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HATCHET

A loving, gore-packed tribute to 1980s slasher cinema.  Fun, but also excessively lightweight and wildly overhyped. 

The Package 
     “Amongst the greatest slasher flicks of all time”?  I think not.  “So indescribably awesome that you just cannot conceive”?  Not quite.  HATCHET, the object of those raves, isn’t bad, but those superlatives do it no favors.
     This 2007 film is a low-budget effort partially lensed in pre-Katrina New Orleans.  It was the premiere feature of horror enthusiast Adam Green, a true “character” who can always be counted on to make a big splash at horror conventions.  It featured the genre icons Robert Englund (a.k.a. Freddy Krueger) and Tony Todd (Candyman) in cameos, with Kane Hodder (Jason) as the heavy. 
     The film also marked the first-ever theatrical release by the popular DVD outfit Anchor Bay Entertainment, who gave it a limited theatrical engagement in the summer of 2007 (by which time Green had already completed his second feature SPIRAL).  Unfortunately the film was in and out of theaters all-too-quickly (at least on the West Coast), depriving horror fans of the chance to experience this quintessential audience picture on a big screen.   

The Story  
     A group of punks find themselves in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.  Two of them break off from the group, electing to take a boat cruise; along for the ride are an elderly couple, two lesbians, an intense young woman searching for her lost brother, and the boat’s goofball Asian tour guide...who quickly sinks the boat!
     The passengers all disembark without drowning, but do so in front of the house of Victor Crowley, a severely deformed man who as a child was picked on, abused, set on fire and had his face slashed.  He’s grown into a psychopathic killer.
     Our protagonists find this out first-hand when Crowley bursts out of his house and chops the elderly man in half, and then splits the guy’s wife’s head open.  Everyone else scatters, but they don’t stand a chance: Crowley stalks them through the swampland and offs each in a different horrible manner.  One guy gets his head literally twisted off his neck, another has his arms ripped from their sockets, and another is impaled on a stick.  It seems our heroes have the upper hand when they manage to set Crowley on fire, but a sudden downpour dampens the flames--and Crowley continues after them, more pissed off than ever! 

The Direction 
     This film is very much of the Eli Roth school of moviemaking, juxtaposing raunchy comedy with intense splatter.  But HATCHET never quite bridges the transition between comedy and horror.  It’s funny (best line: “I was going to Hollywood to become a movie star and now I’m stuck here with you assholes!”), but the killings are so over the top they’re impossible to take seriously.  There’s also the problem of the patently artificial bayou sets (actually shot in Southern California) and wildly overlit “night” scenes.  Thus we have a flick that’s likeable and entertaining but never particularly scary.
     But as a gore spectacle it’s hard to beat.  The joy and enthusiasm Adam Green and his special effects technicians take in their work is infectious, resulting in many unforgettable splatter set pieces.  My favorite is the twisted-off head, which all-but brought down the house when screened for a 2007 Fangoria convention audience. 
     This of course brings up another problem.  HATCHET is enjoyable enough on DVD, but I believe it must be experienced in an auditorium packed with splatter fans to get the full effect--and right now it appears that few of us will ever get that chance.


Vital Statistics

HATCHET
Anchor Bay Entertainment 

Director: Adam Green
Producers: Sarah Elbert, Scott Altomare, Cory Neal
Screenplay: Adam Green
Cinematography: Will Barratt
Editing: Christopher Roth
Cast: Joel David Moore, Tamara Feldman, Kane Hodder, Deon Richard, Mercedes McNab, Parry Shen, Joleigh Fioreavanti, Joel Murray, Richard Riehle, Patricia Darbo, Joshua Leonard, Tony Todd, Robert Englund
 


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