Written by: Adam Green
Directed by: BJ McDonnell
Starring: Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder, and Zach Galligan
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“You still think he's dead?"
Upon its debut way back in 2006, Hatchet was touted as a return to “old school American horror,” a tagline that almost begged for scrutiny. Regardless of one’s agreement with that promise, it’s difficult to argue that Hatchet hasn’t functioned exactly like its slasher ancestors: as comfort food. Just as audiences knew what they were getting back when Jason slashed his way onto the screen on an almost annual basis in the 80s, modern fans know to expect a full course meal of death and dismemberment served up by Victor Crowley. Hatchet III carries a promise of its own, as it purports to be the franchise finale, and, if it lives up to its billing, it’ll stand as both a slightly disappointing but wholly appropriate conclusion since it’s once again more of the same, albeit with slightly diminishing returns.
In fact, it regurgitates the previous film’s opening gag by opening literally one second after Hatchet II ended, with heroine Marybeth Dunston (Danielle Harris) blowing Crowley’s brains out with a shotgun. This only proves to be a minor inconvenience for the unrelenting psychopath, as he simply rises in the background (Michael Myers-style) while the oblivious Marybeth stumbles away from the scene. Crowley’s continued pursuit only results in more punishment for him because Marybeth revs up a chainsaw and eventually carves him in two. Having now graduated to a blood-soaked Ash Williams clone (Crowley’s death soaks her in an almost comedic level of gore), Marybeth straggles into the nearest town carrying the local legend’s scalp. Her candor lands her in jail while sheriff Fowler (Zach Galligan) leads a team to investigate the nearby carnage. Even though she’s on the hook for it, Marybeth at least feels secure that she’s finally killed Crowley for good—which, of course, she hasn’t. Somehow, he rises from the grave fully replenished and ready to savagely murder anyone who dares to enter his swamp.
How beholden is Hatchet III to following the stock slasher movie formula established by the first two films? I feel like I could copy and paste most of my review for Hatchet II but add the caveat that this latest effort isn’t quite as good. While I admittedly didn’t have time to revisit the earlier films before taking in part 3, this trilogy capper feels like the weakest of the three at first blush, even if it’s trying incredibly hard to one-up everything that came before it. Such an approach is right on point and in line with the franchise’s aim to capture the gleeful spirit of certain, unabashedly gratuitous 80s slashers (read: most of ‘em), so Hatchet III delivers wildly gory, over-the-top splatter with a grin plastered on its face. Like the first two films, it comes from a place of palatable reverence for the genre and stops far short of acting as either a satire or a parody; instead, I’d prefer to call it more of a heightened slasher that embraces its silliness, grabs it by the throat, and then rips it right out—all while admiring the glorious trail of viscera left behind.
Hatchet III certainly has just as much gusto and resorts to the same reverential tricks. Series creator Adam Green actually beat Sylvester Stallone to the nostalgia-tinted punch by filling out his tribute with an all-star cast of genre luminaries (and arguably stuck them in better movies); the third time out is no different, though it reaches for some deeper cuts. Where the previous films featured the likes of Robert Englund, Tony Todd, and a pack of noteworthy behind-the-scenes guys popping up on screen (Lloyd Kaufman, Tom Holland, John Carl Buechler, Joe Lynch, etc.), this one returns Galligan and Caroline Williams to the limelight. While it’s nice to see both in prominent roles, neither is given a whole lot to do, and the same can be said for Derek Mears, who has become a great on-screen presence even when he’s not caked in make-up effects. He appears here as the leader of a SWAT team, and the meta-implications are obvious: here’s the latest on-screen Jason Voorhees set to clash with the most famous Jason performer.
Their scuffle winds up being a little perfunctory, though, and the exchange captures the general anticlimax that is Hatchet III. Maybe it feels like it should be bigger since it’s the supposed conclusion, but, even if it weren’t, there’s something a little lackluster about many of the kill sequences. Besides Crowley’s initial dismemberment (which is truly awe-inspiring), only a couple of bits stand out, and one only does so because it’s a neat, winking in-joke for franchise fans. I can’t deny that the effects aren’t immaculate—once again, it’s all practical (or at least looks practical) and essentially dares anyone to come take the franchise’s blood-caked crown. The ample, outlandish splatter offers up various mutilations and deep wells of blood geysers to closely approximate what it might have looked like if Troma ever had to means to make a sleek, polished slasher; by now, the tongue-in-cheek approach is no surprise, and Hatchet III might be the most pleased with its displays that all but scream “hold my beer and watch this!” Getting caught up in the carnage as it unfolds is easy enough, but a lot of it eventually becomes a procession of splattery white noise.
It’d be easy to assume that the step down in quality owes to Green handing the reigns over to first-time director McDonnell, who previous served as the camera operator on the first two entries. However, the film is more or less indistinguishable from an aesthetics standpoint, almost to the point where you’d never know Green ever left. If there’s a noticeable difference, it’s in the way Hatchet III doesn’t retain the general intensity or razor-sharp directness of its predecessors. Laying this at the feet of McDonnell feels undeserved, though, as the limp, loose script is mostly to blame.
I know—criticizing a slasher for a lackluster script feels like an unspoken rule that goes with the territory, but it’s a real detriment to Hatchet III, which ultimately splits itself into two narratives. One finds Galligan and Mears leading an ill-fated manhunt in a sort of souped-up take on the backwoods yokels’ pursuit from the previous film, while the other serves to crank the exposition machine. Williams is a local author who’s been shunned and shamed by local authorities due to her theories about the Crowley myth, so she bails Marybeth out of jail because she holds the key to permanently putting Victor to rest. The duo spends most of the film on the road, looking to track down an old Crowley relative (Sid Haig in a cameo that thankfully doesn’t go wasted) who in turn delivers more exposition before the truly insufferable Marybeth (was she this outrageously bitchy the last time out?) can return to the swamp for a final showdown, an approach that awkwardly divorces the franchise heroine from most of the proceedings.
That climax doesn’t disappoint at least; if Victor Crowley is this generation’s candidate to enter the slasher canon, then he might earn it with his glorious demise here. Between being an unstoppable, vengeful daddy’s boy and Hodder’s presence, Crowley easily begs comparisons to Jason, so it’s fitting that his capper sends him off with an effects sequence that rivals the grand guignol awesomeness of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (hell, it even rivals some of the elaborate demises the Nightmare on Elm Street series cooked up for Freddy).
This capper did avoid the drama surrounding the first sequel, whose unrated cut infamously played in a select theaters before AMC pulled it; instead, it went essentially straight to VOD platforms a few months ago before Dark Sky brought it to physical media. Their Blu-ray features an outstanding presentation that allows the film’s slickness to shine, and calling the DTS-MA track “aggressive” is an understatement because the GWAR tune accompanying the opening credits feels like it might shred your face off. The extras are also solid, as commentary fans can dig into two tracks; one features Green, McDonnell, cinematographer Will Barratt, and effects artist Robert Pendergraft, while the other teams Green and McDonnell up with Hodder.
A trio of featurettes add up to about 20 minutes worth of material: “Behind the Scenes” is the meatiest of the bunch and delivers exactly what the title promises by giving audiences a look behind the camera at some of the effects sequences. “Raising Kane” briefly details Hodder’s make-up experience, and “Swamp Fun” explores Crowley’s bayou homestead. Both a teaser and the trailer round out the disc, which should satisfy the ardent members of the Hatchet Army, a legion that I don’t mind associating with, if only because this series functions as a self-assured homage to a red-headed stepchild of a genre.
As is the case with the other films, the parts are better than the sum for this finale—if I’m being honest, none of the Hatchet movies have been absolute knock-outs, but it’s been a sturdy, reliable franchise. Even the slight pangs of disappointment here subside with the assumption that the franchise will follow in the tradition by eventually returning from the “dead.” No self-respecting slasher would ever actually stay in the grave. Rent it!
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