I had high hopes for this flick. Admittedly, those hopes were unrealistic. But, Hatchet II was last year’s official film of the Horrorshow, one I had a lot of fun watching, and I was looking forward to more cartoonish gore and general silliness. All the ingredients were there. Same writer/director, same stars, what looks to be the exact same sets, but this time around, the results are not the same.
It hasn’t been more than a couple days here in the Horroshow since I moaned about Saw III being too graphic for my tastes. What makes the depictions of physical injury in the Saw films more bearable to me than what goes on in the Hatchet films, or in something like Dead Alive? The difference is in its realism. Buckets of blood were spilled in Hatchet III, just like in its predecessors, but at no point did it ever resemble real injury in more than a peripheral way. Many horror films have done something remarkable when it comes to physical injury. They have made it absurdist art, so ridiculous that an open-minded viewer can’t take any of it seriously. When Hatchet III’s villain, Victor Crowley (played again by Kane Hodder), rips off someone’s arms or grinds down their skull with a belt sander, it’s actually amusing. And that is the intention of the gore in this film. Contrast that with the Saw films, where the gore is designed to be unsettling, and one begins to see that there is no one way to regard violence in horror films. Human morality would hold that all forms of violence are abhorrent. Out here in the real world, the case for that argument is strong. But in film, viewers find that regular mores are often cast aside, and it’s okay to twist around everything we believe in, in service of entertainment.
Hatchet III, written by series creator Adam Green, with BJ McDonnell handling directing duties, takes place immediately following the events of the first film. Marybeth Dunston (Danielle Harris) stands over the corpse of Victor Crowley, the deformed, insane Jason Voorhees analog who has just spent two films filling a Louisiana swamp with dead people. Marybeth is victorious, and heads back into town seeking help. Only, she didn’t really win. Crowley is no ordinary axe murderer. He’s a spirit made flesh every night. He can be killed, chopped into little pieces, dissolved in a vat of acid, whatever, and as soon as the sun sets on his swamp, he will become whole, ready to kill again.
This is a neat little explanation for the continued resurrection of an unstoppable slasher, and in two minutes of exposition made Victor Crowley more comprehensible than all the Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween flicks combined. Very clever, Mr. Green.
But that’s about it for the clever. The rest of the film is more of the same from the previous entry (I have not seen the first film). It all feels somewhat listless, mailed in, paint by numbers — pick whatever metaphor satisfies — as if no one really wanted to be involved in this project, but had bills to pay. Maybe I’m being unfair, but there was a frenetic energy to the last film that is absent in this one. Even the gore, while still outlandish, lacks creativity. It’s just more of what viewers have already been given. There’s a lot less of it, as well. Which, considering that the outrageous gore is the draw, can only be bad for the film.
There’s also a lot less of Danielle Harris. This film makes the same mistake that Halloween II did, in keeping its protagonist away from the action for the majority of the film. In Harris’s case, she spends most of the film either in a jail cell or in the back of a police car. I’m not exaggerating. She was so far removed from the plot of this film that she may as well have been in another movie. It is just a bad idea to keep the scream queen away from the things that make her scream.
Hatchet II was a rollicking piece of goofy horror. Hatchet III, unfortunately, fails to recapture that manic energy, meaning that it is much harder for a viewer to overlook the flaws. This is b-horror, after all. And b-horror has to be really special to make it worth a watch.