Hatchet (Unrated Director's Cut) Review
Written by: jay_wigger
With a tagline as bold as "Old School American Horror" and surrounded by an almost Snakes on a Plane-sized amount of hype, writer/director Adam Green's Hatchet can't help falling short of expectations. But amid the current crop of so-called torture-porn horror films that take themselves very seriously (the Saw and Hostel series, to name a few), the humor and over-the-top gore and violence of Hatchet make for a pretty good horror film that manages to pay homage to the slasher flicks of the 80s while also poking fun at them.
Based on a character created by Green at summer camp when he was eight years old, Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder, Jason from Friday the 13th parts 7 through 10) was a disfigured boy accidentally killed by a hatchet wielded by his father (also played by Hodder) as he tried to save him from a fire at their cabin that was set by local youths who used to taunt poor Victor. Thus, the legend of Hatchet-Face is born and it's said that Victor Crowley haunts the Louisiana bayou around his home calling out to his dad and savagely murdering anyone who dares to venture nearby. A slasher movie, by its very nature, should never stray from the genre's fairly simple structure, and Hatchet happily follows the rules: start with a bang, then take as much time as you need to gather a diverse group of characters and strand them in the vicinity of the killer, setting up the eventual bloodbath that brings us to a surprise ending that leaves the door open for a possible sequel. If you think that this revelation ruins the movie for you, then you're not a slasher fan. The true fan goes in knowing what to expect and is there solely for the purpose of seeing lots of blood and creative killing. Hatchet definitely delivers on these two counts with impalements, beheadings, disembowelments, and dismemberments, all performed using a variety of rusty tools you'd expect to find in an old shed in the woods, not to mention the killer's bare hands. What makes this mayhem all the more cool is that it was all done without the help of CGI animation, just good old-fashioned make-up effects and trick camera shots. Oh yeah, and bucket upon bucket of fake blood.
What ultimately places Hatchet a cut above your run-of-the-mill slasher film is the caliber of acting from a cast of relative unknowns, especially considering they are playing the most necessarily stereotypical roles in all of filmdom. You've got your naive nubile young ladies who are only too eager to display their natural assets in front of complete strangers (Joleigh Fioreavanti and Mercedes McNab - Harmony from TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel); the sleazy guy who tries to take advantage of them; the middle-aged couple on vacation and intent on enjoying all the local folklore to the fullest; the tour guide who knows nothing about what he's selling; the local girl (Tamara Feldman, of the upcoming Harold and Kumar sequel) who knows the legend and is intent on confronting the killer for her own reasons; and of course the main visitors (Joel David Moore of Dodgeball and Grandma's Boy and Deon Richmond of Not Another Teen Movie), one trying to forget a recent break-up and the other reluctant to go on a swamp tour and who is the voice of reason and fear. Where the cast shines is in the long segment between the opening scene and the next murder almost forty minutes later. This is a very long set-up by any standards but the comedic background and on-screen chemistry of Moore and Richmond keep the audience from losing interest, as does the inclusion of cameos from a couple of horror icons, Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund and Tony "Candyman" Todd, whose brief turn as Reverend Zombie is downright hilarious. With a budget of only 1.5 million dollars, it's amazing that Hatchet looks as good as it does and is as entertaining as any of the new breed of horror films.
The unrated director's cut DVD release of Hatchet is presented in a crisp 1.78:1 widescreen transfer and includes an excellent 5.1 Dolby Surround soundtrack. The disc is also chock full of special features:
The Making of Hatchet is pretty much a general history of the making of the film, from the story of its conception up to the final day of filming, and offers plenty of insights from the many people invoved, all told in a tightly-packed 40-minute package.
Meeting Victor Crowley shows what lengths Kane Hodder and Adam Green went to in order to keep Crowley's appearance a secret even from the cast, right up until the point when they first see him on camera. Hodder goes so far as to wear a complete winter jacket with hood and all so that he cam perform his duties as the film's stunt coordinator without anyone seeing him in his make-up and prosthetics.
Guts and Gore is a short featurette about the various killings and the amounts of blood they used in the film with cast and crew members giving their opinions as to their favorite moments.
In Anatomy of a Kill, Green and crew guide us through how they created and filmed one of the most memorable kills in the film, starting from its inception in the pre-production phase that included the use of Britney Spears and Gene Simmons dolls as visual aids, through the set-up phase with insights from effects whiz John Carl Buechler, right up to the final shot that they used in the film. This is probably the best of the featurettes for any aspiring horror filmmaker.
A Twisted Tale is a surprisingly touching (yet somewhat corny) account from Adam Green about how he came to love the horror genre and the huge influence that Dee Snider of Twisted Sister had on his life and career. Inspirational, indeed.
Also included are a theatrical trailer and a gag reel that is quite funny, along with a great feature commentary from Green, cinematographer Will Barratt and cast members Tamara Feldman, Joel David Moore, and Deon Richmond where the group discusses the excellent time they had making the film. Green in particular is positively giddy while talking about everything that went wrong during production and how budget constraints forced them to be creative with their sets. He points out every flaw in the film but does so lovingly, as if he wouldn't have done anything any differently even if he had had the time and money to do so. Through listening to the commentary, it's clear that Green is a director who loves the horror genre and is proud of his entry into the slasher canon. As well he should be.
Hatchet does not break any new ground, but it does deliver the goods expected of slasher movies: plenty of violence and gore and a couple of well-timed frights. The fact that it is also quite funny and just self-aware enough so as not to alienate the hardcore horror fan makes for an entertaining hour and a half for die-hards and casual fans alike. Throw in the glut of special features included on this disc and it's a veritable Mardi Gras of bloody delights.
Originally reviewed at ioncinema.com