By the time the 90s was over, the horror community was pining for the glory days of the 80s, when tits, blood, and nonsensical humor ruled the silver screen. It’s not that the 90s didn’t have some great and important genre films (Cemetery Man and Brain Dead to name a few), but there’s something about the absence of excess that was a sore point with aficionados. After many attempts – few of which were actually worth a damn – and more than half a decade, Hatchet felt like THE 80s throwback. Not only was it gory and gooey in all the right places, but it embraced its stupidity, introduced likable – but disposable – characters, and kept it simple. But where Adam Green succeeded in spades the first time around, he misses the mark in Hatchet II, which, given its unrated release platform, could have been one of the first important genre releases of the decade.
The highly anticipated sequel picks up immediately after the original ends, with Marybeth (Danielle Harris, replacing Tamara Feldman) escaping from the clutches of Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) in the swamp. With the help of a hermit bayou man (who bites the dust moments later in what could possibly be the best death scene in the entire film), Marybeth makes it back to the French Quarter, where she convinces Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd) to escort her back into the swamp so she could get revenge on Crowley for the death of her brother and father. Mere hours later, Zombie has rounded up a few hunters (A.J. Bowen and R.A. Mihailoff among them) to hunt Crowley for his “tourism business,” and the motley crew heads out to the swamp to end the monstrous being’s reign of terror.
After a rather spectacular pre-credit sequence that is gleefully ridiculous enough to bring a smile to even the most hardened horror fan, Hatchet II enters the exposition stage of its story and never recovers. The mythology and plot are explained in great length in back-to-back sequences, and then touched upon over and over again until the sun sets over the swamp. In doing so, it becomes bizarro Hatchet, in the sense that 99% of the rest of the film is deadpan serious with over-the-top kills, while the original was ridiculous throughout. It never manages to maintain a consistent tone, flip-flopping between straight-faced exposition overkill and sequences, such as a chainsaw death, that would make Tex Avery roll his eyes. Taking a serious approach to horror has worked for Green before (Spiral and Frozen have struck a chord with genre fans, although I don’t really like the latter), but it’s the wrong platform to take while making a love letter to 80s slashers.
I remember seeing teaser trailers for the first Hatchet, with review blurbs that made Victor Crowley out to be the next icon. While I personally thought it was way too soon to make a statement like that, I appreciated that Green let the fans and reviews make the comparisons themselves, all the while seeming humble about his creation. Hatchet II compares Crowley to characters like Jason and Leslie Vernon during its runtime, and it makes the film come off like it’s trying to force the idea of it being a cult commodity on everybody (see Repo! as an example of the backlash that approach can cause). Ultimately, it should be the viewers that decide whether or not the character is worthy of that respect, not the creator.
The atmosphere and authenticity of the sets really gave Hatchet an edge over its counterparts. Whether all the swamp scenes were shot on a sound stage or not (principal photography was split between New Orleans and Santa Clarita, CA), much of the film looked like it was shot on location and, in the end, appearances are everything. This time around, much of the swamp looks like a soundstage and it ruins part of the allure of the franchise.
Looking back, Joel David Moore was one of Hatchet‘s greatest strengths. His entertaining portrayal of the unassuming, somewhat aloof cookie-cutter variety of hero succeeded where many other recent attempts failed simply because he was likable – what a concept! His presence is sorely missed this time around, as Danielle Harris takes over the lead as Marybeth, the survivor girl, with no range whatsoever. When she’s not screaming her head off, she’s giving her wide-eyed frightened face. And when you can’t see her doing either of those, it’s because she’s not on screen. While not the worst performance in recent memory, the end result makes it seem like the casting choice was made because of a nostalgia for Halloween 4 and 5, and not because she can carry a lead role. Tom Holland and Tony Todd, on the other hand, make a fun, scenery-chewing go of it as Uncle Bob and Reverend Zombie.
While the death scenes are great, if nothing new, and the two laughs in the film are especially gut-busting (one on the racist side, and the other just bizarrely strange), Hatchet II carries few of the first film’s charms. Inconsistent in tone with a horribly boring first hour, it ultimately doesn’t feel like an Adam Green film and is too serious for its own good. Being a fan of Crowley’s first outing, consider me disappointed.