Reviewed 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.
Picking 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.
Perhaps 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.
4 out of 5
3 out of 5
Discuss Hatchet II in our comments section below!