Kicking It Into High Gear: A Visit to the Set of ‘Hatchet II’

Back in January Bloody-Disgusting’s Chris Eggertsen had the chance to visit the set of Dark Sky Films’ upcoming Hatchet II, Adam Green’s sequel to the slasher film that became previous distributor Anchor Bay’s top-selling original title when it was released in 2007. While on set at Occidental Studios in L.A., Chris had the chance to speak with some of the film’s cast, including Danielle Harris, AJ Bowen, and Tom Holland, and got a behind-the-scenes look at the interior of Victor Crowley’s house. In addition, he narrowly escaped being pummeled by star Kane Hodder. Read on for his full set report.

The office door shuddered – no, buckled – under the weight of the furious pounding coming from the other side. Only moments before I’d been engaged in a pleasant conversation with actor R.A. Mihailoff (“Leatherface” in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 and Hatchet 2 cast member), and then the pounding – a sudden, ear-shattering noise that might as well have been signaling the end of the world.

“What the hell was that?” exclaimed the bearded Mihailoff, both of us nearly jumping out of our skin at the noise. Our heads swiveled in the direction of the door, but it was silent now. What lay beyond it, we could only speculate. Publicist Daniela Sapkar, who had been serving as my guide on the set of Adam Green’s Hatchet 2 for the last few hours, didn’t even seem to notice as she continued to type furiously away on her computer a few feet away, ever the consummate professional.

Turns out, the guilty party had been none other than Kane Hodder, the horror film veteran best known for playing Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Parts VII, VIII, IX, and X. Thanks to Adam Green, horror fans now also know him as Victor Crowley, the deformed mutant swamp-dweller with a penchant for slicing and dicing all who trespass on his territory. He’d come by presumably to scare the bejeesus out of Milhailoff (playing bad-ass character Trent, who I’m told goes mano-a-mano with Crowley at one point in the film), and it had worked. In full makeup and costume, Hodder seemed to have taken on the animalistic persona of the murderous character he was portraying by – as we later discovered – literally smashing a giant hole in the office door.

“He is so into it”, said actor AJ Bowen, who plays the character of Layton – a local hunter hired by Rev. Zombie (Tony Todd) to track down Victor Crowley – of Hodder when I interviewed him earlier in the day. “I think he believes that he is that person, so he makes it very easy…he gets into it so severely, there’s no way you’re not gonna be afraid. He does these like howls right before he starts…it’s terrifying.”

“He’s also not afraid to jump out when we’re just off-set, and scare the shit out of you”, echoed Ed Ackerman, Bowen’s co-star who plays a backwoods hunter appropriately named Cleatus who joins the mission to take Crowley down. “So that helps build fear as [an] actor too, because you’re like, ‘Where’s Kane at?’… He actually is probably under Daniela’s desk right now, hanging out. He’s gonna jump out, and all of us are gonna crap our pants and cry a little.”

Who says you can’t be “Method” when you’re in a horror flick?

Unfortunately (or rather fortunately, for me, considering the crater he’d left in that door) Kane doesn’t do interviews while he’s in his makeup, so I didn’t get a chance to speak with him that day. But it’s clear he takes the part very seriously. Seeing him stalking around the back hallways of the L.A. soundstage where the film was being shot (this being the last night of filming on a stage before moving to Louisiana for some location shooting) actually did put me a little on edge – at least until later, when I witnessed him comically standing in line at the catering truck (still in full makeup). See, once you’ve witnessed Victor Crowley serving himself up some Fettuccine Alfredo at a pasta bar, the mystique surrounding him can’t help but lose a little of its potency.

Hatchet 2, the follow-up to the successful first film that launched Green’s career and created a new slasher icon, is a dream come true for fans of extreme gore. According to everyone involved, the kills will be more outrageous, and the body count even higher. Taking over the role originated by Tamara Feldman, genre fave Danielle Harris will star this time as MaryBeth, the local whose father and brother were killed by Crowley in the first film and who leads a new group of soon-to-be-victims into the swamp to hunt down and destroy the killer once and for all. I had the chance to sit down with the pretty, diminutive actress (she’s 5′, at most) to talk about her part in the film, and how it feels to carry the extra burden of taking over a role originated by a different actress.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking, you know, I mean stepping into someone else’s shoes”, she told me. “It’s like doing a guest spot on a series where they’ve already been working for five years, and you come on as a guest, and you’re a little nervous…even though I know Adam, and I know AJ [Bowen], and I know Rileah [Vanderbilt], and I know Tony [Todd], and I know Kane. So that kind of helped. But…I think it’s probably more of a question for the other girl, for Tamara, for her to have someone else come take a role over that she created. We’re very different. We’re very, very different in terms of what our objectives are for the role. She laid the foundation, now I’ve gotta kick it into high gear.”

“High gear”, in the case of Hatchet 2, means that everything that made the first film so much fun to watch – the inventive kills, the buckets of gore, the humor – has been amped up even further in the sequel. “The scale, even though it’s the same universe, exponentially the scale of what’s going on is so large”, Bowen told me. “The scope is really large, comparatively. So yeah, there’s a lot of people that go into the swamp looking for Crowley, and they all end up changed as a result of their experiences in the swamp.” Changed “in a life-altering way”, piped in Bowen’s gorgeous co-star Alexis Peters, who plays the Rev. Zombie-recruited character of Avery (think Misty from the first movie but a total bad-ass). I caught her drift.

One thing that made the first film such a fun romp – namely the lack of pretension – was evident on the set of the sequel as well. Fitting, for a film made for the segment of the horror movie-going public who prefer their kills gory and their women big-breasted (and preferably nekkid). No talk of character nuance, no quotes like the scariest stuff is what you don’t see, etc. In the universe of Hatchet, there are no high-falutin’ aspirations of artistic credibility or critical recognition – which, judging from the success of the first movie, is just the way the fans want it.

“I mean really, it’s not a spoiler to say it starts right where the first one ended, and I think that additionally – the universe is the same for it”, Bowen told me in the characteristic soft-spoken manner he brought to his creepy role in last year’s The House of the Devil. “It’s tonally, it’s aesthetically, not gonna be dissimilar from the first one. And Adam has such a clear ear and eye for the tone that he was going for with the first one, and that continues with this one.” Tom Holland, director of ’80s horror classics Fright Night and Child’s Play, who takes on his first major acting role in over twenty years for the film, mimicked Bowen’s sentiment: “It’s a love letter [to the fans], is what it is.”

Holland, a friendly guy with a penchant for talking at length about everything from his formidable directing career to the state of modern technology, plays the character of MaryBeth’s “Uncle Bob”, who is goaded into joining the hunt for Victor Crowley by his revenge-driven niece. The role was offered to him by Green after the two met through the “Masters of Horror” series of dinners hosted by Mick Garris and became friends. “I really liked some of the films that he had done”, Holland told me. “I really liked Spiral, and Frozen…and he had done Hatchet because of Fright Night. You know, with the combination of horror and comedy. And so he thought that it would be nice to have [me in it]. I think it’s been a huge amount of fun, and totally, totally surprised me.”

For Harris, who joined Holland and me in conversation for about 20 minutes before abruptly being called back to set, the shoot could also be described as brutal. “For the first time ever in my whole career last night I worked until failure”, she told me. “I just didn’t have another one in me. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t feel good, it was too much smoke, I was spitting out black stuff [due to the chemicals in the mist used to make the interior set look more "swamp-like"]…I mean, I’m trained to do this for twelve hours a day. At least that’s what I’ve been doing for most of my career, but last night, I was just like, ‘ok, I don’t have anymore in me’. I thought I actually had hurt my vocal chords when I went home last night. I thought, ‘[my voice] isn’t just raspy, I think this may hurt me permanently.’”

Despite the heavy lifting required for the role (“I’d like to see some of these other kids that are on TV shows or making these romantic comedies step into my shoes for a second”, Harris told me), the actress never sounded less than genuine when describing her love of horror films, its fans, and how thankful she is for having maintained a presence in the genre over the last couple of decades. “I wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for the horror fans”, she said. “You know, I fought being a ‘genre’ actress for so many years…and then I kinda went, ‘You know, I actually know this really well, and I really like it’. And the fans are kinda my family, and it’s such a tight-knit community. And I don’t need to be on a TV show. You know, I don’t desire to be on the cover of US Weekly. I’m here to do a good job, and to work.”

As Harris pointed out though, it isn’t easy trying to compete with a slasher villain that fanboys are more likely to root over his actual victims. “My whole goal for this one was…[for the audience] to be invested in MaryBeth, and her seeking revenge on Victor Crowley”, she said. “Because [if] they are not on my side, and seeing through my eyes, they’re not gonna root for me at the end. To get them to root for me over Victor Crowley is a really, really, really big deal. And I think that through all the real scenes, the emotional scenes have kind of found that.” So how, exactly, did MaryBeth survive her last encounter with Victor Crowley, considering it appeared her character had bitten the proverbial dust at the end of the first movie? Harris didn’t offer any specifics, but did manage to make light of the fact that she and Tamara Feldman couldn’t be more different physically (Feldman is about eight inches taller). “I kind of make a joke, I said to Adam, ‘Maybe MaryBeth should go under the water for a second, and then come back up in the swamp and it’s me.’ You know, it would be kind of funny.”

Speaking of the swamp, I had the great pleasure of exploring the elaborate interior sets (surrounded by enormous camo tarps) that had been created for the production, including an inside view of Victor Crowley’s house. The swamp set itself was stunning, with the aforementioned layer of chemical mist clinging to trees and other foliage populating the massive soundstage, as well as a “forest floor” made of sod (from which new plants had actually begun sprouting). Crowley’s house was similarly impressive, each of the several rooms containing broken and decaying household items, including one in particular that sticks out in my mind – a collapsed, broken-down piano, its dirty keys presenting themselves like yellowed, rotting teeth.

On set I had the opportunity to watch a snippet of filming, in a scene that involved an explosion of blood through one of the windows in Crowley’s house. After being prompted, the majority of cast and crew on the scene (not to mention me) shuffled out of the designated area that in moments would be sprayed with copious amounts of the fake stuff. However, despite my attempts at side-stepping the crimson detonation, I wound up with a bit of it on my skin and clothing after it blasted forth, high into the air, and came down on us like rain. I didn’t care at all, mind you; in fact, I was only sorry there weren’t a few fake entrails included in the mix. To me, the gag stood as a refreshing reminder that the gore quotient of Hatchet 2 is expected even to top the copious arterial sprays and jaw-ripping mayhem of the first installment.

Also refreshing was the casual vibe I felt on set (“casual” in terms of film production, anyway). Not ramshackle or amateur but rather friendly, which is a testament to Green’s deft handling of cast and crew. I wasn’t given the opportunity to speak with him (the very next morning he’d be taking off for Sundance to attend the premiere of his new film Frozen, and he was frantically trying to finish the shots needed on the soundstage before leaving for location shooting in Louisiana directly following the festival), so aside from the minimal amount of filming I witnessed, my impression of him was largely formed through speaking with others involved in the production. Not surprisingly, their opinions were positive across the board.

“[The way he works] takes a second to get used to because Adam is very good at his job”, said Bowen. “So it’s kinda like having a five year old that’s like a genius running around on set, because he’s so excited all the time about everything. I’ve never heard so many expletives as direction.”

“I worked with Adam on Frozen“, Ackerman told me ebulliently. “I auditioned for him for Frozen, and he brought me along to do Hatchet 2. He’s awesome. And I got to see him even the harshest conditions with weather and everything, coming down on his mood…[but] he’s just the same dude, you know? He’s always upbeat, and you can definitely tell that he loves what he does. I think he’s an actor’s director.”

“I think that paying respect to what makes horror so great is what attract[ed] me to [Hatchet 2]“, Harris said. “Having all of the elements that Adam is so good at putting in. You know, having the comedy, having a great kill. I mean, I’ve read so many scripts. And the kills [in Hatchet] are so fun, and brutal, and pretty amazing. And the effects are pretty amazing. So it’s nice to go to a movie and cheer, where I don’t find that that happens as much anymore.”

“Watch him in the next decade – he’s gonna go right to the top”, said Mihailoff of Green. “You can tell when somebody’s a hack. I’ll tell you – just like I said earlier, about your colleagues inspir[ing] you to greatness – his crew is utterly devoted to him. And that speaks volumes.” Another testament to the positive vibe of the set is the fact that the actor, who had wrapped the L.A. part of the shoot the day before – came by the set just to hang out. “I’m telling you man, I love coming to work every day.”

Mihailoff plays Trent, a “loose-cannon” hunter recruited by Rev. Zombie to join in the hunt for Crowley. He’s the spiritual head of the hunters”, he said of his character. “He’s the best shot, he’s the baddest-ass – you know, ‘Yea, tho I walk through the swamp of death, I will fear no evil’ – because I’m the baddest [guy] in the swamp. That’s my attitude. I hate everybody, regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, religion, or sexual orientation. I just don’t like anybody.”

Mihailoff, with his tall, bulky frame, clean-shaven scalp and full, graying beard, is every inch what you would expect a man who played Leatherface to look like (at least, he closely adhered to my own preconceptions). He was visibly excited and thankful to be working with so many icons of horror. “What attracted me to the picture was the personnel involved”, he said. “A chance to work again with Kane, a chance to work with what I truly believe will be a major filmmaker, a chance to work with Tony Todd, Danielle Harris, the legendary Tom Holland. Just the caliber of people involved in this is what really attracted me to it more than anything. Plus, it’s also the biggest role I’ve ever done without [being covered in makeup].”

Speaking of makeup, the design of Crowley has reportedly been updated for the sequel. Seeing only glimpses of Hodder in the full getup I couldn’t really tell the difference, so I asked around to see just how the design had changed. “I think that what Adam was talking about was that, as has been said other places, in this one the practicals of Crowley…he’s more mobile”, Bowen told me. In other words, expect the villain to look a little more realistic, a little more organic, than in the first film.

What you can also expect in the sequel is more of an explanation of Crowley’s origins. “The old Universal monsters, there was this whole group of them”, said Bowen. “And then they were sort of retreaded for like 23 years, and then in the ’70s, there became new American icons of horror. You got Leatherface, Michael Myers, Freddy, Jason. And those have been going around for awhile now, and Adam came up with a new one. And so…[the second movie] is establishing the iconography.” Reiterated co-star Alexis Peters: “People that had questions in the first one, they’re probably answered here.”

As for the contention that new distributor Dark Sky Films (which released recent buzz-worthy indie horror films The House of the Devil and Deadgirl) is viewing Hatchet as a franchise, it of course all depends on the success of the second film. Tom Holland, nothing if not an industry veteran, knows that game better than most. “I can tell you if Hatchet 2 makes money I’m sure…there will be a Hatchet 3.”

“Remember, it’s a horror movie”, echoed Mihailoff about future sequel potential. “‘The witch said the magic incantation, and the souls of the dead hunters rose from the swamp to exact their revenge on Victor Crowley’, or whatever. When you go into the realm of the supernatural, anything is possible.”

Watch for a one-on-one interview with Adam Green in the coming weeks.

Adam Green Hatchet Victory Crowley