Hatchet (2006)

Hatchet (click for larger image)Starring Joel Moore, Tamara Feldman, Deon Richmond, Mercedes McNab, Kane Hodder

Directed by Adam Green

Like most genre fans, I normally find myself disgusted with Hollywood and its continued recycling. But there’s something that baffles me even more: the indie scene and its overwhelming desire to be retro. Whether it’s a film festival or horror convention, you always seem to bump into the same kind of independent filmmaker. They come running up to you in their faded jeans and Gates of Hell T-shirt, brandishing their self-printed movie poster and screaming:

“Dude, our movie is, like, so old school! We got this scene, right, where this serial killer cuts up this naked chick, and she’s like, ‘Please don’t kill me’ and he does it anyway, and we see her intestines! It’s so hardcore! Yo, fuck Hollywood!”

So your idea isn’t hip and self-referential? It’s not a remake of another movie? Well that’s all fine and dandy, but it doesn’t do a whole lot of good if it’s the same old shit. Even studios are jumping on the bandwagon with numerous throwbacks that amp up the grue. But what does it all amount to other than the same worn-out formula and tired clichés? Call me crazy, but I prefer to see this genre progress instead of regress.

Hatchet is yet another example of old school horror and, despite its subversive poster tagline, serves up more of the same. You know the drill: A bunch of horror stereotypes (pathetic loser, ditzy girl, wise-crackin’ black dude, etc) are picked off one-by-one in the woods by a psychotic undead killer. The action kicks off during Mardi Gras, where a group of teens hop on a tour of the Louisiana bayou. When their boat sinks, our unlucky group find themselves stranded in the domain of the dreaded Victor Crowley (Hodder) – a disfigured campfire legend that stalks the swamps. Guess what his weapon of choice is?

Hatchet (click for larger image)Thankfully, there’s one thing that keeps Hatchet from falling into the pits with the rest of its ilk, and that’s the fact that writer/director Adam Green knows how to have fun with the material. Sure, it’s as generic as Grandma’s meds, but it’s an obvious labor of love, directed with enough skill and energy to hold your attention.

This may be the first time I’ve enjoyed the first act character intros more than the actual stalking-n-slashing. Green has a knack for writing hysterical dialogue, and our victim roster is boosted by a cast of great character actors (including cameos from Robert Englund, Tony Todd, and Joshua Leonard). In particular, actor Joel Moore perfectly plays up the “lovable loser hero,” and Mercedes McNab is a total hoot as a dim-witted Girls Gone Wild-ish actress (yes, “Buffy” fans, she kicks those inhibitions). And while it’s clear that the filmmakers have plans for endless sequels, I’d much prefer a prequel centered on the Chinese-Cajun tour guide played by Parry Shen; the guy practically runs away with the movie.

Of course, the real star is John Carl Buechler’s over-the-top gore FX which – combined with the teen-crushing talents of Kane Hodder – earns Hatchet the award for biggest splatter-fest of the year. But in the end, this could also be the film’s undoing. There’s no possible way the current version will survive the ratings board, and an R-rated cut would steal its thunder.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. For all its bells and whistles, Hatchet is still just another slasher flick that follows the modus operandi beat-for-beat. There’s no genuine suspense to be found. We all know who’s going to die and in what order, and every scare (real and false) feels telegraphed far in advance. Even with Green’s witty writing, there’s not much in the way of surprises, which is pretty ironic considering the film uses Marilyn Manson’s “This Is The New Shit” as its theme song.

Still, it’s hard to completely fault Hatchet because it does what it does very well. Eighties slasher fans will be in their gore-soaked heaven while others will find little beyond the laughs and dismemberment. There’s no doubt that Adam Green is a talented guy, and he seems destined for great success in horror. Here’s hoping he brings a little more originality to his next project.

3 1/2 out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

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