Perhaps one of the most popular types of horror movie is the slasher film. Though there were examples of these types of movies in the early 70’s, it wasn’t until the release of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN in 1978 that the slasher really took off. The 80’s were filled literally with every type of slasher movie you could imagine, all capitalizing on the popularity of not only the HALLOWEEN films, but also the FRIDAY THE 13TH series and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise. Some of these movies were good…others were downright horrible. Thanks to movies being released direct to video in those days, pretty much anyone with a camcorder could make a slasher movie and try to take advantage of the public’s desire to see pretty teens get butchered. In many ways this is what burned me out on slasher films. I mean, how many times can you watch the same things over and over again? The only thing that would change from film to film was the look of the killer (even with HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH, Michael Myers and Jason changed his appearance from film to film).
The popularity of slasher films seemed to dwindle in the 90’s and 2000’s. Instead of a maniacal serial killer we were now treated to backwoods families who would capture unsuspecting victims, looting their belongings and torturing them in the most brutal ways before killing them. Personally, though some of these movies were decent (like WRONG TURN from 2003), I was again overwhelmed with just how brutal human beings could be. To me these movies were a lot more difficult to watch, because they were a lot more realistic. For me, a movie like FRIDAY THE 13TH was “safe” because a walking corpse killing people and refusing to die could never happen. Actual humans torturing and killing other humans is a whole different thing…it is reality (and that is really scary). This is when slasher type films stopped being fun and entertaining to me. To me, realism is not entertaining.
In recent years, the slasher film has been making a comeback. Remakes of HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET have all been released, to mixed reviews. Why the mixed reviews? Because they are offering the audience nothing that they have not already seen dozens of time before. Thankfully though, some new slasher characters have recently been introduced, and there is new life being breathed into a dying genre. The one I am going to talk about here, which is also my favorite, is Victor Crowley from Adam Green’s HATCHET.
HATCHET was released in theaters on October 5th, 2006. Since it was released to a limited amount of theaters I never got to actually see it until the DVD release. I had heard very little on this film before I saw it so went into it totally open-minded and not knowing what to expect. What I saw quickly became one of my all-time favorite horror movies! I have said it before and I will say it again…it is very difficult to successfully blend horror and comedy but Adam Green does it here perfectly!
The movie takes place during Mardi Gras in Louisiana. It opens with a father and son (the father is played by Robert Englund) gator hunting in the swamp. Both are brutally murdered but you never see the killer. Is it an alligator…or something else? From there we go to five friends enjoying Mardi Gras and all it has to offer…beads, beers and boobs. Ben (played by Joel Moore, who was also in AVATAR) is getting bored with the three B’s and is interested in seeing a haunted swamp tour he heard about from some college friends. He tells his friends not to worry and goes off on his own, but then is joined by his friend Marcus (played by Deon Richmond), who feels bad for him. The friends go to see Reverend Zombie (in a cameo by Tony Todd), who used to do the haunted swamp tours before being forced to shut down for legal reasons. What is interesting here is this short exchange with Reverend Zombie sets up a good part of the plot for HATCHET II. Reverend Zombie tells them where to go for a similar tour, done by someone else. It is on this tour where the group gets stranded and ends up facing Victor Crowley.
What truly makes this a fun movie is the group of people who end up going on the tour. They are all funny and there is a great chemistry between all of them. Some of the notables include Shawn (played by Parry Shen), who gives the actual tour; Marybeth (played by Tamara Feldman) who is looking for her father and brother, who were killed in the opening scenes; Misty (played by Mercedes McNab, of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER fame) and Jenna (played by Joleigh Fioravanti) are two women who keep exposing their breasts in the hope of making it big by appearing in a Girls Gone Wild type of production called Bayou Beavers. Little do they know but the director, Shapiro (played by Joel Murray), is actually scamming them and filming them for his own private collection. In one funny exchange, Misty, after finding out she was scammed says, “I can’t believe I have fallen for this three times!” You can tell the cast had a great time making this film, even though they were performing in harsh conditions. The fun shows through in their performances and the comedic relief they provide between the brutal killings is what sets this movie apart from other slasher films.
Another thing you see in this movie that you do not see very often is a touching back story concerning the killer! Victor Crowley is actually a character you care about, and even may understand what drove him to do the things he does. Kane Hodder does a great job playing Victor, giving him a lot of character, which cannot be an easy thing to do considering how much makeup he is wearing. Hodder also plays Victor’s father in flashback scenes and it is refreshing to see him doing something as himself, and not always covered in tons of makeup. Another interesting fact is the young Victor Crowley was actually played by a woman (Rileah Vanderbilt, who was also in Adam Green’s FROZEN).
Another star of this movie, in my opinion, is John Carl Beuchler, who plays Jack Cracker (a character that also appears in the sequel) and who did the amazing effects for this film. Not only did he create the look of Victor Crowley but he also did all of the amazing gore effects. The gore is over the top and almost comical with how extreme some of it is (and this is a good thing). If things were too dark and realistic, it would totally ruin the whole atmosphere of the movie. Beuchler actually added comedy to the gore and some of the killings are just ingenious in their execution, from ripping a character’s face wide open at their mouth to using a belt sander on another victims face…it is all done with a sense of humor. This film will definitely go down in history as a slasher classic!
HATCHET II was released in an unrated version in October of 2010 in a limited amount of theaters. The fact that it got released at all unrated was an unbelievable feat as this happens very rarely (movies regularly get released on DVD and Blu-Ray unrated but never in theaters). Unfortunately it was quickly removed from theaters, for being too violent, after the first weekend. I will say that the sequel is enjoyable and stands on its own as a fun slasher film, but it does not live up to the hype that the first film created. Danielle Harris plays Marybeth this time and both Tony Todd and Kane Hodder are back. Though the beautiful Harris does an ok job with the character, I would’ve preferred if Tamara Feldman had returned. If you can accept her though, you will enjoy the film more. Also back from the first movie is Parry Shen, this time playing Justin (the twin brother of the character he played in the first film). Missing this time out is the chemistry between the characters. They are not as fun and when they die you really do not care. This cast was definitely not having the degree of fun that the cast of the original had! I also feel that the special effects this time out are a huge step down from the original (and according to the “making of” featurette, it was one of Beuchler’s assistants from the first film who did the effects in this one). The kills this time out are not as original or fun, and the color of the blood just never looks right (in fact at the end, when Marybeth is bashing in Victor’s face, the blood is brown). In probably the worst effect of the film, Parry Shen’s character is killed by belt sander (hmmm…where did we see that before) and when they show the back of his head with his brain exposed, it looks like they used one of those brain jello molds you buy at Halloween time. It was nice to see a subtle reference to one of Adam Green’s short videos, JACK CHOP, in Reverend Zombie’s shop though! This is definitely a series that I would like to see continue. I just hope Adam Green realizes his errors with this one and can come back with a vengeance.
I had the good fortune of meeting Adam Green in October of 2010 and though his movie had just gotten pulled two weeks earlier, he was in good spirits and was looking forward to the On Demand and DVD/Blu-Ray releases of his film. Adam Green is a class act and you can tell that he genuinely loves what he does, he stands by his films and he truly appreciates his fans. In fact, he is the ONLY person I know that goes to conventions and doesn’t charge for pictures, posters or autographs! I wish everyone would be that gracious!