Sometimes, watching horror movies, you feel quite at odds with your peers. The UK poster for writer/director Adam Green’s “Hatchet” features rapturous pull quotes which would have you believe that this unashamedly retro slasher flick is quite the big man on campus.
Arriving at a time when Jigsaw ruled supreme and every other fright-flick was feverishly grasping for a slice of the torture and humiliation pie, “Hatchet” must have seemed like a breath of (Gator) fresh air. Full of old-school stalk-and-slash kills, yet boasting a certain genre self-awareness, this grisly tale of Louisiana mutant maniac Victor Crowley was practically made for the horror festival circuit and to inspire enthusiastic debate amongst forum posters. Hell, Kane Hodder’s front and centre as the movie’s anti-heroic slasher – how much more cred with the grue ‘n’ gore crowd do you need?
The film sees a mismatched band of New Orleans tourists heading out to the bayou on a haunted swamp tour boat and expecting to see nothing more than swamp gas, the odd reptilian river dweller and hear a spectral yarn or two from shyster tour guide Shawn (Parry Shen). Chief amongst these tourists are nerdy college kid Ben (Joel David Moore), his utterly sceptical best friend Marcus (Deion Richmond) and mysterious local gal MaryBeth (Tamara Feldman). When their boat breaks down and begins to sink, the tourists soon come under attack from both the swamp’s many-toothed gators and Mr Crowley himself, whose tolerance for visitors is non-existent.
Where this movie succeeds is in building a convincing back story for Crowley and in ensuring that we know just enough about the tourists before Victor’s blade begins to bite. As well as our core trio, the film sees cameos from horror icons like Tony Todd (the charmingly disreputable Reverend Zombie) and Robert Englund (who doesn’t make it past the opening credits) and even finds room for Mercedes McNab, otherwise known as Harmony in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, who forms a winning comic partnership with Joleigh Fioravanti. as bickering actress wannabes doffing their tops for a sleazy videographer promising fame in a regionally-themed “Girls Gone Wild” rip-off.
The major issue that I do have with “Hatchet” is that whilst it certainly passes the time quite agreeably and shows a pleasing commitment to delivering old-school horror with delightfully gross practical gore effects, it never exactly lives up to the advance billing of being a game-changing fright fest.
Rather, Adam Green’s film is, at heart, an unapologetic slasher homage and doesn’t seem to be too hung up about providing meta commentary of the “Scream”/”Cabin in the Woods” variety. Judging it on it’s own merits, it’s a slightly rough-around-the-edges, speedy horror movie which delivers on the kill front, has the seemingly prerequisite number of topless young women, has a decent Final Girl in the form of MaryBeth and even delivers my favourite staple of the 70’s/80’s horror film, the cyclical nightmare ending.
That said, it really doesn’t offer anything new and the advance claims of Green doing something different are hard to reconcile with the enjoyable but scarcely revolutionary film he’s directed. In comparison to the torture-driven fare on offer at the time, “Hatchet” is preferable experience in that you don’t want to have your memory scrubbed of what you’ve just watched.
More fun than an axe in the head, but not the best horror movie that I’ve watched this October.