Halloween Month: Hatchet (2006)
In last week’s entry examining Friday the 13th I briefly discussed its influence on the slasher movies that came after it. Hatchet is one of the most recent examples of taking the slasher formula and updating it into a modern setting with characters that play the scenario straight resulting in comic effect. Despite wreaking of everything that screams ’80’s horror’, when Hatchet was released in 2006 it was the refreshing film that gore-hounds craved. That year, remakes were becoming more prominent with re-imaginings of The Hills Have Eyes, When a Stranger Calls and Black Christmas. A couple of less-good sequels to popular modern franchises also emerged such as Final Destination 3 and the terribly unnecessary I’ll Always Know what you did Last Summer and due to the success of films such as Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005), torture porn had gained immense popularity. Hatchet was all about bringing back the old-school slasher film and offering us a whole new murderous monster to hack n’ slash a group of hapless unsuspecting victims, who haven’t quite comprehended the tropes of the horror movie. But the real treat for genre enthusiasts was seeing the legends that are Rober Englund (Freddy Kruger), Tony Todd (Candyman) and Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees) starring in the same movie together, making it a cut above the rest of the offerings that emerged that year.
Hatchet incorporates a sinister swamp setting with wildlife around every corner as well as the spooky Mardi-Gras theme that was also the main setting in Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh (1995). The plot is your typical horror fare, a group of misfits take a ‘haunted’ boat tour of an abandoned swamp. Despite being forewarned by Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd) the local voodoo shop owner, college students Ben (Joel David Moore) and Marcus (Deon Richmond) decide to go ahead with the plan so that Ben can take his mind off his recent break-up. They soon meet Marybeth (Tamara Feldman) a young woman who knows more than she’s letting on about why she seeks out the swamp. Its soon revealed that her father and brother have gone missing during a fishing trip and she’s hell bent on discovering their whereabouts. Viewers already know they’ve been brutally murdered during the films opening sequence. Also along for the ride are tour guide Shawn (Parry Shen), a comic relief character, an older married couple Jim (Richard Riehle) and Shannon (Partika Darbo), Doug Sharpio (Joel Murray), a pervert who promises young girls an acting career while exploiting them through getting them to display nudity for his own gratification and the air-headed eye candy duo Misty (Mercedes McNab) and Jenna (Joleigh Fivoravanti). These characters are in place as exaggerated caricatures of expected horror victims, ready to be sliced and diced by the Hatchet face himself. The amount of comedy in the film does verge on parody as it doesn’t take itself completely seriously. Let’s just say it sits firmly in between the Scream films and the Scary Movie spoofs. Director Adam Green stated in the behind-the-scenes featurette that his intention was to separate the horror and comedy. There’s plenty of blood and boobs galore, but Green admitted he wanted to present female nudity in the film as comical rather than gratuitous, gently poking fun at the amount of scantily clad women who were hacked up in the films of the past. It actually works well, the death scenes are in-your-face, and the comedy provides laugh out loud moments, nicely complementing each other.
Victor’s back-story is firmly established yet developed further in the 2010 sequel Hatchet II. The illegitimate child of Thomas Crowley and his mistress, Victor was born deformed due to a curse placed on his mother by Thomas’s wife seconds before her death. The shock of his appearance kills his mother following childbirth leaving Thomas to bring him up alone. On one fateful night, three young boys play a prank on poor Victor, setting fire to his home. Thomas returns in time and attempts to save his only son by breaking him out of the inferno with a hatchet. In a cruel twist of fate, Thomas accidentally catches Victor in the face with the weapon, killing him instantly! Thomas then died of a broken heart. Years later, Victor now haunts the swamp and anyone who dares venture on his land will end up dead by his hands!
Adam Green, the mastermind behind the macabre, is a self-confessed horror fan and intended to make the movie for die-hard genre enthusiasts like himself who were craving something more than what was being offered. The legend of Victor Crowley was something that Green had on his mind since childhood. He became fascinated by the genre after being shown classic horror movies by his brother including Friday the 13th which is a clear influence on Hatchet. Green was banned from summer camp at the age of eight after learning of an “urban legend” known as the “Hatchet Face”. He developed the story further and recited it to his peers who became totally terrified. It could be fair to argue that Green was a master of horror in the making and as a filmmaker has a lot of potential. Green comes across as confident, knowing exactly how he envisioned the project which in turn gained him a lot of support to finally get the film made. He was precise about how he wanted shots framed and made the decision to shoot the film on steadi-cam to provide an edgy, authentic feel to the piece. It became an honour to have the three big horror stars or ghouls involved in the production and every fans dream to cross paths with Englund, Todd and Hodder. Green intended to provide empathy for each of his characters including Victor, while the ensemble cast do come across as stereotypical, they are likeable enough compared to most horror movie victims but its not too devastating when they’re bumped off. Adam Green is inspirational and proves that gaining creative control of the film you want to make is possible as well as obtaining a recognisable and talented cast.
The tagline gets straight to the point and describes the film at its best, “Its not a Remake. It’s not a Sequel. And it’s not based on a Japanese One.” Demonstrating the film delivers exactly what it sets out to do while providing a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the state of the horror genre. Ironically, Green used this particular tagline as it came to him in the shape of a rejection letter from a major studio, who liked his script but didn’t feel it fit into the criteria of what was popular in horror during that time. Victor Crowley is a hideous monster echoing back to the inbred’s from films such as The Hills Have Eyes and Wrong Turn. He certainly doesn’t hold back and is one of the most brutal screen killers. By the time Victor’s done killing in elaborate and gruesome ways, it gets pretty messy in terms of gore. The special effects team impressively went back to basics when creating nasty kills for the film, disregarding CGI in order to bring back some authenticity. But Victor’s screen presence is down to more that just his hideous make up effects, Kane Hodder has already mastered the role as the hack happy serial killer after playing legendary Jason Voorhees on a number of occasions. Hodder brings both brutality and empathy to the role spawning yet another potential iconic role for the actor. He plays two roles during the film, the second being Thomas Crowley, Victor’s heartbroken father and he does so make-up free which provides an interesting contrast.
Marybeth acts as the embodiment of the modern final girl. She’s resourceful, sharp and attractive. She knows what she wants and will stop at no lengths until she’s defeated the beast. She’s likeable and easy to relate to and the driving force of the film. Tamara Feldman delivers a decent performance, however my preference does lie with Danielle Harris’s portrayal in the sequel. She’s the perfect Scream Queen and brings in an even feistier performance, if you’ve seen the ending of Hatchet II you’ll know what I mean in terms of how badass she is. The reason behind Feldman’s absence in the future Hatchet films was allegedly due to Green deciding she wasn’t in a good place in terms of the career choices she was making, therefore let her go. Sadly, she lost out on the opportunity of creating an iconic modern final girl. Green admitted he was unsure about casting Joel David Moore for Ben, the male lead. Eventually he came to the decision that despite unconventional, he was ideal for the role and it goes to show as he plays the insecure adorable geek to Deon Richmond’s confident, self-assured best friend archetype.
Hatchet comes ten years after Scream re-vamped the horror genre. In an interesting comparison, Scream was revolutionary for killing off one of Hollywood’s biggest actresses, Drew Barrymore in the opening moments. Hatchet takes this trope and challenges it further in its opening sequence by killing off Freddy Kruger himself, Robert Englund. It demonstrates the development of post-modernity by making one of cinema’s legendary horror icons one of the first victims. In an attempt to shock the audience and similarly to what Scream set out to do, shows them that anything will be possible during the reminder of the film. Hatchet doesn’t attempt to outright critique the genre, but it does incorporate a few self-referential moments, an example would be Misty’s ringtone playing “I don’t want to wait” by Paula Cole, the theme song for the successful teen show Dawson’s Creek (1998-2003). Dawson’s Creek was of course written by Scream writer Kevin Williamson and provided a sense of actor allusion for Mercedes McNab who guessed starred in the show during its fifth season in the episode Downtown Crossing (#5.15) in 2002.
The use of Marilyn Manson’s This is the New Shit during the credit sequence at the beginning just adds to the film’s awesomeness. Instead of a set score, it shows how a modern soundtrack can operate and evoke a powerful response within the audience, setting the tone for what they’re about to see. The song is harsh, heavy rock and suits the piece perfectly as it blasts in after the first kills, enhancing the viewing experience.
But was the film enough to turn horror on its head? Unfortunately no, despite being a labour of love and appealing to genre fans, critics gave mixed reviews. The majority deemed it as too ironic to carry a horror film despite it echoing back to he old school. Rather than offering something new, Hatchet provided fans with what they wanted to see. Its a reminder of how brutal and funny real horror can be and what made us love the older films such as Friday 13th, My Bloody Valentine and Sleepaway Camp in the first place. That’s the reason you should head to the swamp, avoid the alligators and don’t piss off a vengeful ghost this Halloween! I also recommend checking out Hatchet II, it ups its game and is slightly superior to the original. There’s more Tony Todd, the deaths are even more extreme, the backstory unravels further and Danielle Harris’s Marybeth is on top form, the comedy also cuts back in favour of emotional depth.
So if you like extreme 18 rated gore, your favourite horror stars and the essence of black comedy, Hatchet is the film for you!
The Making of Hatchet from Hatchet DVD (2007).
Hayley Alice Roberts.