cast: Danielle Harris, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, Parry Shen, and Tom Holland
director: Adam Green
86 minutes (18) 2010
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Arrow blu-ray region B
review by Jonathan McCalmont
Back in 2006, Adam Green and a small crew of largely novice filmmakers cobbled together enough money to release Hatchet, a slasher film whose fleeting moments of creativity and wit elevated it far enough above the on-coming tide of straight-to-DVD horror films to secure funding for a sequel. Despite boasting twice the original’s budget, Hatchet II somehow manages to be only half the film and, when you consider the fact that Hatchet was pretty dire to begin with, the result is a slasher that fails on almost every conceivable level.
Beginning where the original left off, Hatchet II sees Marybeth (Danielle Harris) battling to escape the ghost of Victor Crowley, the deformed swamp-dweller who murdered her family and an entire boat full of hapless tourists. Fleeing to the safety of New Orleans, Marybeth confronts Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd), the charlatan who organised the first film’s ill-fated cruise. Spotting the opportunity to rid himself of Crowley’s ghost, Zombie tricks Marybeth into returning to the swamps alongside a cadre of bounty hunters who, as you might well expect, get chewed up and spat out in a variety of different ways.
In one of the wittier essays from his collection How To Travel With A Salmon (1993), the Italian semiotician and critic Umberto Ecco points out that:
“Pornographic movies are full of people who climb into cars and drive for miles and miles, couples who waste incredible amounts of time signing in at hotel desks, gentlemen who spend many minutes in elevators before reaching their rooms, girls who sip various drinks and who fiddle interminably with laces and blouses before confessing to each other that they prefer Sappho to Don Juan. To put is simply, crudely, in porn movies, before you can see a healthy screw you have to put up with a documentary that could be sponsored by the Traffic Bureau.”
Given that most contemporary porn resembles nothing more romantic than an animated butcher’s shop window, Ecco’s essay is clearly starting to show its age. However, Ecco’s description of under-written plots padded out with filler material perfectly captures the realities of low-budget horror. Painfully aware that they have 90 minutes to fill and not much money with which to fill them, many horror directors pad out their meagre storylines with huge swathes of exposition as characters needlessly proclaim their loves, their regrets, and their torments before having their heads cut off by a large man in a rubber mask.
By mocking this tendency towards over-sharing, Green’s Hatchet displayed a rare and surprisingly likeable openness about the trials of low-budget filmmaking. Unfortunately, Hatchet II suggests that Green may have forgotten his own insights as at least 60 of this film’s 86 minutes are devoted to filling in the few gaps left by Hatchet‘s tongue-in-cheek expository overload. Some might say that this constitutes a good joke taken too far but I would say that it is nothing more than old fashioned padding and terrible writing.
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Crippled by the burden of having to contain so much exposition, Green’s writing comes across as tedious, witless and derivative. His jokes are not funny, his characters are poorly drawn, and his drama is limp and aimless, while the script’s myriad weaknesses are made all the more obvious by Green’s lack of visual flair and his inability to properly direct his actors.
Harris has, in recent years, carved out a niche for herself as a so-called ‘scream queen’ specialising in horror. While none of her performances to date have been particularly noteworthy, her appearances in films such as Jim Mickle’s Stake Land (2010), and Tony Scott’s The Last Boy Scout (1991), do at least suggest that she can portray a recognisably human character. Unfortunately, upon being manacled to Green’s writing and direction, Harris transforms into a museum of tics, twitches, and muscular spasms that only serve to highlight the weakness of the material she has to work with. Similarly misused is Todd, whose looming presence and gravely voice helped turn Bernard Rose’s Candyman (1992) into a genre classic. Here, Todd finds himself having to serve as the primary source of exposition and the more lines he has to deliver, the weaker his performance becomes.
Visually, Hatchet II looks cheap even by the standards of low-budget horror. Sets are badly conceived and poorly lit, while the weakness of Green’s direction ensures that pacing and tonal difficulties combine to stoke up the audience’s expectations to the point where they simply cannot be satisfied. It is one thing to deliver boring kills in a film that is mostly made up of kills but when audiences are required to sit through an hour of terrible dialogue in order to get to the kills, these kills had better deliver and those of Hatchet II simply do not. Of course, Hatchet II‘s makers and fans will be quick to point out that by criticising the direction, writing and acting I am missing the fact that Hatchet II is supposed to be silly. In truth, this is the film’s greatest failure.
While the purpose of a horror film is ultimately to scare its audience, the long history of poorly made and risibly scripted horror films has created an alternative horror experience that aims to make the audience laugh. Indeed, many repertory cinemas now make a tidy sum by putting on terrible films and allowing their audiences to enjoy the awfulness as a group. Some horror films such as Tim Sullivan’s 2001 Maniacs (2005), Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell (2009), and Jaume Collet-Serra’s Orphan (2009), work precisely because of they are so ludicrously over the top that you cannot help but laugh at them.
Unfortunately, because Green struggles with both the campier elements and the more serious moments, Hatchet II never manages to find that sweet spot between postmodern irony and absolute sincerity. Because it is impossible to know when the film is being intentionally awful and when it is merely being awful, Hatchet II‘s moments of intentional self-parody feel more like defence mechanisms designed to allow the filmmakers to cry ‘irony’ whenever their attempts at tension and human drama fall wide of the mark. This makes for an uncomfortably defensive cinematic experience, like sharing a drink with someone who keeps putting himself down in the hope that you’ll tell him how wonderful he is.
Nowhere is this tonal confusion more obvious than in the blu-ray’s lacklustre array of promotional extras in which Green comes across as being genuinely excited at the prospect of filling in his characters’ back stories. If Hatchet II is intended as a joke then why is Green so happy to get the opportunity to flesh-out his creations? Surely the whole point of ironically bad character is that they are poorly drawn?
Let down by poor writing, terrible acting, and listless direction, Hatchet II is one of the weakest horror films that I have ever seen. Were it not for a couple of decent jokes, I would conclude that it was utterly and irredeemably bad. As it is, it is merely terrible. Avoid.