Review: “Hatchet II” (2010)

hatchet_2_poster01

A few years ago a new slasher franchise proclaiming its roots in “old-school ’80s horror” (a phrase I notice is used primarily by people whose movies I hate) made a splash on the festival circuit and limited release. But though ’80s slashers are my favorite horror films, I found very little to like in Hatchet – a clumsy exercise in imitation that brought nothing new to an old genre except for a grating air of smug self-awareness.

So when I approached Hatchet II, it was with sincere hopes that the failings of the first film were rooted in budget constraints and the missteps of a young director.

Turns out that when it comes to homages to the golden age of American horror, Hatchet II is literally just twice the hatchet-job.

Hatchet II picks up where Hatchet left off … which for me could have been pretty much anywhere, since I don’t remember much of anything from the first movie other than how much it annoyed me. But apparently the finale involved a young girl named Marybeth being tackled in the Louisiana swamp by a standard-issue hillbilly mutant named Victor Crowley (a great name, I’ll give ‘em that).

hatchet2harrisshowerDanielle Harris

In a switcheroo akin to Back to the Future II‘s spontaneous Elisabeth Shue-ing, in this installment Marybeth is played by Danielle Harris, the little girl from the middling Halloween sequels who has lately been celebrating her comeback to horror films by getting systematically abused in Rob Zombie remakes. Welcome home, jellybean!

Harris is one of the three things that I actually liked about Hatchet II, so I’ll take a moment here to give her some props. Asked to carry off a nearly impossible feat – make a character who has just witnessed a massacre and found the bodies of her family and is clearly at her wit’s end NOT get on your nerves after about 2 minutes of hysterical blubbering – Harris does an admirable job. She’s in overdrive for pretty much the whole movie, and she somehow manages to not tip into overacting and shrieking annoyance, which is really pretty admirable.

hatchet2toddTony Todd

Anyway, after she makes it out of the swamp and back to New Orleans, she learns from Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd, doing his best Harvey Fierstein voice) that her father was one of the three kids who caused Crowley’s death.  Zombie assembles a ragtag group of hunters and fishermen to retrieve his boat and hunt Crowley, and we have just enough of a plot to give an excuse to go through this whole thing a second time.

At this point we enter into a long stretch of excruciatingly tepid dialogue, unfunny jokes and embarrassing in-crowd nudges (ooh, Lloyd Kaufmann! How on earth did they land HIM!?) that seems to last about 2 hours. It’s unbearable. Seriously – if you’re thinking of seeing this movie because of the whole “first unrated wide release movie ever blah blah” thing, show up to the screening an hour late and you’ll be better off.

Eventually the walking targets make it back to the same nondescript swamp and shack from the first movie and shit gets fucked up. The bit players are uniformly uninteresting (especially the wretched “comic relief”) except for AJ Bowen (adorably creepy in The House of the Devil), who delivers the movie’s one genuinely funny bit during an unfortunate sex scene.

hatchet2harrisaxeEven Danielle Harris wants her money back

We finally get to the only reason most people are seeing this movie in the first place: the over-the-top deaths. I do applaud the filmmakers for sticking to their “no CGI” guns and pulling off some incredibly bloody moments, but most of the kills are too stagey and unoriginal to have much impact.

Most are played for laughs (the guys who get the chainsaw in the crotch lose their testicles! The fat guy is strangled with his own intestines!), so when the tone does turn very dark for one of the more intense eviscerations (the one involving the belt sander)  it sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s as though the filmmakers were so slavishly devoted to one-upping the movies that they are mimicking (which range from the TCM remake to American History X, of all things) that they completely forgot that the movie has to have a cohesive tone. Eh – details, shmetails!

Throughout, Hatchet II is determined to convince the audience of its competence and street cred by dropping names and references like so many breadcrumbs in the woods. Directors John Carl Buechler (Troll) and Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play) both have large roles. Why? No idea. I can’t imagine 90% of the audience will notice or care, and it’s not like they bring any magic to the thankless parts. But then again, had the real aim of the movie been to scare or entertain rather than to convince the world of the coolness of the people behind the camera, this would have been a very different movie overall.

So that’s all I’ll say about Hatchet II. I gave it a shot despite my dislike for the first movie, but it is just a second helping of the same self-congratulatory schlock. If a few exploding blood bags and smashed prosthetic heads make it worth it for you to splash out $12 for a movie ticket, then go ahead and check it out. Otherwise enjoy at home, where you have the luxury of fast-forward.

RATING (OUT OF 5):

ReviewOneSkully

Hatchet II is UNRATED AND UNCUT GWAAARRRRRRR!!! for graphic violence to dummies, gratuitous name-dropping and the return of Perry Shen (yes, he’s back. Suffer.)


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