I would love to know what Adam Green thinks of horror movies, and of their fans. He has said that he made the original Hatchet as a throwback to 80s slasher films, and that he wanted to inject his story with solid plots and characters that the audience could root for. In that regard, I think he failed; nothing works about Hatchet aside from the spectacular practical gore effects that splatter the screen in the third act. Being a huge genre fan, and having been deluged with the inescapable Hatchet hype in 2006, I came away from that film wondering if Adam Green was a moron or, worse, a huckster.
The sequel muddies our insight into Green’s motives, but is sparkling clear as to the writer/director’s horror filmmaking abilities: Hatchet 2 makes my list of worst horror sequels and of worst movies of the year.
We begin at the exact instant that the first movie ended, with lone survivor Marybeth (Danielle Harris, assuming the role from Tamara Feldman) grappling with deformed-hillbilly/ghost/backwoods-killer Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) in a boat on the Louisiana bayou. Marybeth escapes and seeks refuge in the cabin of creepy local Jack Cracker (John Carl Buechler). Marybeth explains that Crowley murdered everyone on the swamp tour she’d joined earlier in the day, and she implores Cracker to call the police. He refuses and tosses her out (after which he watches naked-girl footage on a camera he recovered from the woods, before being visited and eviscerated by Crowley).
Marybeth seeks out the mysterious Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd), who runs a voodoo shop and tour service in the French Quarter. She asks him for help in returning to the woods to recover the bodies of her dead father and brother (who died at the beginning of the first film). He rounds up a posse of hunters and fishermen, offering $500 for the night and $5000 for the head of Crowley.
Joining Marybeth on the expedition is her uncle Bob (Tom Holland), who—along with one of the other hunters—may have a connection to the Halloween prank that led to Crowley’s death several decades before. On top of these mini-revelations are lots of flashbacks in which we see Crowley’s origin, and endless (truly endless) warnings and speeches, declarations and machinations all amounting to filler between the hunters’ death scenes.
Adam Green seems to have misread 80s horror movies; at the very least he doesn’t understand how to comment on the genre while making a solid genre piece. He packs Hatchet 2 with exploding heads, gratuitous nudity and indescribably terrible acting, which implies that he thinks this is how slasher films were done during their heyday. His fatal mistake is not realizing how earnest those productions were; the best (even the second- and third-best) horror films didn’t set out to be bad; they set out to create a spooky atmosphere and deliver scares. The cheesy stuff was incidental, and largely projected upon the movies years after their fashions and low-budget effects had gone out of vogue.
If Green had wanted to make something special—or even worthwhile—he should have put in the effort to make a good horror movie first, and left the corny stuff for later; the lesson being that when one makes a solid, straight-up horror movie, the end result is too classy for the cutesy nonsense.
The saddest part is that Green takes about nine thousand steps backwards in the one area of Hatchet that worked: the makeup and gore effects. The deaths in his sequel lack imagination and show no evidence of care in their execution. Sure, it’s a neat idea to cut two guys in half using the world’s longest chainsaw, but if the staging involves a maniac coming out of the woods with said chainsaw and two victims not running away—instead lining up perfectly in front of the killer in order to make the gag work—then perhaps it’s a murder best left on the storyboards. Also, you don’t have to be the most nit-picky of cinephiles to be confused at a bit where Victor Crowley bashes a guy’s face in with the top of an axe, if the axe is covered in bloody pulp and the downward motion of the stabbing suggests brutal force—yet the cutaways show a victim with a not-very-bloody mouth.
And I know that we don’t necessarily watch these movies for the performances, but I haven’t seen this many actors do such shitty work since The Happening. I love Danielle Harris, and know her to be capable of believable work in horror films; so how to explain her borderline-parody Southern accent and “just fucking around” histrionics from beginning to end? It doesn’t help that she’s acting against Tony Todd, who phones in so much of this role that he could have been played by a Droid billboard, and Tom Holland, whose gifts as the director of Fright Night and Child’s Play don’t translate at all to what he does on-camera. These are the leads, mind you, and the quality degrades the further down the cast list you go. It’s the mark of an unredeemable movie when the only performance that’s not embarrassing to watch is Lloyd Kaufman’s, whose cameo appearance includes not one line of dialogue.
Sidebar: I was really entertained by Kane Hodder’s performance as Victor Crowley’s father in the flashbacks. He’s the one actor in the film that gives it his all, crying real tears at the death of his only son. Unfortunately, I was entertained by the sheer awfulness of his line delivery and crying scenes—but at least he swung for the fences.
Hatchet 2 makes Hatchet look like Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. It is a plodding, soul-draining experience that is more like a “Fuck You” than a “Thank You” to dyed-in-the-wool horror fans. The only reason I might recommend checking out the opening ten minutes is for a five-second news-story that appears on the TV in Jack Cracker’s shed; we see Emma Bell as Parker O’Neil giving a news conference as the lone survivor of Green’s previous film, Frozen. It’s a cool, clever moment that tops anything in Hatchet, Hatchet 2, or even Frozen itself, and has nothing to do with horror movies.
Much like Adam Green.