World Premier 2006, USA, 82 min.
Reviewed by: Peter C. Bowen
Hatchet is director Adam Green’s homage to the slasher movies of the early 1980s. The tagline is Old School American Horror and the movie lives up to this statement in spades even to the point of not using any digital effects. The gore is all lovingly handmade. Green is no poseur. He’s got a true love and appreciation for horror/gore movies going back to his childhood. Green was at the World Premier of his film at the TriBeCa festival and told the enthusiastic crowd how he came up with the basic story for Hatchet as a youngster at summer camp. Apparently the counselors were telling the kids that “Hatchet Face” would get them if they didn’t behave. Green’s reaction was, “Cool, what’s he going to do to me?” at which point the counselors told him to shut up. Later when the kids were back in their cabins young Adam came up with the story of Victor Crowly to fill in the blanks left by the camp counselors.
Our story begins with Ben (Joel David Moore) and Marcus (Deon Richmond, Kenny on The Cosby Show) at Mardi Gras with a group of buddies taking in the sites, including a multitude of bare breasts. The guys are in New Orleans to party and help Ben get over a bad breakup with his long-time girlfriend. Ben is a total wet blanket and cannot seem to enjoy the festivities so he decides to go on a haunted swamp tour. Marcus is totally against it since there are many single girls in town and probably zero girls out in the swamp but he goes along with Ben because he doesn’t want to bail on him.
After one aborted attempt to join a swamp tour in which Tony Todd (Candyman) gives an inspired cameo, Marcus and Ben join up with a swamp tour along with the group from David Lee Roth’s California Girls video. Along with Ben and Marcus we’ve got all the essential slasher fodder on this boat. There are the two bimbos who repeatedly flash their breasts to the camera of Doug Shapiro, the soft-core producer, as well as a Midwestern square tourist couple. Rounding out the group is Marybeth, the enigmatic and beautiful local that knows the legends better than the “Uncle Remus meets Bruce Lee” tour guide played by Perry Shen.
As one would expect the tour does not go as planned and as the incompetent tour guide runs the boat aground we learn the story of Hatchet Face. Unfortunately for the group their boat has sunk right by the shack of Victor Crowly. Marybeth informs us that Victor was a badly deformed child that lived out in the swamp with his doting father. As is always the case the few times they would come into town the kids would torment young Victor mercilessly. On one fateful Halloween night, a group of teenagers went out to the Crowly home and tried get a glimpse of the freak of the swamp. The teens tried to smoke Victor out with firecrackers but accidentally set the house on fire. Victor was trapped inside banging on the door calling out for his father. When Mr. Crowly came back the house was totally in flames. He grabbed a hatchet and began hacking at the door in order to break Victor out. Unfortunately Victor was leaning his face up to the door to call for his father and one of the hatchet blows smashed through the door and into Victor’s face killing him. A few years later Mr. Crowley died of a broken heart. However, the legend says that Victor did not die, and that on dark nights one can hear him calling for his father out in the swamp.
Needless to say, the legend is true and all hell breaks loose once the tour group lands in Hatchet Face’s territory. Hatchet doesn’t cover any new ground as far as the horror genre goes, so I won’t go into how the victims fall into the hands of Hatchet Face. Suffice it to say that Green does not hold back at all when it comes to the death scenes. There is real creativity in the ways that Victor dispatches his victims. Heads, arms and legs are lost in gruesomely fun ways. The crowd erupted into hoots and yells of laughter every time a character was done in which added to the all out fun of this movie.
Hatchet stands out from the current glut of horror movies in that it is an original story and it manages to keep a sense of humor that is totally natural, showing no trace of the disdain towards its genre we see in the likes of the Scary Movie series. This film is a bit of a spoof of the horror genre, but it comes from a spirit of true love for the films.
While introducing his film, Adam Green told a great story of his childhood that illustrates the spirit of love around this movie. As a young kid, Adam received a Twister Sister tape and promptly became obsessed with the band. Dee Snyder was his hero. He even wrote an elementary school essay on why Dee was his hero. Adam was somehow able to meet Snyder at a concert and gave him a letter. Dee being the nice guy that he is actually wrote back to young Adam and encouraged him to follow his dreams. This inspired Green to make a movie about Jason falling in love with Michael Myers. On the strength of this film, Green was invited to L.A. to meet with a studio and was promptly ignored and told to go away. Adam was devastated but as luck would have it Dee Snyder was in town and signing autographs. Green bluffed his way up to speak to Mr. Snyder, and Dee actually remembered him and told him not to let this set back get him down. Thus encouraged and inspired by his hero again Green went on to “borrow” film equipment from his job and shot Coffee and Donuts with $400 and friends working for free. On the strength of this film he was signed up with a manager and was enabled to shoot Hatchet. As further proof of the love fest going on in the theater, Dee Snyder actually attended the premiere as a guest of Adam Green.
The principal cast also attended the screening and the camaraderie they share was obvious. One can easily tell that this group of people genuinely like each other and have fun together. That chemistry definitely translates onto the screen. Deon Richmond stands out at the most charismatic member of the cast but every member of the ill-fated tour is funny and in top form. Probably the biggest coup of the casting was the legendary Kane Hodder from the Friday the 13th series. He’s such a total pro as Hatchet Face and Mr. Crowley. As it turns out the cast never saw him in make-up until the actual shooting and Hodder went the extra mile to get real fear out of the rest of the cast. According to Richmond and Moore, it was just the girls that were genuinely terrified while filming, but we can forgive them if they fibbed just a bit.
Overall, Hatchet is 100% fun. I highly recommend it to all fans of horror movies. The humor is not forced and the cast deliver it flawlessly. I’ve rated it at 3 out of 4, but it is a high three. I don’t have any reservations about the film other than it is not breaking new ground as far as horror movie plotting. However, Hatchet Face gets tons of screen time, so as a fan of monster movies I found this very satisfying. Also the film plays it straight but does not take itself too seriously. At one point Hatchet Face breaks out a belt sander. Adam Green explained that he was going to cut this out because it made no sense. Where is he going to plug it in? But the production designer and crew fought to keep it in by convincing Green that if they could build a gas powered model it would mean they could exist. So Green had to agree to use it when the P.D. showed up with a working model. This type of approach translates into a purely fun movie.
Filed under: Movie Reviews and Movie Reviews: USA and Contributors: Pete and Rating: Good ★★★ and Film Festivals: News and Film Festivals: Tribeca Film Festival 2006