When watching Bad Taste at Melbourne's Valhalla Cinema in the late 80's (how's that for cool retro name dropping?) I got the impression I was watching something more than just low budget schlock. I'm not going to claim that I predicted Peter Jackson's subsequently meteoric rise, but Bad Taste had a certain flair that made me think Jackson was capable of bigger and better things. After recently catching up with Hatchet I have to say that I had a similar feeling about its creator Adam Green...
In a prelude set in the Louisiana bayou, Hatchet starts with a couple of rednecks (Robert Englund and Joshua Ainsley) out at night huntin' for gators. Before you can say, "is it just me or is Robert Englund actually not that good an actor" the two rednecks meet a bloody gruesome end at the hands of someone or something far more more brutal than those harmless little 'ole gators.
After Englund collects his pay cheque, we catch up with Ben (Joel David Moore) and Marcus (Deon Richmond) partying at the nearby Mardi Gras. In what is the first sign that Adam Green doesn't have a lot of money, all the Mardi Gras shots are in close up, trying to fool the audience that a dozen or so extras are actually hundreds of revellers. It doesn't work but it hardly matters.
Ben and Marcus are quickly separated from the crowd, because Ben isn't in the mood for partying. He's recently split with his girlfriend and would rather go on a ghost tour of the local wetlands than get mixed up in the drunken debauchery of Mardi Gras. Marcus, quite rightly, tries to convince Ben that beer and women are better than swamps and ghosts. But, for reasons that are impossible for a mere mortal like me to comprehend, he fails.
When Ben and Marcus knock on the door of, ghost tour operator, Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd (are you seeing a pattern with the casting of the minor roles yet?)) instead of getting a warm welcome and a tour ticket they get an ominous warning about how unsafe it is to tour the bayou at night, and a refusal to take them there. At Ben's insistence the Reverend reluctantly recommends another tour operator. Again Marcus wants out of swamps and ghosts and in to beer and women, but Ben is hell bent of doing something more in tune with his current depressed mood.
Our two bantering, bickering, bosom buddies finally catch up with the one and only tour operator (Parry Shen) still taking people out into the wetlands at night and join a motley group of characters also taking the tour. We have just enough time to get to know these characters before the tour goes pear shaped. The group starts getting picked off and brutally carrved up, one by one, by someone resembling local legend Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder (surely you can see the casting pattern now?)), who we learn all about via an expository monologue delivered by the tour passenger Ben becomes keen on, Mary-Beth (Tamara Feldmen).
"...if you look to your left you'll see the heritage listed Crowley mansion, and immediately to your right a bloody bludgeoned corpse. Moving right along, just up ahead you'll notice..."
For the first two acts Hatchet actually plays more like a comedy than a horror, which is fine by me because it's actually funny. I've seen plenty of comedies that aren't as funny as Hatchet. Tony Todd is hilarious as Reverend Zombie, and Perry Shen is good value as the replacement tour guide. The banter between Ben And Marcus also had me laughing out loud on several occasions during the first two acts of the movie. If you're looking for a comedy and can stomach the over-the-top gore that's delivered in the prelude and last act, you could do a lot worse than Hatchet.
I guess for hard-core horror purists, however, the lack of scares on offer might be a disappointment. Ironically, when the movie sobers up and flies straight in the last act it actually become less entertaining. Writer/director Adam Green falls into the trap of having his protagonists doing inexplicably dumb things in order to confine the action to one place and allow his antagonist easy pickings. At one point, for instance, they all agree that fleeing is hopeless and they need to stay and fight. Uhm, OK. But after taking the fight to Crowley and temporarily knocking him down they then all agree that they need to flee, without finishing him off. What the?
Hatchet is not a great horror movie, but Green shows a lot of promise as a film-maker working with limited resources, and has a definite flair for comedy. Unlike when I saw Peter Jackson's first low budget shocker, I do have the benefit of some hind-sight in this instance. I've already seen Green's follow-up Frozen, which is in all respects a superior movie, and confirmation that Green is a genuine talent. Still, I had a good time with Hatchet which, despite its flaws, is a surprisingly enjoyable horror/comedy.