Until recently I had not heard of Hatchet, despite having the great Kane Hodder star as Vincent Crowley, the vengeful deformed creature at the center of the movie's mythology. I have no idea how I didn't, but I was so disgusted with a good bit of horror from the 2000s that it doesn't surprise me that it would have gone under my radar. It's called Hatchet, after all, and that kind of keeps great expectations at bay, especially when the movie poster can't even show an actual hatchet.
Ben (Joel David Moore) is in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, but he's depressed after breaking up with his girlfriend and is not really into the celebration. Instead, he wants to go off on his own for a haunted swamp tour that he heard about. Out of pity his friend Marcus (Deon Richmond) decides to leave the rest of their friends and come along with him. However, the tour he heard about is closed, leaving him to book with a second-rate guide named Shawn (Parry Shen). Also along for the ride are midwestern couple Jim (Richard Riehle) and Shannon Permatteo (Patrika Darbo), amateur porn producer Shapiro (Joel Murray), his two bickering actresses Misty (Mercedes McNab) and Jenna (Joleigh Fiore) and a local woman named Marybeth (Amara Zaragoza).
While the first part of the tour is no great shakes, things really begin to go wrong when the boat runs aground near what turns out to be the remains of Victor Crowley's house. It turns out Marybeth came along because her father and brother were out hunting alligators and didn't come back, and she is afraid something happened to them because that particular part of the swamp is closed off. That is for good reason, as Crowley, though thought killed by a prank gone wrong years before, is very much alive and determined to kill anyone who comes into his woods.
The tagline for Hatchet is "Old school American horror." I do respect what writer/director Adam Green was trying to do, which was start an entirely new franchise at a time when everything was sequels and remakes and get back to old-school practical effects with a team led by John Carl Buechler. The makeup design for Crowley is amazing and Hodder gets to use his physical build to much better effect than he ever got to as Jason. It's Mardi Gras, so of course there's a good amount of breasts to kick things off, and the director's cut doesn't hold back at all on the blood.
Still, even with all these elements, the truth is that a lot of "old school American horror" films may have ambition and good effects but, just like the protagonists in the best of them, going off the beaten path is at one's own risk. For every Halloween or Friday the 13th there's a Leprechaun lurking in the depths of the old video or DVD racks. There were all the sequels to those movies (as there are for Hatchet as well), bringing ever-diminishing returns. It also doesn't help that, just like with music, movies made during the 2000s have aged worse than any other decade. Everything, from the attitudes of the characters, the references to Girls Gone Wild and the awful nu-metal theme song, screams out the decade it comes from.
There-in lies the problem with Hatchet. It has Hodder, it has cameos by Robert Englund and Tony Todd, but the movies they starred in back in the day, even if it was Jason Takes Manhattan, were so much better than this. In an effort to try to try to get horror fans excited about something new Adam Green forgot that it takes more than effects and a bit of respect for what came before; it also takes a good story. While Crowley's origin is one of the highlights of the movie, the rest is once again just people getting killed - adults instead of teenagers this time - one by one, with no reason to care that it's happening. By being dull Hatchet commits the worst horror movie sin it can.
Time: 93 minutes
Starring: Kane Hodder, Joel David Moore, Deon Richmond, Amara Zaragoza
Director: Adam Green