Hatchet II - Unrated Director's Cut (2010)
Directed by: Adam Green
Released by: Dark Sky Films
Review By: Matthew Dean Hill
Recommended DVD Source: Available Everywhere
Technical: Color; 1.78:1 Widescreen, 16x9 enhanced; English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; Running Time 86 minutes; MPAA Rating "Unrated"; Region 1 NTSC; One Disc
It seems only appropriate to start this review off with gusto, just the way the film I'm reviewing starts. Hatchet 2: Unrated Director's Cut is a wild, wooly, hysterically funny, and ridiculously gory good time. It's miles better than the first film, both in terms of overall "cinematic quality", and in terms of basically every other conceivable feature. It's better acted, better directed, better lit, better paced. It contains everything you loved about the first film (boobs, blood by the bucketful, goofy comedy), and almost nothing that you didn't like (characters so stupid and jokes so repetitive that you wish Victor Crowley would lobotomize you with his enormous axe). It also has the benefit of having a bit more "street cred", because of the controversy surrounding its incredibly brief American theatrical release. Even if, in the unlikely event, Hatchet 2 is only remembered decades from now due to being one of the few films to actually be pulled from theaters due to being too bloody, that's about the most honorable distinction imaginable for a film of this ilk, at least among rabid horror fans. Well, enough gushing...lets see why Hatchet 2 works so well...
Picking up literally the moment where the first film ended, Hatchet 2 starts with Marybeth (now played by the pert-as-usual Danielle Harris) narrowly escaping the clutches of madman du jour Victor Crowley. Marybeth is rescued by paranoid woodsman Jack Cracker (John Carl Buechler), and as quickly sent packing when Cracker discovers that she's mixed up in the whole Victor Crowley fiasco. Stumbling her way back to New Orleans, she seeks the help of Reverend Zombie (a magnificent Tony Todd). The Rev. explains to Marybeth that her dear old dead pop (played by Robert Englund in the original flick) was one of the three kids who were responsible for the fire that played a part in Victor's death. He also explains that Crowley still haunts the woods until the three men have been killed. With one of them already dead and gone, two remain. Soon, Marybeth is heading back into the swamp with the guidance of Reverend Zombie, and a small army of hired hunters. Marybeth wants to see Victor dead...vengeance for the murder of her father and brother...and Reverend Zombie wants Crowley's head, so he can prove to local authorities that the swamp is safe enough to continue his swamp tours and corner the market on this particular stretch of swamp. Much bloody mayhem ensues as a surprisingly-engaging story unfolds.
Making a bold decision by not introducing many major characters until about the 30 minute mark, Adam Green takes his time to continue to build the Crowley mythology. One tool he uses to do this is a wonderful extended flashback sequence, in which Kane Hodder plays Thomas Crowley, Victor's poppa. Tony Todd's narration, coupled with the surprisingly affecting performance from Hodder, make this sequence both fairly chilling and engaging. If Hatchet 3 comes to pass, and I suspect that it will, they'll have ample creative land to farm. Danielle Harris, too, gets to spread her dramatic wings a bit. She puts in a fairly nuanced performance, straddling the line between terrorized victim and ass-kicking heroine quite easily. Tony Todd, well, he wasn't given very much to work with in the original Hatchet. What was basically a bit part (or a large "cameo") has turned into a crucial performance in the movie. Don't get me wrong, these are not exactly "Academy" bait, but what I'm getting at is that it's nice to see that dialogue and scenes have been written for these folks that actually hightlight their talents beyond the bog-standard stuff we've come to expect. Of course, it's all in good fun, but it just works.
If the original Hatchet was a "horror-comedy", then Hatchet 2 nestles a bit more comfortably in the "horror with comedic elements" category. The comedy is still here, but it's a little less broad than the first time around, and the jokes (both dialogue-driven and sight gags) are much more carefully thought out than in the original. A perfect example of this is a sequence which finds two lovers banging away in the swamp (don't ask). Naturally, Crowley finds them and dispatches them in the expected creative ways, but the dialogue in this sequence is absolutely hysterical. Add to that a wonderfully perverse touch when the mayhem starts (you'll know it when you see it, at least in the Unrated version), and it's a perfect sequence. Much of the humor is subtler...more "refined" this time around. Humor plays an important part to these movies, but it doesn't have to be strictly juvenile, frat-boy humor all the way through.
Boobs. Tits. Knockers. We love 'em, and the original flick had almost as much nudity as it had gore. Here, the nudity has been toned down somewhat, and aside from "found footage" watched by Jack Cracker in the pre-credit sequence, it's basically limited to the previously-mentioned sex scene in the swamp. The funny thing is that Hatchet 2 actually works better without the over-reliance on boobs. Much like the humor, which I've already covered, the boobs work much better in context. Not that I'd ever complain about seeing attractive, prominently-displayed hooters, mind you. But Hatchet 2 simply benefits from the flow-interrupting gratuitousness of the first film's nudity. Believe it or not, a rack, no matter how perfectly-formed, can actually detract from a movie. Goddammit. Never thought I'd say that.
So we've got a tighter, more refined script, better and more open performances, better overall direction and production values, and more carefully measured comedy and nudity. So what else works? The gore. That's what we're here for anyway, right? As expected, the gore is plentiful, over-the-top, creative, often brutal, always offensive, and sometimes side-splittingly funny. It's hard to believe, but the on-screen kill count is considerably higher than the first flick. Highlights include: a double bisection with obscenely-long chainsaw, a head chopped to pulp by a boat propeller, multiple axe hackings, beheadings, one sliced off face, a ripped out jaw, a man strangled by and then decapitated (!) with his own intestines, a really painful looking hatchet to the quim, and much, much more. The most vivid kill, to this reviewer, also happens to be the one that contains the least actual humor. After his usual and inexplicably-successful tactic of "hiding in the bushes and then jumping out" works yet again, Crowley tackles one poor schmoe, and just when we think he's going to simply bury his axe in the guy's head, he proceeds to calmly turn his axe blunt-side down, and literally smash the guys head into chunky raspberry jam. There are upwards of 20 actual on-screen blows in this during this kill, and quite a few implied hits as well. It's a shocking counterpoint that serves remarkably well to remind us that Crowley isn't all fun and games and post-ironic kills. He's capable of sheer, unrestrained brutality...of scaring us. It is a horror movie, after all.
It's not perfect, but Hatchet 2 is a damned fine throwback slasher flick. It revisits the sandbox that was built by the first film, and plays with all of the available toys like an expert. Not with reckless abandon...this is a carefully measured, well-designed horror flick, that pushes all the right buttons. It's really is, more or less, everything that a mainstream "extreme" horror film should be; gory, goofy, a little scary, sexy, and even a little bit moving, in a weird sort of way. In nearly every conceivable way, it tops Hatchet, and simultaneously raises the already lofty bar for the (inevitable?) Hatchet 3. Since his taut little thriller Frozen (an underrated gem itself), Adam Green has shown increased maturity and skill as a genre filmmaker. Hatchet 2 is like a grudge fuck; it exists to prove to all detractors that a filmmaker can grow...learn, but still produce something as gleefully goofy as Hatchet 2 and make it work so well. Kudos, Mr. Green. I can't wait to see what the future holds for you. You're still standing on the shoulders of giants, at this stage, but soon, I suspect that you'll surpass your mentors. Keep 'em coming.
For this review, I'm looking at the standard-def "Unrated Director's Cut" DVD release of Hatchet 2. The 1.78:1 "standard theatrical widescreen" print itself is nice if unremarkable, but it rarely belies its shot-on-digital (and thus on the cheap) origins. It looks consistently like grainy 35mm film stock, which is appropriate. The sound shines, though, with the Dolby Digital 5.1 track filling up the speakers quite well, especially during the kill scenes. Other, quieter scenes, where ambient sound are important, work well also. The special features include the standard "Making of" featurette, TV/theatrical/radio teasers and trailers, and a pair of highly-entertaining commentary tracks. The first track, featuring the director, cinematographer, and effects chief, is both technically interesting and quite funny, as the three share their anecdotes about the production from start to finish. The cast commentary is nice, too, if a little less than fascinating than the production track, and everyone seems to have generally fond memories of the production. Overall, very nice features to compliment a fun, gory, and quite memorable movie. It's an Atrocities Cinema Essential.
- February 17, 2011
The Atrocities Cinema Scoreboard(ranks out of five)