31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Hatchet”

 

 

Hack/Slash or Slap/Dash?
Hack/Slash or Slap/Dash?

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.

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria – “Jason X”

Sci-Fi terror, Canuck-style...
Sci-Fi terror, Canuck-style…

Directed by the late Jim Isaac, 2001’s  “Jason X” is a widely reviled entry in the ongoing canon of Voorhees-centric slasher movies.  And I re-watched it, so that you don’t have to.

Actually, that’s unfair – I do have a soft spot for flicks which blend sci-fi and horror and “Jason X” performs that task unquestionably.  Whether it constitutes a decent horror movie is another issue, as one element that you might reasonably expect from an entry in the “Friday the 13th” saga is for the odd jump scare or suspenseful stalk-and-slash sequence to scare the wiggins out of you.  And, regrettably, your correspondent must inform you that this is the least scary horror movie that I’ve watched in quite some years.

Perhaps that has something to do with the future setting – there’s something about the unholy mash-up of sci-fi vehicles, habitats and technology depicted which robs the film of genuine scares.  As many of the cast are wholly disposable military grunts in the vein of “Aliens” or “Halo”, there’s very little sense of danger, as we know that no amount of heavy weaponry will put a dent in Camp Crystal Lake’s most horrific native.  And we also know that Jason’s modus operandi is to despatch the cast one by one until a final girl (or boy) is left alive to lure Jason to his climactic doom.

That final girl, this time around, is also a first girl – the film begins with scientist Rowan (Lexa Doig) whose attempt to put Jason into cryogenic deep freeze is rudely undone by a military/scientific team led by a cameoing David Cronenberg, who wishes to experiment on Jason to see what makes him tick.  With an inevitability that sustains this evergreen horror franchise, Rowan manages to trap Jason in cryo at the expense of her own life as she’s put on ice with the machete-wielding maniac.

Jump forward to the year 2455.  Earth is toast and science students are on a field trip to the decaying husk.  They salvage the cryo tank and the on-ice due of Rowan and Jason.  As in any B-movie of note, a decision is made to study the pair, which leads to another go-round of hide-and-go-kill, only this time in space.

At a refreshingly brisk 92 minutes, “Jason X” delivers the goods in terms of body count – 21 actual people, one virtual reality alien, two VR campers, the assorted crew and personnel of a space station – whilst cleverly side-stepping the idea of continuity by being set far in the future.

In terms of performances, Lexa Doig and Lisa Ryder (at the time, both actresses were cast in the syndicated “Andromeda” tv sci-fi series) make the biggest mark, with Ryder’s turn as cyborg Kay-Em 14 being particularly charming.  It’s the latter character who – for a little while, at least – gets to put the wrassling-style smack-down on Mr Voorhees once she’s upgraded by her maker/lover Tsunaron.

Ultimately, the issue with “Jason X” is that whilst it diverts and entertains for the majority of it’s running time, it never really surprises, with the conventional beats being hit on cue and the outcome never really being in doubt.  Of course, at this point, a viewer of the “Friday the 13th” series knows essentially what they’re getting and it would be an unwise film-maker who tries to subvert the expectations of the horror hardcore.

The biggest issue is the total lack of scares in the film.  There’s gore galore and the usual stalk-and-slash mechanics are well in evidence, but the film doesn’t really want to make you jump out of your seat.  There’s no sense of dread here – it’s almost a film that you could watch with the family, were it not for the frequent displays of eye-rollingly mandatory T&A and salty dialogue.

If you’ve not seen this entry in the series, it’s certainly worth a look, so long as you don’t expect it to reinvent the language of cinematic terror.  For that, we might have to look to look to the in-development reboot by revamp specialists Platinum Dunes.  I’m expecting some kind of found-footage effort, but we shall see whether the current tropes of horror are enough to give this old slasher a jump-start.