In the mid 2000’s remakes of classic horror films from all decades, and westernised versions of successful Asian horror films were all the rage. It seemed the majority of horror films to be released at the cinema fell into one of these categories. This left original horror films by the side of the road to be picked off by homicidal hitch hikers. There was one film though that hit back. It didn’t reach most cinemas, the average Joe hasn’t heard of it and it has spawned two sequels. That film was ‘Hatchet‘.
The Story of Victor Crowley
Decades ago, a young boy called Victor Crowley lived in the swamps of New Orleans with his dad. Disfigured at birth and bullied by local children, Victor was shielded from the world by his father. One night a prank goes horribly wrong resulting in the home of Victor Crowley setting ablaze. In an attempt to get Victor out of the house, his father tries to break down the door with a hatchet. Unbeknownst to him Victor is pressed up against it and his father hits him in the head with the tool, killing him. Ever since that fateful night, the ghost of Victor Crowley is said to haunt the swamps of New Orleans.
Hatchet (Dir. Adam Green, 2006)
The film follows a night time haunted boat trip through the marshes of New Orleans during Mardi Gras. After crashing into a rock the boat begins to sink and the group on the boat become stranded in the marshes. The group must find there way back to the city in the bleak conditions. Unfortunately for them the hungry wildlife is not the only thing to watch out for. There are rumours that the ghost of a long dead, disfigured boy named Victor Crowley haunts the swamp, cursed to relive the tragic night he died over and over again. It doesn’t help that people have been disappearing in the swamp ever since his untimely death.
As a horror hound I’m always on the look out for good horror films, and I’ll never forget the first time that I watched ‘Hatchet‘ on DVD. I was laughing, I was cringing and I was appreciating every bit of effort that went into the film. Here is a modern slasher film that is the quintessential flesh spattered love letter to the gore filled horrors of the 80s & 90s.
The DVD carries the tagline ‘It’s not a remake, it’s not a sequel, and it’s not based on a Japanese one’. Quite clearly poking fun at the state of the horror genre at the time. Directly below the title reads ‘Old School American Horror’ and I couldn’t put it better myself. The old school ethos behind the film is not only restricted to it’s story and gore but extends to the cast. Horror icons such as Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th VII – Jason X) Tony Todd (Candyman) and Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) are sprinkled amongst the cast.
The entire 90 minutes of the film harkens back to the silly but entertaining horror films that littered the home video era. For those who haven’t experienced that then ‘Hatchet’ may not have as much magic as it does for the hardcore horror fans. It’s gore is pushed to 11, and there are death scenes that would make Jason Voorhees jealous. But more significantly it brought into the horror world something that hadn’t been seen since ‘Scream‘ in 1996, a new iconic horror villain. The true great slashers of yesteryear can be recognised or defined by the evil spirit within them. Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers & Freddy Krueger are names not only synonymous in the dungeons of horror but are widespread throughout popular culture. Victor Crowley is not quite on that level, more of an independent icon, but he is made of the exact same stuff that those founding fathers of slashers are made from.
Hatchet II (Dir. Adam Green, 2010)
A few years after the original, the sequel was released amidst ratings controversy and a mysterious cinema release that saw it pulled from theatres very quickly. The second entry in the film follows directly on from the first film, but with scream queen Danielle Harris taking over the lead role.
The story for this entry has Mary Beth, the sole survivor of the first film, discovering her family is linked to the death of Victor Crowley. Determined to claim revenge for the events of the first film she seeks the help of the residents of New Orleans. Front of that pack is Tony Todd returning as Reverend Zombie. With his own motives Reverend Zombie helps Mary Beth in her journey to stop Victor Crowley by enlisting an group of local hunters to do the dirty work. However as the group quickly learns, it’s hard to keep Victor Crowley down.
Needless to say ‘Hatchet II‘ is very much in the same vein as its predecessor, but because it is a sequel and 4 years removed from the first it doesn’t feel like it has as much heart as the first one. It’s still an insanely gory ride through the bayou with plenty horror tropes thrown in for good measure. But because we’ve seen it before, and it does little to improve on what the first film achieved, we are left with a film that has typical sequel syndrome. Up the ante, up the gore, up the laughs. Those things can only add so much to a film. The area in which it does actively try to improve is the back story of Victor Crowley. His origin is fleshed out, with a bit of history on his parents too prior to receiving a hatchet to the face.
For people wanting more of the same then ‘Hatchet II‘ can be considered a success. It’s still a crazy fun ride and as a slasher film stands alone in the contemporary horror landscape where possession, ghosts and “torture porn” are the common entity, and the slasher sub-genre is all but forgotten.
Hatchet III (Dir. BJ McDonnell, 2013)
Much like the second film, the third instalment takes place directly from the end of the previous film. Mary Beth, once again the sole survivor, manages to get to safety only to be arrested on suspicion of murder. The towns police department go to the swamp to find out what has occurred, where they are met with a collection of body parts and corpses…and Victor Crowley. In an attempt to end the curse Mary Beth and a obsessed journalist team up to try and stop Victor Crowley for good.
This entry in the trilogy is almost identical to the second one, only this time there is more cannon fodder, and the acting is a lot more questionable. Instead of a ragged group of local hunters we get a SWAT team…with a bazooka, paramedics and police officers. There is a plethora of other horror actors thrown into the mix as Derek Mears (Friday the 13th, 2009) Zach Galligan (Gremlins) Caroline Williams (Leprechaun 3) & Sid Haig (The House of 1000 Corpses) join the party, unfortunately their inclusion doesn’t add much to the film.
There is no real addition to the story in this one, and we are treated to some rather poor and annoying characters as well as some novice acting. I know in any part 3 of an independent horror trilogy you can’t necessarily expect it to set the world on fire, but is it wrong to expect average? The first two films were quite tightly knit, whereas this one meanders and makes questionable decisions. From the previous films it was established that Victory Crowley has inhuman strength, rips limbs from people and smashes down doors, but he can’t for some reason break into a boat in this one. It’s a silly little thing, but it’s bits and pieces such a this that bring the film down.
However, I’d be lying if I said the horror fan in me didn’t enjoy aspects of this film, even if it is lacking all round. The gore is still ludicrous and indulgent, and the swamp setting continues to make an refreshing change of scenery from your usual horror. By the time the credits roll on ‘Hatchet III‘ it is clear that the reason it is here is the success of the first two films, and I’d be quite surprised to see a fourth entry. The hardcore horror fans will most likely enjoy this, but it borders too closely on the territory of so bad it’s good, which considering the raw love and energy the first film had is not necessarily a good thing.
Overall the ‘Hatchet‘ films as a trilogy are pretty good. Compared to other Horror series it certainly stands above some of the more well known names, I’d even go so far as to say it is more consistent than the ‘Halloween‘ franchise. It is unfortunate that it may never know the full success that the first film deserves. Had this been released in the eras that it so lovingly draws it’s inspiration from it would have been quite the success, and I’m sure you’d hear the name Victor Crowley mentioned in the same sentence as Jason Vorhees more often. If you enjoy a good old horror film, or a gruesome splatterfest then you need look no further than ‘Hatchet‘. If you like what you see then I fully recommend the next two films in the series, just don’t expect brilliance when you come to the third one.