Touted as the next big thing in horror by everyone from Kane Hodder to Dee Snider, Adam Green
's Hatchet comes pre-packaged by the director himself as a return to "Old-School American Horror." What does he mean by "old-school?" The facts that the main dismemberer in Green's film is played by Hodder, the man behind Jason Vorhees, and that Freddy Kruger himself, Robert Englund
, makes a cameo in the early minutes of the film give it some street cred in the crowded world of iconic horror (Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street).
Green's agenda is to return the horror genre to a lean mixture of gore and humor, as well as reestablishing the notion of horror iconography. His icon is Victor Crowley, a double-decker-sized mutant hillbilly relegated to the swamps of New Orleans. As you might suspect, Victor finds himself in the mood for a festive homicide when a boatload of tourists on a haunted swamp tour get stuck near his burnt-out family shack. Soon enough, Victor begins tossing limbs and torsos every which way while impaling and mutilating any body that has the good fortune of staying in one piece. It becomes the charge of a vengeful girl (Tamara Feldman
) and a nerdy so-and-so (Joel Moore
) to escape Crowley's clutches, heartbeats intact. Article continues below
There's a scrappy charm to the low-budget nature of Hatchet, but it doesn't have the theoretical intrigue that the Friday the 13th series had, and it lacks the ingenuity of the Nightmare on Elm Street series. The other notable contradiction is that the film still plays by modern horror rules: The music/audio still jumps whenever an attack comes, along with the volume being slyly elevated. That it does away with the flash-and-zoom camera of the Michael Bay
-produced sect is a welcome change, but its bare-bones approach to craft doesn't show us anything new. In fact, the shambling plot itself segues into a general sloppiness that only perks up when a particularly heinous murder arises (the belt-sander to the model's face is my personal favorite).
What holds up in the pantheon of what Green has deemed "Old-School American Horror" is the film's psychological subtext, pioneered with Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers, not to mention the hindsight humor that can only be fully enjoyed when looking back at the popular fashion and culture of the era. In these terms, Hatchet has no real distinguishing characteristics besides the fact that it hasn't bought into the current state of popular horror films. Some reviews have defended its sense of humor, noting its absurdly overdone gore tactics. Saying that seems to be another way of distancing Hatchet from the Hostels and Captivitys of the world. For die-hard fans of horror, Hatchet might feel like a reprieve, but it certainly isn't a healthy one.