John Carl Buechler
Old School Slasher
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Hatchet 2 (2010)
6th Jun 11
Badass Victor Crowley’s still slashing his way through the swamps. And this time he has a REALLY big chainsaw.
Five years after Hatchet introduced us to deformed uber franchise friendly slasher Victor Crowley, the smoke covered New Orleans swamp he haunts and the talents of his creator Adam Green we get the inevitable Hatchet 2. The first film was a blast that came out of nowhere bragging it would deliver “Old School American Horror” and then amazingly did just that. It was gory as all hell with a lot of comedy that hit the right buttons without being a spoof. Using the advances in make-up effects and the (relative) loosening of censorship to his advantage, the young writer-director gave us what slasher fans always craved but very rarely got. A modern cult classic was born and a new fan favourite director was established. With the following years Green tried his hand at more serious fare, tumbling at the first hurdle with the admirable but dull Spiral but then garnering major acclaim and gasps of surprise with the amazing dramatic thriller Frozen. This proved just how much he had grown as a filmmaker, able to juggle humour, tragedy and tension with a cast of three in a mini masterpiece that made “proper” critics take notice. Returning to the gorefest that made his name proposed a worrying question: would this new mature Green be able to stay true to the uncomplicated and unsubtle joys of his debut?
The answer is a fist pumping “fuck, yeah!” Gorier and even more shameless than his first feature, Green has somehow managed to unlearn all the craft and skill he acquired in the interim. And hooray for that as the massive hulking human testicle Crowley would look a little off fretting over an unfed kitten left at home. Hatchet 2 certainly has its flaws but failing to feel like an honest to God follow up is not one of them. In fact, despite one change in the casting, watching Hatchet and its sequel back to back could make for the most seamless double bill ever.
Successful sequels follow a tried and tested formula from Bride of Frankenstein to Aliens to Hellboy 2; Continue the story and give the audience more of what they liked from the first film while fleshing out what’s already established. Hatchet 2 fits this blueprint to a tee. You want more imaginatively splattery deaths? Well you definitely get more of that! You want more back-story? Right back at ya! You want more humour? Well, this one doesn’t hit the mark quite as well, but they give it a bloody good shot! You want more awesome Tony Todd as the awesome Reverend Zombie? Sweet Fancy Moses you better believe your Voodoo loving ass you get a lot more of that!
Opening with a continuation of the closing shot of Hatchet (like I said, seamless) the action races to a flashback that elaborates on what we learned first time around, this time explaining how swamp stalking “ghost” Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) came to be quite so pleasing to the eye and vaguely give a reason for his unstoppable nature. The flashback also gives Hodder (doubling up as Crowley’s non-disfigured pop) the chance to do some actual acting. The man gets to cry real tears of regret during a sex scene! Only a fanboy like Green would give a seasoned stunt vet and cult fave like Hodder this opportunity. The fact that he doesn’t really pull it off is irrelevant. It’s irrelevant. Following even more flashback that ties returning heroine Marybeth (Danielle Harris, replacing the not returning Tamara Feldman) into the Crowley myth, we’re then thrown into Aliens territory when a gang of burly huntsmen led by Todd’s Reverend venture into the cursed swamp to put Crowley’s reign of terror and intestines to an end once and for all. They may have guns this time around but how do you think they get on? Oh, go on, have a guess.
Humour is a lot of what made the first Hatchet work and a common pitfall with sequels to surprisingly good originals is a tendency to strain to recreate the charm. Sadly this curse befalls Hatchet 2 in the jokes department as there’s another “comedy black guy” in the shape of Colton Dunn’s Vernon who simply doesn’t cut it in comparison to Deon Richmond’s priceless and knowing scaredy-cat from before. Dunn is likeable but his cheeky chappy shtick just falls flat. Parry Shen returns to play the twin of his earlier ill fated character and repeats the gag of faking a ridiculous accent (this time Cajun-French) to appease tourists and while this was a one joke turn first time around, it was a lot more successful than here. Not that there aren’t laughs to be had; AJ Bowen and Alexis Peters are chucklesome as former lovers and Todd is a total hoot playing up to his sinister throaty act. There’s no doubt the guy’s been having fun with his horror icon status since Candyman but this is the peak of his self parody and he drags out saying Looweeeezeeannaa better than anyone. If the trend of actors doing spoken word cover albums ever picks up again (and let’s all hope it does) then Todd had better get on it (could you imagine his version of “Mr. Blue Sky”?!). Pant-pissing, piss-drinking, “underage” nudity, mid-coitus decapitation, inappropriate dirty talk and not one but two unlucky ballsacks provide guilty giggles along the way. It’s that kind of movie... just like the first one.
But, of course the bread and butter is the kills and they are still disgusting, inventive, nasty and very wet. The effects by Robert Pendergraft and his team are jaw-dropping with nothing left to the imagination. At least twice in Hatchet 2 the most experienced of slasher fans would utter “never seen that one before” if their jaws hadn’t already dropped. Hodder’s Crowley is still a brutal and merciless big bugger with a penchant for head crushing and his very physical dialogue free performance is as imposing and jittery as ever. Mr Hodder is often credited as being the best Jason Voorhees, but Crowley really is his best character; primal, fierce, direct, strangely sympathetic and much more fun to look at as he pulverises a poor sod’s mush into mush. Giving him prey that can put up more of a fight this time makes things a tad more interesting too even though that aspect is never fully exploited. Sometimes it feels as though Green has thrown in a couple too many characters just to up the bodycount without really giving them a proper send off. But it’s a game of one-upmanship in Slasherland and you’ll have a hard time finding a gorier ride this side of... Hatchet. It also features the biggest chainsaw ever and it’ll take some beating.
Hatchet 2’s battle with the MPAA and the many cuts demanded is well documented and Green’s securing of major cinema chain AMC to show it uncut without a rating was an exciting and unheard of prospect. Damn shame then that venues showing this very violent but by no means harmful movie ended up pulling it after the opening weekend. Was it because of a fear of complaints or because of a lack of interest in a flick that couldn’t get any proper marketing? Or maybe it’s because too many horror fans sit on their back sides and stream through the comfort of their sticky laptops. ‘Try before you buy’ is one thing, but keyboard heroes shouldn’t complain about the backward attitude of America’s ratings board if they won’t buy a ticket for a release that really could’ve changed things for the better. There’s no need to try and defend Hatchet 2 with “this has political context” nonsense as with A Serbian Film (a fine piece of work but the intellectualized defence put forward by its makers did it more harm than good). It’s a perfect example of a low budget horror movie designed purely for fun that was getting picked on by a body notorious for their leniency towards major studios. Those who wanted to censor Crowley’s bloodlust would say it’s for people’s protection but if any viewer were to actually be disturbed or upset by what they see in Hatchet 2 then I would be very surprised. It might make some people puke but that’s a different matter entirely and besides, Subway sandwiches still thrive to this day. It’s worth noting that in the UK Hatchet 2 got an uncut 18 certificate with no fuss whatsoever, proving once again that even though they may have to get the scissors out from time to time, the BBFC do a pretty good job spotting the difference between powerful art, gory daftness and borderline rape-porn.
Maybe Hatchet 2 wasn’t really meant to be the ratings board game changer it almost threatened to be though as there’s a pretty limited appeal here and unapologetically so too. Green isn’t trying to convert newcomers but satisfy those already sold on the Hatchet Army. Your enjoyment of the sequel very much depends on how much you liked the first one, so if you really really loved Hatchet then feel free to add an extra star to the rating. If you merely thought the original was quite good then this will come across as a quite average retread. Only truly obsessive horror geeks will appreciate all the in-jokes (Jack-Chop!) and casting coups. Surely the best thing about Harris taking over from Feldman isn’t better acting (oh, no), but that she’s a veteran of four Halloween movies. It’s also not often you get to see Tom Holland (director of Fright Night & Child’s Play) and John Carl Beuchler (director of Friday the 13th Part VII & Cellar Dweller) play biggish roles in the same film and give very good performances to boot.
Adam Green doesn’t take Hatchet 2 seriously and neither should you. He’s capable of more nuanced work but knew the right way to go was to recapture that irresponsible manic energy that comes with making your first feature. Consumed with a few beers/ wines/ tokes/ green teas or whatever’s your poison plus preferably a bunch of like-minded chums, there’s no way you’ll come away not having had a good time. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it’s got most of the swagger of its predecessor. And allow me to repeat: Biggest. Chainsaw. Ever.
2nd Mar 05 This movie involves a lot of talking and a lot of walking around, opening doors, then walking a bit further, opening another door, then wiping off dirty hands, then perchance a glimpse of nudity with no follow-through.