If you’re a card-carrying soldier in the self-proclaimed “Hatchet Army,” you already know whether you want to see this movie; in fact, you probably already have seen this move. But if you never enlisted, or if you took an honorable discharge after HATCHET II, you may be sitting on the sidelines and wondering whether to take another tour of duty around the swamp haunted by Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder). Well, as someone who defected because of the disappointing sequel,* I can say it’s time to rejoin the ranks. HATCHET III is almost as much gleefully gory fun as the original – a comedy-horror hybrid that elicits screams of laughter and disgust in equal measure, sometimes simultaneously.
Like HATCHET II (2010), HATCHET III is pitched to the fans who discovered the franchise with the original HATCHET (2006) – a came-out-of-nowhere sleeper hit on the festival circuit that never reached the wider audience it deserved. The problem with HATCHET II is that writer-director Adam Green over-enthusiastically pandered to the gore-hounds who loved the unrated mayhem the first time around; in the process, the delightfully tongue-in-cheek tone of the original degraded into dispiriting camp. HATCHET III ditches the camp and resurrects the clever comedy, adding numerous nods and winks that will only be recognized by those who have seen the previous films.**
Though directed this time by B.J. McConnell (Green is back as writer and producer), HATCHET III picks up seamlessly from its predecessor, with Marybeth (Danielle Harris) punching Victor Crowley’s ticket and marching into the local police station with his scalp. Unfortunately, Crowley is no mere madman but some kind of eternally resurrecting monster, who is soon decimating the crews sent to tag the bodies leftover from the previous films. A local reporter (Caroline Williams), who destroyed her reputation by hyping the legend of Victor Crowley legend, knows a way to end the curse (which has nothing to do with the method in HATCHET II – but who’s keeping track?) Reluctantly, Marybeth agrees to help; her family connection with one of the men responsible for Crowley’s death – and thus his afterlife – makes her the only one who return Crowley to the peace of the grave.
Unlike the previous sequel, HATCHET III avoids getting bogged down in back story, and script doesn’t waste a lot of time getting another crowd of victims into the swamp. Once all the fish are in the barrel, director McDonnell keeps the action popping like a series of burst blood vessels as Crowley dissects his victims in a series of imaginatively gruesome ways.
If that sounds a little too hardcore for viewers with little thirst for movie blood, take note: the copious carnage is too outrageous to be regarded seriously; the aesthetic of violence is almost diametrically opposed to that of the recent V/H/S 2, whose crimson splatter paints a picture far more grim and depressing. Achieved with old-fashioned prosthetics and geysers of red-tinted water, the kills in HATCHET III are scary fun in a popcorn-movie kind of way that seems almost quaint in this era of torture porn and mumblegore.
At times, the script is a little too lackadaisical in its “only a movie” approach. Green’s script cannot decide whether local law enforcement is a police department or a sheriff’s department (there is a difference), and the question of jurisdictional authority is ignored when a SWAT team (led by Derek Mears as Hawes) shows up and takes over.
We’re simply not supposed to care, because we all know the real reason for the SWAT team’s presence is to shoe-horn Mears into the movie. The actor played Jason Voorhees in the recent remake of FRIDAY THE 13TH (200) – a role that Hodder played several times in the 1990s – and you can bet that HATCHET III will serve up a scene in which the two former Jasons go mano-a-mano. Unfortunately, the result turns out to be an even bigger anticlimax than the confrontation between Hodder and former Leatherface R.A. Mihailoff in HATCHER II.
Performances are mostly good, but variable. Galligan turns out to be a capable character actor, and it’s nice to see Williams (of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2) on screen again, but some of the comic relief supporting players are stiff (every horror film needs its Private Hudson, but not every actor can pull it off like Bill Paxton in ALIENS).
As for the returning cast: Playing his third character in three films, Parry Shen regains some of the humor he lost in Part 2. With no more of the previous films’ flashbacks, Hodder’s dual role (as Victor Crowley and Victor’s grieving father) has been reduced to one; fortunately, no one can project aggressive body language through layers of makeup better than Hodder. As returning heroine Marybeth, Harris is a bit one-note, but the script gives her only one note to play (essentially, “f-ck you!”). At least Green avoids inserting the ostentatiously “dramatic” scenes from HATCHET II, which pushed Harris and Hodder beyond the limits of what they could achieve within the context of a genre film (no amount of emoting can sell emotions in a film that achieves coitus interruptus by means of decapitation).
HATCHET III manages to deliver another rousing finale that at least seems to break with tradition by offering an apparently definitive death for its mon-star. But that’s the nice thing about the film: along with the expected genre elements, there are a few surprises, too – a “dead meat” character who survives, a death that takes place mostly off-screen (leaving the violence if not the outcome in our imagination). The film may not win many new converts to the Hatchet Army, but it should bring back any troops who went AWOL.
On the CFQ Review Scale of zero to five stars, a moderate recommendation
Note: HATCHET III is currently in limited theatrical engagements around the country. The film is simultaneously available via Video on Demand. Click here to rent it now.
*As far as I’m concerned, HATCHET II is a dishonorable discharge – of putrescent decay.
**In case your memory is a little fuzzy, here is a sampler of inside jokes in HATCHER III:
- After playing victims in the first two films, Parry Shen appears as yet a third character, who objects to a crime-scene co-worker’s suggestion that he resembles one of the bodies (”All Asians look alike to you!). Meanwhile, we in the audience wonder whether Shen will go zero-for-three in the survival department.
- A brief, hysterical cameo by David Joel Moore finally ties up the loose end of what happens to Ben after the abrupt ending of HATCHET.
- In a truly great meta-moment, the local sheriff dismisses an account of the events of the first two film for being illogical, incredible, and inconsistent, while a local drunk (played by screenwriter Green, with a look of dismay) listens from an adjoining cell. The sequence is even funnier when you note that the sheriff is played by Zach Galligan, who appeared GREMLINS and GREMLINS 2; in the later, his character’s attempt to explain the events of the former met with similar ridicule from skeptical listeners.
HATCHET III (Dark Sky Films: theatrical and Video on Demand release on June 14, 2013). Written by Adam Green. Directed by B.J. McDonnell. Cast: Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder, Zach Galligan, Caroline Williams, Cody Blue Snider, Derek Mears, Robert Diago DoQui, Parry Shen, Sid Haig.