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Hatchet 3 (2013)

Confessions of a Perennial Jackass

This Hatchet 3 review is also an open letter of apology to writer/producer Adam Green, whose filmography I have unfairly criticized. I didn't enjoy his 80s slasher throwbacks Hatchet and Hatchet 2; had big problems with the characters in Frozen; and thought the first season of his horror-themed sitcom, Holliston, fell far short of its potential.

Granted, I don't have to like everything. But in re-reading my reviews of Green's work, the degree to which I made my criticisms personal makes me sick. In many respects, I embody the worst qualities of Internet critics: my snobbish dismissiveness is served up with a cold snark that is helpful only to my own fragile ego. Yes, it can be fun to rip into a piece of art that I don't think makes the grade (especially as a paying customer), but my comments about Green make it seem like A) he's just a lucky, frat-boy douchebag, and B) I would somehow be in a position to judge either way.* I've made this mistake with others, but Green is my white whale, and I must do better in perfecting my own art if I'm to be taken seriously--just as he has recently stepped up his game.

Though he didn't direct Hatchet 3, Green wrote and produced BJ McDonnell's brilliant (yep, you just read that) conclusion to the Victor Crowley trilogy. Where Hatchet was a bland slasher re-tread punctuated by some creative and ballsy kills, the sequel played like a cheap excuse to get the band back together, even though that band hadn't written any tunes worth singing. Sure, it was packed with genre cameos and featured more over-the-top deaths than the first movie, but it was also mired in speeches about mythology that even the characters didn't seem to care about.

But early in Hatchet 3, a frustrated New Orleans sheriff named Fowler (Zach Galligan, grappling harder with his Southern accent than with the crazed swamp killer) summarizes the first two movie's events to lone survivor Marybeth (Danielle Harris)--bringing the audience up to speed on the longest long weekend in horror movie history (Green, in a cameo as a drunken Mardi Gras partyer, grimaces in disbelief at the story). This sets the loving-tribute tone we've been promised since 2006, with Green and McDonnell aiming their satirical eyes on the Hatchet series itself. Strangely, they overcome parody by telling an oddly compelling story, while also getting in digs about the ridiculous amount of carnage and low-budget geography that make the previous entries such a chore.

Through a series of events that I won't spoil, Marybeth and Fowler's ex-wife, Amanda (the delightful Caroline Williams), set off to find the remains of Crowley's (Kane Hodder) father--believing them to be the key in laying the undead maniac's spirit to rest. Meanwhile, Fowler and his deputies find themselves trapped in the bayou after dark, with not even a swat team led by the tough-as-nails Hawes (Derek Mears) able to protect them from Crowley. Hatchet 3 bounces between these stories with ease, allowing the story to breathe, and giving a fresh cast of fun, game actors a chance to sign.

Chief among them is Cody Blue Snider as a paranoid deputy whose warnings go unheeded. He's got the most sense of anyone in the swamp, but is bound at first by duty and then by intimidation to stay with the group. Series regular Parry Shen also pops up, playing his third unique character in as many movies. He's got terrific chemistry with Galligan and Rileah Vanderbilt, who together form a solid group of "B" Story protagonists worth rooting for.

The film's greatest strength is Green's and the actors' ability to make these characters memorable, fun, and sympathetic--so that when Crowley tears through them like a hillbilly hurricane, their deaths aren't just graphic; they're tragic. One character in particular whimpers, "We came here to save you!" right before having their head slowly taken off. It's a surprisingly sad moment in a series full of walking, talking ground-beef specimens looking for a grinder.

McDonnell also deserves a great deal of credit for the film's success. A camera operator on dozens of movies big and small, he steps into the director's chair effortlessly. With a great eye for sight gags and an innate visual maturity, he elevates the quality of the previous films simply by providing a great-looking capper to the trilogy. There's no fat on this picture, script-wise or on the screen; even a prolonged, climactic sequence onboard a medical examiner's boat is packed with tension, as characters must decide whether to make a run for it or be crushed inside by the seemingly omnipresent and unstoppable Victor Crowley.

Hatchet 3 offers the ride that I'd hoped for in parts one and two. In what may or may not be the series' swan-song, Green and McDonnell go full-tilt boogie with a story that is at times funny, touching, and relentlessly cruel--all hallmarks of a solid horror-comedy. Perhaps the writer/producer was only able to come into his own by giving up the reins to another director; maybe he's just getting better with age; or maybe this thing is just a fluke.

Whatever the case, I'm happy to say that Hatchet 3 helped me to "get" Adam Green after several long, head-scratching years. I still think his high-water mark was the "Diary of Anne Frankenstein" chapter of Chillerama, but this film gives me hope for whatever comes next.

In closing, Adam, I apologize--not only for referring to you in the third person during most of an "open letter", but also for muddying the waters of genuine film criticism with attacks that have nothing to do with the work at hand. I salute you for living the dream and following your horror-loving heart where it leads you. I may not always agree with the destinations, but your compass is bloody and true.

*All I know of Green personally is what I experienced during the first episode of the KtS Podcast, during which he and Joe Lynch engaged in a lively and humble discussion about their careers. I also heard that, at a convention appearance yesterday, Green left briefly to sign autographs for free in the parking lot, so as not to exclude any fans who couldn't afford the show.

Speaking of podcasts, if you haven't checked out Green and Lynch's Movie Crypt on GeekNation, you're missing out on a great show about the Hollywood meat-grinder.

*That, and the fact that Holliston is much improved over its inaugural season.

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