, R.A. Mihailoff, is a badass screen presence and John Carl Buechler makes a brief appearance as one of Crowley’s most unfortunate victims. This may sound like Rob Zombie-ish stunt casting but this cadre of fan-favorites helps accent Green’s 80’s throwback attitude with Hatchet II.

It’s the gore FX that remain the big draw to this slasher sequel and they deliver in spades. Robert Pendergraft’s make-up improves upon Victor Crowley’s original design and the murders are appropriately nasty. Skulls are cracked open, jaws ripped off, bodies absolutely obliterated and that’s just the start. This stuff is pure bloody fun – even if it takes just a tad too long to click into high gear.

HatchetPerhaps the biggest improvement is Green’s restraint with comedy. There were times in Hatchet where it overshadowed the tension and the suspense of the story, and nothing takes me out of the action faster than characters cracking jokes once they know they’re in danger. Hatchet II rectifies this by front-loading the majority of the humor. Once it becomes a full-on slasher flick, the one-liners and sight gags relax a bit. That’s not to infer a lack of comedy, but Green strikes a happier balance between it and the horror this time around.

When all is said and done, Hatchet II makes no pretensions about what it wants to be. It’s a low-budget slasher with a high body count, great gore FX and some memorable supporting characters and dialogue (”the only thing he’s a reverend of is being an asshole.”). Those looking for anything more are bound to be disappointed but, really, why would you be here otherwise. I don’t think Adam Green and the ‘Hatchet Army’ are really here to ‘save’ horror, but he’s sure determined to bring some of fun back to it.

Dark Sky Films takes us into Crowley’s swamp with a strong AVC encode that appears to be a pitch-perfect representation of the theatrical experience. Hatchet II has a bit of a drab color palette and murky look, but color separation on this disc is good – with lots of distinction in black levels (Marybeth’s black coat against the black background, for example) to boot. Textures are rich, offering plenty of detail to the eye while skin tones look pretty healthy. This isn’t exactly a glamorous-looking film but Dark Sky’s Blu-ray should please high def. enthusiasts looking to purchase it.

The DTS HD 5.1 track offers a very strong and aggressive mix. Ambient sounds spread across the rear-channels, putting us in the swamps alongside the ill-fated hunters, while music stings are loud and effective, packing quite the startling punch. Dialogue is always well-separated above all else and the sound FX really snap, crackle and pop. On a technical level, this sucker is a home run.

And there’s a nice selection of supplements for those of you looking for a bit more out of your Hatchet II experience: Dual audio commentaries with Green at the helm of both. On one he’s joined by actors Tony Todd and Kane Hodder for a jovial discussion about all things Victor Crowley. It’s a blast to listen to and all three gentlemen sound like really fun guys. The second track is Green with DP Will Barratt and FX man Robert Pendergraft. As expected, this is a more technical discussion, but it’s also a talk worth listening to. The making of featurette is a decent watch but not terribly informative, and the Blu-ray exclusive features (two short EPK throwaways) leave little to be desired. Trailers (theatrical and teaser), a TV spot (which I would’ve loved to have seen aired) and a radio spot round out the package.

Now that all the talk about Hatchet II and its mysterious box office run has subsided, we can begin to enjoy this sucker for what it is: a simple slasher ride. It doesn’t break new ground nor does it have any allusions of doing so. But those looking for a throwback to a simpler time of practical FX work and non-commercial filmmaking should find much to enjoy here. I did. Bring on Hatchet III.

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Adam Green and stars Kane Hodder and Tony Todd
  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Adam Green, Cinematographer Will Barratt and Make-up FX Artist Robert Pendergraft
  • Hatchet II: Behind the Screams featurette
  • Hatchet II: First Look featurette (Blu-ray exclusive)
  • Meet the FX Team featurette (Blu-ray exclusive)
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spot
  • Radio Spot

    Film
    4 out of 5

    Special Features
    3 out of 5

    Discuss Hatchet II in our comments section below!

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    Victor Crowley Blu-ray Review – Killer Special Features Make This a Must-Own

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    Starring Parry Shen, Kane Hodder, Laura Ortiz, Dave Sheridan, Felissa Rose, and Tiffany Shepis

    Directed by Adam Green

    Distributed by Dark Sky Films


    Like many of you horror fans out there, I was surprised as hell when Adam Green announced that there was not only going to be the fourth entry in his famed Hatchet series but that the movie had already been filmed and was going to be screening across the country.

    Of course, I wanted to get to one of those screenings as soon as possible, but unfortunately, there were no events in my neck of the woods here in Gainesville, Fl., and so I had to bide my time and await the Blu-ray.

    Then a few days ago, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley landed on my doorstep and I jumped right into watching the film. Short story, I loved it. But we’ll get into all of that more in-depth below. For now, let’s do a quick rundown on the film for those two or three horror fans out there who aren’t familiar with the film and its premise.

    Victor Crowley is the fourth entry in the Hatchet series, a franchise that follows the tale of a deformed man that accidentally met the wrong end of his father’s hatchet long ago and now roams the Louisiana swamp each night as a “Repeater”, aka a ghost that doesn’t know it is dead and thus cannot be killed. Ever. Well, maybe not ever. After all, Victor was supposedly killed at the end of Hatchet III by a combination of Danielle Harris, his father’s ashes, and a grenade launcher. Dead to rights, right? Not so much.

    In this fourth entry/reboot, a group of indie horror filmmakers, lead by the adorable Katie Booth, accidentally resurrect Crowley just as the original trilogy’s lone survivor (Parry Shen) is visiting the swamp one final time in the name of cold hard cash. Long story short, Shen’s plane crashes with his agent (Felissa Rose), his ex-wife (Krystal Joy Brown), and her film crew in tow. Some survive the initial crash, some don’t. As you can imagine, the lucky ones died first.

    Victor Crowley is a true return to form for Adam Green, who sat out of the director’s chair on the third film. As always, Green doesn’t shy away from the over-the-top comedy and gore the franchise is well known for. The blood rages and the sight-gags hit fast and unexpectedly. And, speaking of the sight-gags, there’s evidently a shot in this Blu-ray version of the film that was cut from the “Unrated” version released on VOD. The shot is one I won’t spoil here, but for the sake of viewing Green’s initial vision alone, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley is really the only way to own this film. Don’t get me wrong, there are (many) more reasons to shell out the cash for this Blu-ray, but I’ll get into those soon.

    Back to the film itself, what makes this fourth entry in the series one of the very best Hatchet films (if not THE best) is Adam Green’s honesty. Not only does he conquer a few demons with the ex-wife subplot, but he gives us a truly tragic moment via Tiffany Shepis’ character that had me in stunned silence. Her death is not an easy kill to pull off in a notoriously over-the-top slasher series, but it earned mucho respect from this guy.

    Basically, if you loved the original trilogy, you will love this one as well. If you mildly enjoyed the other films, this one will surely make you a fan. Slow clap, Adam Green.

    Special Features:

    Let it be known that I’m a massive fan of fly-on-the-wall filmmaking documentaries. Like many of you out there, I find film production to be utterly fascinating and thus have grown a little tired of the typical making-of featurettes we get on Blu-rays. You know the ones. The director talks about his vision for the film, the cast say how much fun they had on-set with the other actors and crew, and we get cutaways to people dancing and trying to kiss the behind-the-scenes camera – all usually set to upbeat music.

    While I’ll take what I can get, these kinds of behind-the-scenes features have grown to be little more than tiresome and superficial. But no worries here my friends as Adam Green has pulled out all the BS and given us a full-length, 90-minute behind-the-scenes feature called “Fly on the Wall” that shows it how it really is on the set.

    Highlights include new Hatchet D.P. Jan-Michael Losada, who took over for Will Barratt this time around, who is little less than a f*cking hilarious rockstar, a front row seat to the making of Felissa Rose’s death scene, a creepy-cool train ghost story prank by Green, a clever impromptu song via Krystal Joy Brown (Sabrina), and a fun bit towards the end where Green and the SFX crew create the “gore inserts” in (basically) the backyard after filming. Good times all around.

    The documentary then ends with the Facebook Live video of Adam Green announcing Victor Crowley‘s surprise premiere at that Hatchet 10th Anniversary screening. A great way to end a killer making-of documentary making his disc a must-own for this special feature alone.

    But wait, it gets better. On top of the film itself and the above-mentioned “Fly on the Wall” documentary, the disc features an extensive interview with Adam Green called “Raising the Dead… Again.” This interview is basically Green going over the same speech he gave to the crowd at the surprise unveiling shown at the end of the “Fly on the Wall” doc, but that said, it’s great to hear Green tells his inspiring story to us directly.

    So while this feature treads water all of us have been through below (especially fans of Green’s podcast The Movie Crypt), Green is always so charming and brutally honest that we never get tired of him telling us the truth about the ins-and-outs of crafting horror films in this day and age. Again, good stuff.

    Additionally, the disc also boasts two audio commentaries, one with Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan, and another “technical” commentary with Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft.

    Add in the film’s teaser and trailer, and Victor Crowley is a must-own on Blu-ray.

    BUY IT HERE!

    Special features:

    • Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan
    • Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft
    • Raising the Dead… Again – Extensive interview with writer/director Adam Green
    • Behind the Scenes – Hour-long making-of featurette
    • Trailer
    • Victor Crowley
    • Special Features
    3.5

    Summary

    One of the best, if not THE best, entries in the Hatchet series, with special features that are in-depth and a blast (and considering all other versions of the film have been castrated for content), this Blu-ray is really the only way to own Adam Green’s Victor Crowley.

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    Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual

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    Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.

    Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!

    Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!

    If you like what you hear, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.

    The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTwitch, and YouTube.

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    The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger

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    Starring Nhung Kate, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan

    Written and directed by Derek Nguyen


    Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.

    Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.

    Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.

    Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.

    Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.

    The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.

    Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.

    The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.

    • Film
    3.0

    Summary

    Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.

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