(by Dustin Putman
An impassioned throwback to '80s slasher flicks, 2007's "Hatchet" was made with little money and few resources but undeniable heart. Released to theaters in a truncated R-rated version (thanks, MPAA), the film was restored to its uncut glory for DVD and has gone on in the years since to achieve rightful cult status. The directorial debut of Adam Green (a filmmaker who has become someone to definitely watch following 2010's frightening ski-lift thriller "Frozen"), "Hatchet" delighted in cooking up crowd-pleasing—and bloodily over-the-top—death scenes, but was just as notable for its colorful ensemble and darkly comic bent. You laughed one minute, you screamed the next, and it was all in fun. That something goofy like "Hatchet" could not get an R-rating while bigger studio pics with far more disturbing and extreme violence, such as the "Saw" series, never have any trouble proves that there is an undeniable bias and hypocrisy when it comes to the MPAA's ratings process. Article continues below
Writer-director Adam Green returns now, three years later, with "Hatchet II," a direct continuation that picks up on literally the same frame that its predecessor ended on. Cutting the two films together would make for a three-hour horror epic, a gore lover's wet dream. The transition between the movies is nearly seamless, the only difference being an actor swap-out as the first movie's lone survivor Tamara Feldman is now played by talented veteran scream queen Danielle Harris (2009's "Halloween II"). "Hatchet II" was made for the fans and no one else—if you don't like high body-count pics along the lines of "Friday the 13th," it's best to steer clear—and as such is eager-to-please and more than admirable. Better yet, it's coming to mainstream AMC multiplexes in its true unrated form—the first of its kind to get such a release since 1985's "Day of the Dead."
The only passenger of an ill-fated New Orleans swamp tour to escape the wrath of deformed homicidal maniac Victor Crowley, Marybeth (Danielle Harris) returns to town with Mardi Gras gasping its last breath and seeks the help of Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd), the man pulling the strings behind the bayou excursions. Marybeth is dead-set on finding the bodies of her father and brother, who went missing a few days earlier while fishing, and wants Zombie to accompany her back to the swamp. Shielding his own ulterior motive—and with a rag-tag team of hunters in tow—Zombie agrees. Suffice it to say, few will be coming back alive.
With three times the kills and half the atmosphere, "Hatchet II" doesn't match the pure, unadulterated charm of its precursor. With the exception of a scene set in a dark closet, there is little suspense and few scares. Curiously, the slower-paced opening act, with Marybeth returning to civilization and preparing for a return battle, is more interesting than the serial slaying of the second half. We've seen that before, and somehow Victor Crowley isn't quite as shadowy and threatening this time around. Even so, director Adam Green outdoes himself in mayhem—each death is more auspicious and outrageous than the last—and he adds enough quirky personality to his stock chopping-block characters for them to entertain until they get the ax (or the electric sander, or the 10-foot chainsaw). The opening credits sequence, revealing the aftermath of each murder scene from the first film at dawn's light, is a neat touch, and clever references to "Frozen" and "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon" are the kind only avid horror buffs will pick up on. Call-backs to the original, from a hermit offering Marybeth an unsavory drink from his jug to Adam Green's cameo reprisal, show real effort and inspiration on the director's part.
Danielle Harris slam-dunks the emotionally demanding role of Marybeth, taking over the part from a different actress yet making it her own. Harris is a born heroine, small in frame but with just the right mix of toughness and vulnerability. She's joined by an eclectic cast that includes Tony Todd (2003's "Final Destination 2"), returning in the much beefed-up part of Reverend Zombie and chewing the scenery accordingly; Parry Shen (2002's "The New Guy"), a comic scene-stealer also back and portraying twin brother Justin to slaughtered tour guide Shawn; Tom Holland (director of 1985's "Fright Night" and 1988's "Child's Play") as Marybeth's protective Uncle Bob; Colton Dunn, a hoot as the obnoxious, fast-talking Vernon; and Kane Hodder (2003's "Monster") in the dual roles of Victor Crowley and Crowley's distraught father, Thomas.
"Hatchet II" follows a concrete formula and doesn't really deviate from it. Those who are familiar with "Hatchet" will know what they're in for, and should probably be able to guess whether or not they'll like it or not before they actually see it. The sequel is inferior in that it lacks the classic swamp tour setup and is a little more slapdash in its pacing, mood and almost mechanical adherence to the slasher blueprint, but it still gets the job done and devises some of the more inventive deaths in possibly horror history. Even if he's lost a little of his effectiveness this time around, Victor Crowley still stands as one of the great modern genre villains. With a bit more concentration on his ability to creep out and unsettle, there's no doubt more swamp stalkathons left in him.