My initial reaction to Adam Green’s slasher homage, Hatchet (2006), was confusion. The highly anticipated horror release was promoted as a return to 1980s horror, and I was not the only fan breathlessly waiting to see if Green would deliver.
Hatchet is hardly straight horror. The comedy angle is hit very hard throughout, but don’t think for a moment that Hatchet is another Scream (2006) where the movie is poking fun at its genre. Instead, Hatchet is funny in the sense that many of the Friday the 13th movies are funny. However, I was initially put off by the comedy, having expected pure horror. It took until halfway through the movie before Hatchet won me over, and once I was on board, I had a lot of fun.
Hatchet’s monster is Victor Crowley, a horribly burned man who was taunted as a child. As for the back story, there was prank involving fire that went wrong, and I think you can guess what became of little Victor. Pretty standard horror fare. Years later, Victor is out for revenge.
Set in the Louisiana swamps, Hatchet’s setting is mouthwatering. The scenery, although not commonly utilized before by similar movies, seems a natural slasher hunting ground. The production quality is solid, and the camera work and lighting bring the swamps to life. The acting is also better than average, especially once you realize the comedic characters are intentionally overacting.
The plot is as simple as it gets: an excursion into the swamps goes awry and leaves several people stranded, including a couple of hot girls who are making one of those college girls gone wild sorts of videos. The jokes are actually funny, and at no point did I feel like Green and Hatchet were making fun of horror movies. Raunchy jokes and goofy characters aside, when Green decides to bring the gore, he goes for the gusto.
Crowley is portrayed by none other than Kane Hodder, the former Jason Vorhees, instantly lending credibility to Hatchet’s psycho monster. Crowley reminded me most of Madman Marz from the movie Madman, and Crowley is a similar name to Cropsey, the urban legend serial killer that Madman and The Burning were based on. Coincidence?
Hatchet utilizes interesting cameos and supporting roles, including a hick boy played by Joshua Leonard of The Blair Witch Project and Tony Todd as a tour guide. Perfect!
Hatchet is a competent slasher with laughs. I recommend this movie to fans of the sub-genre. But a few caveats. For one thing, I was never able to figure out if Victor Crowley was a real psychopath running amok or a ghost. Hatchet handles Crowley’s nature ambiguously. Secondly, the buildup for Hatchet was misleading. If you go into the movie expecting straight horror, you will set yourself up for a letdown. For some, the comedy may be laid on too thick. Finally, at no point did I find Hatchet the least bit scary. The final scene might make a few people jump (I won’t give more away than that), but that’s about it.
Hatchet (2006) vs. Classic Slashers
The horror genre, and specifically the slasher subgenre, has a rich history filled with iconic characters, memorable kills, and evocative settings. “Hatchet” reignited the flame of classic slasher films with its nostalgic vibe, harking back to the golden age of the 70s and 80s. How does it compare with its predecessors?
1. Setting and Atmosphere:
- Classic Slashers: Films like “Friday the 13th” capitalized on the isolation of summer camps, while “Halloween” turned suburban neighborhoods into playgrounds for terror. The settings in these films, whether it was the foggy town of Haddonfield or the shadowy woods of Camp Crystal Lake, became characters in themselves.
- Hatchet: Set in the eerie swamps of New Orleans, “Hatchet” taps into the fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar. This setting echoes the isolation and atmospheric tension found in the classic slashers.
2. The Antagonist:
- Classic Slashers: Characters like Michael Myers (“Halloween”), Jason Voorhees (“Friday the 13th”), and Freddy Krueger (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”) have become synonymous with the slasher genre. They possess unique backstories, often rooted in tragedy, betrayal, or vengeance.
- Hatchet: Victor Crowley, a deformed and vengeful spirit, takes center stage. His tragic backstory, reminiscent of Jason’s, and his relentless nature are akin to the classic slasher villains.
3. Practical Effects and Gore:
- Classic Slashers: Practical effects were a hallmark of 70s and 80s slashers. Films like “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “The Prowler” showcased innovative, albeit gruesome, effects that became staples in the genre.
- Hatchet: In a time when CGI began dominating horror films, “Hatchet” stood out with its commitment to practical effects. The film’s over-the-top kills and gore felt like a tribute to the visceral nature of early slashers.
4. Tone and Humor:
- Classic Slashers: While many classic slashers played it straight, some, like “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” injected dark humor, often through the killer’s witty one-liners.
- Hatchet: While the film is deeply rooted in horror, it doesn’t shy away from humor. “Hatchet” plays with genre conventions, offering self-aware jokes that fans of classic slashers can appreciate.
5. Character Archetypes:
- Classic Slashers: The “final girl” trope, the promiscuous teenager, the jock, the nerd — these character archetypes are frequently explored in classic slashers.
- Hatchet: The film nods to these conventions, introducing a group of tourists that echo the character archetypes from the past. However, it also subverts some of these roles, offering a fresh take on familiar grounds.
6. Legacy and Franchise Potential:
- Classic Slashers: Many films from the 70s and 80s birthed franchises, with multiple sequels, reboots, and merchandise following their success.
- Hatchet: Recognizing its potential, “Hatchet” has spawned several sequels, reminiscent of the franchise culture of the golden slasher era.
“Hatchet” successfully melds the essence of classic 70s and 80s slashers with modern sensibilities. It serves as a love letter to the classics while establishing its footprint in the annals of horror. For fans of the slasher genre, it bridges the gap between the nostalgic past and the evolving present.
If you are up for laughs, gore, and a nostalgic homage to the party slasher movies of the 1980s, give Hatchet a try.