Hatchet (2006)

Hatchet first published by Film4

Summary: Adam Green’s horror comedy resurrects Reagan-era stalk and slash in the Louisiana swamps. 

Review: Still sore at being dumped by his long-term girlfriend, Ben (Joel David Moore) has had enough of all the heavy drinking and casual sex at the New Orleans Mardi Gras, and is trying to persuade his pal Marcus (Deon Richmond) to come along on a haunted swamp tour instead. For Marcus, the choice between “fun party” and “mad badness” is a no-brainer – but in Adam Green’s comedy horror Hatchet, viewers get the best of both worlds, as carnivalesque hilarity and carnage go hand in bloody hand.

With “Uncle Remus meets Bruce Lee” Shawn (Parry Shen) as their dodgy guide, Ben and Marcus are joined on the tour by an amateur pornographer (Joel Murray), his two dim-witted starlets (Mercedes McNab, JoLeigh Fioreavanti), an older married couple (Richard Riehle, Patrika Darbo), and a mysterious local girl (Tamara Feldman). Deep in the bayou, their boat runs aground on rocks, and they are forced to realise that there is some truth after all to Shawn’s garbled tale about the ghost of hideously deformed Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), still wandering the swamps and seeking terrible vengeance on those foolish enough to trespass.

“It’s not a remake. It’s not a sequel. And it’s not based on a Japanese one.” So boasts the American publicity tagline for Hatchet, in a barely credible bid for originality. For in the current derivative climate of US-produced horror, Hatchet, with its determined lack of voguish seventies grindhouse stylings or creepy long-haired Asians, may not exactly be the same old, but that hardly makes it the different or new. Like one of the hapless victims in his film, even as Green tries to run forward he cannot resist looking back over his shoulder, and despite the contemporary setting of Hatchet, its villain is unmistakably a ghost from the past. For like Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever (2002), Dave Payne’s Reeker (2005), James Gunn’s Slither (2006) and Gregory Dark’s See No Evil (2006), this is a noughties film in love with the tits-and-ass body counts and latex gore of the Eighties.

Hence the casting of Hodder Kane, who has played Eighties slice-icon Jason Voorhess in four different Friday the 13th instalments, as unstoppable killing machine Victor Crowley (whose very name is stitched together from Victor Frankenstein and Aleister Crowley). Hence the cameos from Robert Englund (Freddie from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise) and Tony Todd (Candyman). Hence the tired-and-tested slasher format (where only the modes of dismemberment show any creative variation, and even then not so much), and all that CG-free grand guignol, and the final double-taking homage to the ending of the original Friday the 13th. So when Green claims to have come up with the idea for Hatchet at the tender age of eight, i.e. circa 1983, it is hardly difficult to believe him – but whether this imbues the film with affectionate nostalgia or just embarrassing puerility will depend on the viewer’s tolerance for the repetitive rending of nubile flesh.

What raises Hatchet from swampy oblivion, however, and ensures its success as a multiplex crowd-pleaser, is Green’s talent for witty dialogue. We may have seen this kind of mutilation and mayhem done before, and done better, but rarely has it been so funny.

Verdict: This retro-eighties slice-and-dicer is bloody (and) hilarious.

© Anton Bitel