Scary Movies (and Super Creeps) — Hatchet II

Every week Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a horror movie worth checking out. Today: Pretty but dumb.

Hatchet II is a film for a very specific audience. If you are not one of those demented souls that keep active notice of a film’s kill count, buy the majority of your shirts from Fright Rags or dearly miss the days of Joe Bob Briggs’ Monster Vision, there’s a good chance you’re not going to dig writer/director Adam Green’s follow up to his surprise 2006 hit horror film.

If you own all the Friday the 13th films on DVD and make it a yearly tradition to drink yourself into a stupor while watching Jason Vorhees massacre camploads of stoners and sluts, Hatchet II is the film you’ve been waiting for … mostly.

Hatchet II picks up directly from the end of the original film with Marybeth escaping from the clutches of Victor Crowley, a deformed swamp ghost as wide as he is tall and with an axe to pick with any that enter his swamp.

Danielle Harris, in many ways the modern day Jaime Lee Curtis, replaces original series star Tamara Feldman in the role of Marybeth, a grief-stricken, bruised up young woman in search of revenge after her father and brother are killed by Victor Crowley.

Harris is fine in the role (and after watching her in this and Stake Land, I’m convinced she’s the master of the inappropriately arched eyebrow). Her role is pretty much limited to trying her best to look sexy while being trashed about by a deranged madman or mourning the death of her family.

While any sane person would count their blessing that they survived an encounter with a hatchet-wielding mongoloid ghost, Marybeth vows to reenter the swamp that very next night and put an end to Victor Crowley.

To do this, she enlists the help of Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd, now in a co-starring role), a sinister huckster and swamp tour operator who sees the opportunity to kill Crowley as a way to free up the swamp for more tours.

Zombie is also the man who finally discloses the full back-story behind Victor Crowley. In an extended flashback sequence, audiences are shown just what type of evil was laid as a foundation for a once-mentally retarded brute to be resurrected on a nightly basis as a vengeful ghost. Unfortunately, less may have been more as Crowley’s back-story seems unnecessarily complex and perhaps contains one curse too many.

Zombie figures all Crowley needs to find his peace is for him to kill the three boys (now grown adults) who once lit his house on fire as a prank — a prank that lead to the original death of Crowley. So, under the guise of gathering a hunting posse, Zombie rounds up the surviving boys-turned-men and goes out into the swamp to hunt him some ghost.

After a brief appearance by Crowley at the beginning of the movie, the first half of the film is almost exclusively devoted to back-story and exposition — a dumpster-sized amount of plot needed to move the sequel forward. It’s not until nearly halfway through the movie that the characters are in any position to get killed off. Once the hunting pose enters the swamp, though, things move pretty fast and furious.

And that’s a good thing because a movie like Hatchet II is only about one thing — the kill scenes. And boy, does Hatchet II has some great kill scenes. I’m talking Mortal Kombat fatality move-style kill scenes. The movie’s violence is the cartoonish, extra gory dreams brought to life of a mad man. Any self-respecting gore-nut will get a huge kick (and possible erection) out of the film’s over the top violence. The story? Not so much.

Hatchet II, as I said, is all about the kill scenes. Green seemingly put so much work into dreaming up extra-violent ways his characters could get offed that he gave the short stick to actually building an engaging story around the deaths.

For a brainless night of beer and horror movies, Hatchet II makes the perfect recipe for shallow entertainment. But truthfully, the film is like a music CD that has only two or three great tracks. When Hatchet II is released on DVD, you’re going to find a lot of people skipping chapters in search of the kill scenes — ignoring the ultimately unnecessary plot development.

The cast of Hatchet II is a who’s who list of horror sub-icons and memorable faces — including Tom Holland, R.A. Mihaioff, Parry Shen (returning in a different role than the original), AJ Bowen, Rick McCallum, Lloyd Kaufman and even more directors, stuntmen and actors to name. In essence, Hatchet II continues the original’s record of being The Expendables of horror films.

Also look for cameos and references to Green’s other projects including Frozen and Jack Chop, a great short film that played before Hatchet II at Fantastic Fest.

I especially loved the film’s shout out to one of my favorite horror films from last decade, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.

Leading the pack of horror legends in Hatchet II is Kane Hodder, the hulking behemoth underneath Victor Crowley’s make-up. Hodder, understandably, doesn’t have much character development in his duel roles as Victor and his father Thomas Crowley. He’s there for one purpose only — to look menacing and rip off the jaws of unlucky victims.

Hatchet II is not a great movie. As a slasher film, it’s only slightly above average. Inventive kill scenes and a mountain of blood and guts don’t make up for disposable characters and a truly shallow plot. What makes Hatchet II so special, though, is the fact that it’s the first horror movie in a long time to get widespread theatrical distribution despite being rated NC-17. AMC Theaters will actually release an unrated cut of the film in theaters starting this weekend. While I can’t recommend Hatchet II to everybody due to its weaknesses in story, I also feel obligated to support any horror movie released unrated in theaters — just because the success of one means a future where others might follow suit.

Hatchet II is a fun ride with a rotten center. There is enough tongue-in-cheek comedy, bloody violence and fun cameos to make it an entertaining night for horror nuts. I just feel the movie could have aspired to more than just pandering to a very specific crowd. It feels, in many ways, like Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back — one big sloppy love letter to the fans. There’s nothing wrong with giving your fans what they want but next time I hope Adam Green steps up to the challenge and gives fans what they need — a slasher movie that’s as smart as it is fun.

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