Directed by BJ McDonnell
Inferior to previous installments in almost every way, Hatchet III doesn’t seem all that interested in expanding the legend of the bayou boogeyman, Victor Crowley, so much as it just wants to blow it the hell up. Existing only to wrap up a trilogy and to top the body count of the first two films, this latest (and probably last) entry doesn’t maintain the sense of fan-driven fun of the original, an inspired film that served as a nice love letter to ‘80s slashers.
Picking up seconds after the ending of Hatchet II, sole survivor Marybeth (Danielle Harris) is still fairly certain that fledgling horror icon Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) is definitely dead after beating his face to a pulp and blowing his head off… but wait! Crowley rises once again, of course, and the first few minutes are spent mutilating Crowley in a gleefully gory sequence involving an unmanned chainsaw. So, the exact same cliched, self-referential joke that ended the sequel is told again but this time it’s even more stale. As the sole survivor, the suspicion around Marybeth grows because of her outlandish account of the previous night’s events. An unproven theory from a desperate journalist (Caroline Williams) that might bring the Crowley curse to an end once and for all becomes Marybeth’s only chance to clear her name.
First-timer BJ McDonnell keeps the director’s chair warm this time around, turning the series into an action-fueled gorefest pitting Crowley against S.W.A.T. and the entire Jefferson Parish police force. In later sequels, it makes perfect sense to go bigger instead of scarier, and one beat in particular showing Crowley standing in front of his burning dwelling as it crumbles behind him feels almost epic and looks fantastic. Because of McDonnell’s extensive camera work on films like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Battle Los Angeles, the action is well staged even though the limited budget doesn’t allow for much room to maneuver.
The 360-degree, all practical effect in Hatchet showing a poor grandmother (Patrika Darbo) getting her head twisted off is still one of the best in-camera effects in recent years, but nothing comes close to topping it in Hatchet III. In fact, severed arms rip off revealing what looks like construction paper blood, and decapitated heads appear to be nothing more than painted papier-mâché over a latex prop. Throwaway effects used in sequences involving second-tier characters look more convincing at times than sequences involving the deaths of major characters. The bad effects outweigh the good ones (and there are some good ones, for sure) – a letdown considering the franchise is known for spectacular effects without relying on the CGI of the new millennium.
The re-designed Victor Crowley make-up lets the incomparable Kane Hodder emote more than ever before, allowing the actor’s own expressions to shine through. Unfortunately, Hodder isn’t given an opportunity to do much other than to scream and shake his arms around. However, a somewhat memorable encounter with Derek Mears (both actors have played Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th series) almost gets the blood pumping, but sadly, having these two actors together on screen doesn’t quite live up to its potential.
Horror fans don’t just exist in a post-Scream world now; we’re firmly into post-Cabin in the Woods territory, which is why the script by Adam Green, director and writer of Hatchet and Hatchet II, appears all the more lackluster. Appealing to the lowest common denominator and rife with racial humor that goes absolutely nowhere, awkward attempts at comic relief never fully connect and random cameos just feel like stunt casting. Horror tropes are addressed and made fun of ad nauseam, but Green has no idea what to do in those moments to make it fresh or even remotely funny. It’s all setup and no payoff.
There was an excitement present in the first movie that even carried over to the sequel, but it doesn’t seem to have survived. Fans of the first two will definitely find redeeming qualities and it is good to see Crowley on screen again, but everything feels forced this time around. If the original Hatchet was a return to old school American horror, then this third installment shows a blatant disregard for it.
2 out of 5