When Hatchet came to theaters in 2007 it affirmed something fans had been waiting for for the better part of the decade: “Old School American Horror”. For at the time, the derided torture porn genre was just taking off with Saw III and Hostel, while JHorror remakes like The Grudge 2 were still cashing in and remakes of the American sacred like The Hills Have Eyes or The Omen were burning up the box office. It wasn’t a time for originality, and it certainly wasn’t like anything that represented the genre in its heyday of the seventies and eighties. Hatchet, the debut horror film by the since prolific Adam Green, looked to change that with an honest attempt to return the genre to its roots with a straight up slasher. He had a pretty good crew with the likes of Robert Englund, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder and John Carl Buechler behind the effects. Does this cut deep into horror’s biggest sub-genre, or should its name not be repeated above a whisper?
Our slasher begins on the Louisiana bayous, where a father-son pair (Robert Englund and Joshua Leonard, respectively) sit idly on moonlit water. They’re them there huntin’ gators, but it appears someone else is hunting them. You almost think it’s going to be a nature-strikes-back thriller when the first big jump scare comes when the son takes a piss in the fresh water, when in reality, it’s a backwoods beast who has never heard of the MPAA. First, he guts the daddy, and then, when the son finds father, he rips out the boy’s entrails as the kid screams in agony. With a big, imposing stature and garments fit for a lumberjack could it be…Madman Marz?
Meanwhile, a bunch of college kids party it up in nearby New Orleans for Mardi Gras. That is, everyone but Ben (Joel David Moore, Art School Confidential, Avatar), who’s in mourning after his longtime girlfriend called it quits. Wanting to get away from all the booze and all the boobs (why, dammit, why?) he asks his best buddy Marcus (Deon Richmond) to blow it all off in favor of a haunted riverboat tour. After asking a local horror staple, Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd) about the fabled tour, Zombie directs them to the underground whereabouts. Ben and Marcus are joined by a ragtag group of tourists, including a mature couple (Richard “It’s a mat with conclusions…that you jump to!” Riehle and Patrika Darbo), two would-be porn stars (Joleigh Fioravanti and Mercedes McNab) and a Joe Francis-type filmmaker (Joel Murray), the eccentric Asian tour guide (Parry Shen) and the tough, quiet tomboy (and if you know your slashers, Final Girl), Marybeth (Tamara Feldman). During the drab, amateur tour, the guide speaks of the campfire legend, Victor Crowley, and after some shallow rocks cause them to beach the boat, the tourists learn the legend firsthand.
As the legend goes, Victor Crowley was a deformed boy who lived alone in the country with his father (sensitively played by Kade Hodder). The kids would always pick on him whenever they’d go into town, and one tragic Halloween the kids accidentally lit his cabin on fire when trying to scare the boy with firecrackers. When his father arrived to see the cabin ablaze, he quickly grabbed a hatchet to break down the front door, but his first chop struck Victor in the head, killing the boy as he tried to get out. Now, all these years later, it appears as if Victor (also Hodder) has risen, destined to haunt the woods that brought about his untimely death.
It’s advertised as “Old School American Horror” and in a way that’s a bit of false advertising. Hatchet, instead, is a movie FOR fans of “Old School American Horror”, not “Old School American Horror” itself. With its cast of monsters from the eighties and nineties (Hodder, Todd and Englund) it tips the hat more than it tries to recreate the old school vibe. Same goes with the tone of the film, which could never really be confused for horror, certainly not by younger audiences today, but instead as a comedic, campy ode to the slasher films past. It isn’t so much like a drive-in slasher was then, but more like what a fan of slasher films would conceive of the genre today. It’s a movie for people who don’t watch horror movies to be “scared” but more to see them hit all the familiar notes with a love for storytelling. In that respect, Hatchet really succeeds.
First off, the Victor Crowley backstory is just fanboy awesome. Like a twisted amalgam of Friday the 13th, The Burning and Madman, it takes the three kingpins of backwoods slashers and turns them into one true force. Hodder relishes the moment, too, playing Vic with a fierce physicality that shows he’s grown as a stunt actor a lot more than even his days as Jason. As the dad in the flashbacks, he’s also surprisingly sympathetic in a limited role, which bodes well for the sequel, where the dad gets a much bigger part. Hodder loves playing the bad guy, though, and his and Adam Green’s Victor Crowley definitely is a slasher icon for the ages.
The other major accolade goes to another eighties horror legend, Mr. John Carl Buechler. Not only does he shamelessly cameo as a Crazy Ralph-type who drinks his own piss, but more importantly he provides the effects work that’s done 100% in-camera. While the torture porn movies have famously expanded the MPAA’s tolerance for on screen violence, Hatchet definitely one ups them in every conceivable way. The kills in this movie are insane. The standout is definitely the 360 degree shot where Victor pries open the mouth of his victim to the point where he rips the top portion of her head off, leaving her tongue and a spurting geyser of blood in his wake. Every kill is different, with Vic using methods and weapons similar, but never totally the same, as slasher films past. The one death by belt sander harkens back to Buchler and Hodder’s Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood, where in that one Jason seemed to have an endless supply of power tools at his disposal. The New Blood was tragically a victim of the MPAA though, and in a way this is Buechler’s chance to do the kind of kills he always wanted to without fear of puritan retribution. Hatchet is a bloody and brutal delight, and unlike the Saws, it has that over-the-top eighties quality that always makes the fun the primary focus. This is that rollercoaster ride that Sean S. Cunningham always talks about when referring to the Friday movies.
As a first time director, Adam Green shows amazing confidence out of the gate, believing in his story and telling it the way it needed to be told. He lets his actors improvise, and looking at the gag reel, there was a ton of great gags that didn’t even make the cut. The repartee with the cast is reminiscent to the affable, identifiable bonds amateur casts in slashers like House of Death, 1980’s Scream and Madman were able to convey, and something Hollywood has never gotten right in trying to rework the slasher formula since. Green does, and he’s also able to mold genre conventions to deliver coy little twists, most notably in the finale that expertly plays on our familiarity of Friday the 13th to turn things in a whole different direction. Green showed his command of the genre in his commentary with Joe Lynch (another guy to watch) for Friday the 13th – The Final Chapter, and with Hatchet he puts it into practice. This is a fun, and often quite funny, pastiche of the sub-genre we love the best, and anyone who’s ever said Madman Marz’s name above a whisper owes it to themselves to scream Hatchet from the rooftops, because this is the kind of horror movie the genre needs.
Hatchet was lensed by a first time cinematographer, but from this sharp, colorful transfer, you’d never know it. Hatchet looks great in 1080p, with an incredibly saturated look, from all the New Orleans beads and party colors to the greens of Victor Crowley’s woods. Colors absolutely leap off the screen, yet detail is still very much discernable in even the hottest red, like Tony Todd’s flashy vest. Edges are tack sharp; even the slimmest of objects, including all those slivers of Louisiana rain, are rendered with exceptional clarity. Blacks are deep and solid, even if DOP Will Barratt throws out an HMI too many to light up all those night scenes. Being such a new film, grain is almost non-existent, but the film is also able to retain a filmic look thanks to the detail in the textures of objects. Overall, Hatchet swings much sharper in Blu-ray.
You know, I spend so much time reviewing vintage horror movies that I forget sometimes just how good a modern surround mix can sound. A Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is the sole audio mix on this new Blu-ray, and it really delivers the bass and the surround kick needed for such a jubilant jump scare movie. Every sound in this mix, from twigs cracking to frogs croaking in the background sound so crisp. The music has real fidelity to it and the stingers get a lot of kick from the LFE. Channel separation is very well done, with ambient noises really highlighted in the rears and really contributing to the illusion that we’re in this swamp with these characters. The directional effects could have been more aggressive, especially with usage of the rears (like when Buechler calls at them from behind, it could have been moved to the back rather than just muffled up front), but this is still a forceful, active mix. Crank it up!
NConsidering how many companies get it wrong, it’s refreshing that Anchor Bay has ported over every single supplement from the packed DVD release, and then some. The new extra is an audio commentary with Adam Green and Kane Hodder, the two fresh from filming on Hatchet II. The two have trouble avoiding talk about the sequel and how it builds upon the original, but for fans of the upcoming movie (on Blu-ray and DVD now, I suppose) it will be a welcome teaser. Green is fun and active as always, and more than even the Friday movies, Hodder seems to show a genuine affection for the film and now the franchise. He really thanks Green for giving him the chance to act without the mask, but that’s only a fraction of the things the two guys discuss in this chatty, informative track.
Green was also joined by Cinematographer Will Barratt and Actors Tamara Feldman, Joel David Moore and Deon Richmond for a commentary ported over from the DVD release. The five participants are recorded together and do a lot of joking, remembering and storytelling about all the fun they had on the production. It really sounds like Adam Green made for a creative and tight knit set, and as a result there are a lot of unique and entertaining anecdotes that come from the whole process. It’s a fun commentary, and best of all Green doesn’t really recycle anything he says in this track for the new one with Hodder, so for the Hatchet army this is another must listen!
Next up are a number of featurettes totaling close to an hour and a half worth of footage. The longest piece is “The Making of Hatchet”, which chronicles the story from its genesis in the head of Green when he was but an eight year old summer camper telling his friends campfire stories all the way to its final days of editing. All the key participants on the film are aboard to talk about the making-of, including producers, actors, and camera, makeup and music departments. Familiar faces like Kane Hodder, John Carl Buechler, and Robert Englund all talk, and so does everyone from all the young actors to even the camera operator. The film had quite the lengthy journey to the screen, and Green and the producers memorably talk about how they shot a test trailer to get the whole thing financed. You can tell it was a fun set, while at the same time an organized one, and this forty minute featurette affirms that good things can happen to a good crew.
“Guts & Gore” delivers exactly what the fans want, and that’s a nice look at all of John Carl Buechler’s bar raising effects. It starts fittingly with the crew members reflecting on their favorite kills, and then it goes to Buechler and other crew members to explain how they came to fruition in the film. There’s plenty of visual supporting material, too, with a lot of behind-the-scenes footage, including all the actors’ body mold sessions and the application of the Crowley mask. It’s more of a teaser than a full on deconstruction at only eleven minutes, but it’s quickly paced and enjoyable.
“Meeting Victor Crowley” gives us a fascinating window into Hodder’s craft and how all the actors were never allowed to see Victor Crowley in makeup throughout production. This heightened the reality of their reactions when they finally did see him during the takes, and the impact is certainly reinforced here with behind-the-scenes moments before and after the takes to show just how scared some of the actors were. A memorable moment is when the actors are waiting for the take and all you hear from far away is Hodder grunting and screaming from across the woods. It’s refreshing to see such a dedication to character, especially for a stunt man, and this ten-minute ode to creating the Crowley for the screen is one rarely seen in horror film extras.
Adam Green explains a crazy karmic story about how his childhood adulation of Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider ended up turning into a lifelong friendship, with Hatchet happening somewhere along the way. Snider’s also interviewed for “A Twisted Tale”, and it’s quite inspiring to see Green lead us through one of his penultimate dreams becoming a reality. It’s a worthwhile nine minutes.
The undisputed best kill in the movie, the three sixty jaw rip, is deconstructed in full in a brisk six minutes. Green starts by reenacting the kill with KISS dolls (see, Fangoria was right, Gene Simmons is a horror icon!), then Buechler explains how he readied the effect in his studio and finally we see how the actors and crew were able to achieve the effect on the day with a number of behind-the-scenes shots and interviews. Too bad every kill wasn’t given the same kind of documentation.
Lastly, there’s a trailer and a gag reel to round off the disc. The gag reel is actually quite humorous, with Joel David Moore improvising a lot on set, offering up a different punch line for a number of his jokes, sometimes with up to five or six different variants. It ends with a bit of a vomiting montage to ensure the brow always remains low. The trailer is the same trailer they used to sell the film before a single frame of footage was shot, yet it still works very well on its own today.
With Hatchet Adam Green has managed to do what few filmmakers have done by making a completely contemporary and entertaining movie that has complete and total reverence and understanding of old school slashers and what make them so appealing. It’s got a great villain and backstory, insane prosthetic effects by John Carl Buechler, a fun, diverse cast, a lot of laughs and a lot of scares. It’s pretty much perfect horror fun in the Sean S. Cunningham “rollercoaster ride” format. This Blu-ray is beautiful, with crisp video and sound that seem almost lifelike. All the solid extras from the DVD are here in addition to another fine commentary with Green and Hodder. Most new horror films that try to provide the eighties horror experience fail, but Hatchet succeeds in a big way. Victor Crowley lives!
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
Fun review but man does the disc play havoc on my PS3.
I heard that from others on the board, too. But in all three of my Blu-ray players it played without a glitch.
"Movie - A-"
errrr....ok. lol, well, I did enjoy it. So cool.
Hatchet does what it sets out to do. You can't fault Jackass for resorting to penis gags when that's its ultimate aspiration.
Great review and glad to see someone able to enjoy this for what it is, a fun as hell gore soaked roller coaster ride.
Hated this movie. It's basically Dumb and Dumber the "horror" movie.
Wasn't a huge, huge fan of this one, but I thought it was a fun little slasher. I look forward to the second one.
So far I've loved everything that's come out of the Adam Green camp. I hope he keeps it up.
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