Written and Directed by: Adam Green
Starring: Kane Hodder, Parry Shen,and Laura Ortiz
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Return to his swamp.
An odd thing has happened with the Hatchet series during the past decade. What started as a goofy, kind of try-hard update of 80s splatter movies eventually became exactly the sort of comfort food this genre always provided. When the original debuted in 2006, I mostly regarded it as a solid stand-in for the Friday the 13th series, which I still assumed would be revving up again at that point; 12 years later, and Hollywood—in its infinite wisdom—has delivered exactly one new Jason movie. Meanwhile, Adam Green soldiered on, churning out Hatchet movies on a fairly regular basis to the point where this franchise is no longer a substitute at all: rather, it’s become the slasher standard bearer in its own right, carving out its own hyper-gory legacy.
Now, after a 4-year absence, it crosses the final threshold by returning from the dead: after all, what respectable slasher series actually remains dormant after a supposed “final” chapter? With Victor Crowley—a sequel Green shot in total secrecy before springing it on an unsuspecting world—the Hatchet series comes roaring back with more of the same. This is not a knock against it but merely an acknowledgement of a ritualistic genre that practically invites formula: this is very much Hatchet IV, for better and for worse—either way, it’s pretty much exactly what you crave.
Set a decade after the events of the first trilogy, it finds lone survivor Andrew Yong (Parry Shen) attempting to find catharsis through an ill-fated book tour. Most everyone believes he actually committed the Crowley murders, including his ex-wife (Krystal Joy Brown), who also happens to host a tabloid talk show that proves to be a particularly humiliating experience for Andrew. He’s not without his supporters, though: one especially eager fan is Chloe (Katie Booth), an aspiring filmmaker who hopes to convince him to appear in her project about the Crowley murders. After they briefly meet at a bookstore signing, their paths soon cross again when Andrew’s plane crashes right into the middle of that ill-fated swamp; now converted into a tacky tourist trap, it once again becomes Crowley’s blood-stained abode when Chloe and her friends unwittingly raise him from the dead…via a Youtube video.
Not that there’s much doubt up until that point, but that resurrection scene solidifies Victor Crowley’s commitment to abject silliness. Again, this hardly comes as a surprise since Hatchet has always had its tongue planted firmly in its cheek—it’s just that here, the tongue is threatening to burst forth in the most violent, over-the-top manner imaginable. This is the closest the franchise has come to crossing the line into becoming a complete and utter farce: nobody—perhaps save for Shen—is playing anything that feels remotely human, almost as if they’re all in competition to see who can be the most loathsome asshole. Slasher movies are usually populated with a couple of these, but Victor Crowley is stuffed to the absolute brim, each of them actively courting the most horrible death imaginable.
Thankfully—and not surprisingly—Green obliges, meaning you can easily sweep these grating caricatures right under the rug (or maybe shoving them right into a meat grinder would be more apt). Like the previous films, Victor Crowley truly comes alive when the title character appears to wreak havoc, something that happens early and often here thanks to a silly little prologue (featuring Jonah Ray!) that features the hulking maniac terrorizing a pair of young lovers back in the 60s. It doesn’t take him too long to resurface during the main plot either—in fact, one of the film’s most notable assets is its breezy pacing. Just when the characters start to annoy just a bit too much, Kane Hodder swoops in to save the day, eager to dispatch them for your pleasure. If nothing else, Victor Crowley knows exactly what type of movie it needs to be, and it’s all too eager to please.
Sometimes, that sort of indulgence can be grating itself, if not a bit hollow; with slashers though, that can be the perfect speed, especially when they're helmed by someone with genuine appreciation for the craft. Green obviously doesn’t need to prove this about himself anymore, but, again, he’s eager to oblige with completely outrageous gags that leave most of the cast sufficiently pummeled. Crowley isn’t just annoyed to be stirred awake to defend his turf: he’s downright pissed off about it, as he brandishes belt sanders, hammers, and, yes, his trusty hatchet to reduce the cast to sludge. After the absolute carnage witnessed in the original trilogy, it’s impressive that Green and crew have even dared to dream up even more unhinged eviscerations.
All of them are executed with aplomb, coaxing equal amounts of awe and disgust as Crowley fulfills his final form as an inhuman blender capable of utterly decimating his victims. Ever the franchise’s calling card, the gore quotient doesn’t disappoint in terms of sheer quantity and quality. Trust me: you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Green pay homage to the infamous Cannibal Holocaust impalement by reenacting it with a severed arm and a cell phone. Some notes don’t always ring true here: there’s one setup that has a character pinned down in the crashed plane, putting her in danger from drowning as water seeps in from the swap, and it comes off as unnecessarily cruel instead of suspenseful. For the most part, however, Crowley’s gore outbursts are a total blast, completely in keeping with the spirit of both the franchise and this particular strain of slasher movie bloodletting.
At this point, you know what you’re in for here, and while a title like Victor Crowley might imply some ultimate, epic, definitive take on the theme, that’s not quite the case here. If anything, this actually feels like the smallest Hatchet movie since the original: most of the film is set in and around the crash site, meaning there’s very little time for bullshit once Crowley begins to terrorize the survivors. Likely a function of the film’s guerilla shoot, the approach doubles as a boon that keeps the film from wearing out its welcome: by the time Victor Crowley has sufficiently bludgeoned you with both gore and abject stupidity, it’s also breezed right by, infectiously sweeping you up in its meat-headed brand of splatter theatrics. Oddly enough, this is perhaps best exemplified by Dave Sheridan’s turn as Dillon, an aspiring actor moonlighting as a swamp tour guide. He’s (purposely) awful throughout, putting on airs as a weaselly, wannabe square-jawed hero, an act that comes across as Jim Carrey doing an impression of Ted McGinley. Weirdly enough, though, he somehow becomes endearing by the end, a turn of events that mirrors the way this franchise as grown on me as a whole.
I don’t know if I could have ever predicted that back in 2006, when Hatchet came across as a respectable enough gimmick that blurred the line between homage and parody. As it wore on, though, the franchise won me over with its signature brand of blood-soaked fan service. One thing that’s always been evident is Green’s sincerity and enthusiasm for this genre: Hatchet doesn’t come across as an outsider’s take on slasher movies but rather that of a diehard fan taking the biggest, wildest swing imaginable. Sure, that swing is guided by a mile-wide juvenile streak (Green himself admits the Crowley character was hatched in his mind when he was about 8 years old), but when it’s channeled into slasher love letters that give our favorite genre stars another chance to shine (VC boasts the likes of Felissa Rose and Tiffany Shepis), it’s tough to be too critical.
And if there ever were any lingering doubts about Green’s sincerity, surely they’re wiped away by the hour long documentary on Victor Crowley’s Blu-ray release. A true fly-on-the-wall production, this on-set video diary puts fans right in the thick of what was clearly a labor of love. Starting with day one of shooting, it reveals the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of low-budget filmmaking: not only are awesome tips and tricks on display throughout, but so too is the camaraderie necessary to pull off something like Victor Crowley. Green himself will occasionally drop in to update directly the camera, eventually allowing a narrative to form around his decision to return to this franchise after enduring terrible personal and professional setbacks. Far from a lifeless retreat to familiar trappings, this choice was born out of an intensely personal desire to reclaim his mojo in the way that seemed most natural to him. It’s a tremendous journey that takes the audience from the Crowley set all the way to the film’s surprise premiere in Hollywood last fall, where it premiered to raucous applause following the director’s introduction.
That introduction is a lovely highlight, one that sees Green really opening up on a personal level about his insecurities as a filmmaker. It’s a potent reminder that these guys truly are putting so much into their craft and have a genuine desire to do right by fans because that’s exactly what they are. Green’s anecdote involving George Romero is an especially touching bit that speaks to the importance of not giving up on yourself. Sure, very few of us will ever be in a position to have our personal heroes give us a pep talk like Green did, but the sentiment rings true. I truly love the story behind Victor Crowley, and Dark Sky Films was shrewd enough to have Green retell it in another interview on the disc, too (the footage from the film’s premiere is sourced from a Facebook video that isn't the best quality).
You don’t expect to be moved by the backstory of the fourth entry in a slasher movie series (much less when said movie features as much utter nonsense as this one), but that’s the thing about Hatchet: it continues to surprise even when it’s not even trying to since it wins you over by the sheer, blunt force of its will. Indeed, a mid-credits tease here all but guarantees us that part five will arrive predictably enough, much to the delight of the Hatchet Army. Long live Victor Crowley—and may his victims continue to die tremendously.
Victor Crowley is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Dark Sky. Further supplements include two audio commentaries: both are anchored by Green, who is joined by cast members Shen, Sheridan, and Laura Ortiz in one, while DP Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Laham, and effects artist Robert Pendergraft provide support in the second track.
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