MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Joel Moore, Tamara Feldman, Deon Richmond, Mercedes McNab, Joleigh Fioreavanti, Parry Shen, Kane Hodder, Robert Englund, Tony Todd, Joel Murray, Patrika Darbo, Richard Riehle, Joshua Leonard, John Carl Buechler/ Runtime: 83 minutes
I think it is worth mentioning that the slice of cinematic pie I am reviewing today, 2006’s Hatchet is one that is sold to those who might be interested in it as an “old school horror film”. Of course if by “old school” you mean that anyone who decides to sit down and give this a watch can expect to see quite a few well-blessed in certain aspects females, a bleak and dark mood, and a group of characters getting brutally and viscerally eliminated by a psychotic and scarred killer who is living in the murky and rain-drenched swamps of New Orleans, then congratulations because your marketing department definitely scored a big-time W with that one. Indeed Hatchet is a film that even if everything about it seems like it is something you have seen before I can assure you that yes it is, but also that you won’t mind in the slightest. An accomplishment that is possible due to film helmer Adam Green giving this film a terrific tempo, an unyielding manner towards making this slice of cinematic pie as violent as possible, and having the guts to wrap this movie up at an moment where you would things were just getting revved up (a fact made apparent by the three and counting sequels that this film has had since it first came out). Oh and Green also places this film in a mist of comedy that is overhead, but never tries to overwhelm the movie thus slightly dampening the potency of the violent content without obliterating the mood or annihilating the fun factor. Yet even when dampened, this film’s violence is as brutal and visceral as anything that could be seen in something akin to the Saw franchise or Cannibal Holocaust as we see heads torn off, limbs eviscerated, torsos annihilated and the list goes on. Yet even with these factors in play, the violence remarkably never feels nauseating or too over the top due to the spot-on mix at play that permits the film to throw everything but the kitchen sink at you whilst never feeling like it did. Thus this slice of cinematic pie might not be the most novel viewing experience in the world, but at least it knows how to deliver what people have to come expect from the genre family of which it is a proud part.
The plot is as follows: Now according to the lore set up by the film, there is in the bayous and swamps surrounding the city of New Orleans a disfigured butcher residing there by the name of Victor Crowley who has decided to spend his days virtually annihilating anyone who decides to poke around on his turf. However even though it’s not exactly private knowledge that those who go that direction don’t tend to come home (at least in one piece if at all), a lot of the shadier companies in New Orleans have decided to continue to operate riverboat excursions that not only tell his tale, but also show off his supposed residence in order to make some easy money off gullible tourists with a thirst for the supernatural and some money burning a hole in their back pocket. Thus from there we are introduced to our main character in the form of a guy named Ben. Ben, we quickly learn, is in the Big Easy engaged in that delightfully debauchery-ridden holiday that is Mardi Gras with bro Marcus and some other friends who have pulled Ben down there to help him get over being kicked to the curb recently by his girlfriend of at least 7 years. Of course, with every bountiful bosom that he lays his eyes on, Ben still finds himself consistently reminded of the girl who just broke his heart and, needing to get away from it all, manages to coerce Marcus into abandoning the party and instead going on one of the tours I mentioned at the start of this section. Oh and before I go any further please know that the irony that this is one of the few horror movies where had they just continued to engage in stiff drink and passionate sex they might have been safe rather than in peril or dead for once isn’t lost on me….thank you though for noticing that too. Anyway, we soon see our dynamic duo decide to head out on one of these tours and along for the ride we get an aspiring adult film helmer with a pair of aspiring adult film starlets, an older couple by the names of Mr. and Mrs. Permatteo, a withdrawn and enigmatic loner by the name of Marybeth, and of course their bumbling and slightly moronic tour guide Shawn. Yet what is awaiting this rag tag group is not a night of legend brought back to life and watered down thrills, but rather a horrific and visceral night of butchery and chaos that may just be the end of this group and their existence on this planet…
Now it’s really hard to figure out just what exactly to make of a slice of cinematic pie like this one, but especially when it sells itself as mostly an entry in the slasher genre that is sliced and diced from the exact same cheese mold as the typical entries that dot the shelves of your local Walmart or wherever physical copies of films are sold. Now typically the old school formular for these slices of cinematic pie sees our blood thirsty butcher bump off some characters with no significance to the narrative whatsoever at the start only to quickly go dormant and wait for our main group to show up so he can then viciously slaughter the lot of them simply because they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. With this entry however, we see that Adam Green, who incidentally wrote the movie’s screenplay as well as helmed it, does a fairly decent job at solidly constructing our butcher’s backstory and he does give the group of victims some tiny little wrinkles about them. Yes the vast majority serve no purpose at all, but at least they do permit for just enough in the way of character development so that those who choose to watch this movie know who is about to get gruesomely butchered next. However the question still remains because for all the praise and buzz that this film has received, it honestly doesn’t look like anything noteworthy especially when taking into account the basic and run of the mill narrative so why was this buzzed about by both critics and casual movie goers? Well if I had to guess I would say that a large chunk of it has to deal with the fact that this film does go about its thing with a startling degree of integrity about it to the point that whilst it does operate with rehashed narrative ingredients, it still does give off the vibe of an “old school” entry in the horror genre. Also equally worthy of praise is how film helmer Green also doesn’t bother with giving his butcher a smart aleck personality or choose to hold back when it comes to what is shown on screen. Indeed Green’s killer in this really is just a loony and physically scarred person albeit one with a more immersive backstory than even what we are told during this film, but thankfully the backstory doesn’t intervene in the butchery. Rather it, like the character quirks, is merely set-up in order to provide the movie goer with an explanation for all the butchery and honestly it, especially when you view this movie that first time, is all but overlooked especially when the tidal wave of visceral and brutal violence makes landfall.
Be that as it may be though I do feel you should know that this movie’s resident butcher Victor Crowley seems like an intriguing blend of Jason (and not just because they got Kane Hodder for the role), the gang of mutant backwoods cannibals from the Wrong Turn movies, and the murderous backwoods men from Deliverance. Put another way: Crowley is a deformed and bullied person back from the dead who is out to cause a healthy amount of the delightful ultra-violence. Suffice it to say that I know I am only reviewing the first film in this series, but I can honestly claim that Crowley is one of the butchers that Horror as a genre has given audiences as of late. Indeed in equal measure visceral, doggedly determined, tough as nails, and keenly able to comprehend how to utilize both his locale and set of tools at his disposal to maximum efficiency, Crowley is that rare butcher who always seems set to give someone a terribly excruciating and quite painful demise. Now in addition to its well conjured up butcher and merciless level of violence, this slice of cinematic pie also works on the level that it does thanks to the aid of a terrific blend of characters as well as a top-flight cast to bring them to life (before Crowley viciously ends them). Heck film helmer Adam Green is even able to sneak in some cameo roles that fans of the horror genre will most likely cherish whilst also giving us a decent group of people to engage in whilst they head on their one way trip to the grinder in the forms of the older couple who’s nice to everyone, a slimy aspiring adult film director, a completely befuddled and out of his element tour guide, the stereotypical black guy, and our main hero who honestly looks and sounds like he is sleepwalking through the whole thing among others. Yet despite their respective parts really sinking into the swampy muck of cliché, the cast do still manage to play things on the level whilst still permitting a degree of comedy to make its way through the proceedings. Out of everyone though, I do feel that you can’t help, but come to like and respect Joel Moore as Ben aka the main guy who finds himself taking charge of the situation when things go belly up as it were and who really doesn’t give off the vibe that he would be the individual to last that long in films of this genre, but then again, this is the specific character type who usually do make it to the end of the movie….right?
All in all it should come as no surprise to learn that Hatchet is a slice of cinematic pie that does not seem to be in possession of a single novel ingredient in its entire mixture or bone in its body if you’ll pardon the expression. Yet in all fairness, by the time this film’s runtime begins to wrap up, I think it is safe to say the vast majority of the people in this film don’t have much left in the way of their bodies so at least this film has that ace up its sleeve. Suffice it to say then that Hatchet is good for what it is trying to be even if it isn’t exactly a slice of cinematic pie that is going to completely revolutionize the genre of movie magic that is horror in the way that something like the original Halloween, Elm Street, Saw, or Scream to name a few noteworthy examples did. Indeed that is because ultimately this is a brutal and quite potent slasher film that is made with as much skill and talent as a potent and brutal slasher movie could hope to be conjured up with. At the same time it should be noted that Hatchet is most definitely not for those of you out there who either don’t have a stomach made of solid iron or who have just enjoyed dinner (especially if it was a steak dinner), but the current of comedy that is prevalent throughout does help neutralize the violence just a wee bit without any of the mood being eliminated in the process. Thus even as it is never quite able to break free of cliché, Hatchet still manages to prove one under-the-radar gem that if you haven’t seen it, and you can handle what it is prepared to throw your way then do yourself a favor and check this movie out right away. Just don’t eat any steak beforehand; trust me: you’ll thank me later….On a scale of 1-5 I give Hatchet “06” a solid 3 out of 5.