Several months ago I saw a monster movie called Abominable, which is an affectionately tongue-in-cheek throwback flick that reminded me of stuff like Grizzly and Prophecy. And then I stumbled across Hatchet, which would make for a perfect double feature with Abominable, because it feels like an old-school slasher flick that's been hidden on a dusty shelf for the past twenty years. And yes, I mean that as a compliment. If you possess any affection for flicks like Friday the 13th, The Burning or (ha) Humongous, then you'll consider Hatchet a grade-A treat.
The directors of Abominable and Hatchet are just about my age, which tells me that my generation of horror geeks is poised to hit the indie circuit with a vengeance. (The indie circuit and beyond, hopefully.) Hatchet wears its genre love right there on its gore-soaked sleeve, and that's why I had such a good time with the flick. It's funny without being a parody, it's unapologetically gory, and it's packed with actors who are obviously having a real good time with the material.
The plot couldn't be simpler: A chintzy tour of a New Orleans swampland turns into sheer terror as a group of goofballs find themselves haunted and hunted by the legendary lunatic known as Victor Crowley. That's pretty much it, plot-wise.
But anyone who was raised on series like Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street should find a good deal to enjoy in Hatchet: The kills are frequent, ferocious, and freakishly gory*; the actors are surprisingly strong across the board; the tone is a masterful balance between creepy and kooky; and the flick hits all the right notes before ending precisely when it ought to. (Nothing's worse than a slasher flick that wears out its welcome.) Plus, old-school horror fans will have a ball picking through the various in-jokes and genre references. (* The flick had to suffer a few MPAA trims in order to earn an R rating, but even the theatrical version is pretty passionately gruesome -- and the DVD will be even splattier!)
Writer/director Adam Green is clearly a student of the slasher sub-genre, and his sophomore effort (after the little-seen Coffee and Donuts) indicates a young filmmaker who has both studied and admired the early-'80s hack-fests. (Luckily, filmmakers like Green display strong affection for the slasher flicks -- but never once imply that they're brilliant films.) The festival audiences with which I enjoyed Hatchet were whooping it up with the creatively nasty kills, chuckling along at the geeky gags, and basically cheering for all the obnoxious characters to get theirs but good. It was a communal piece of movie-watching, and it reminded me of an opening night crowd for Halloween 4 or Friday the 13th Part 6. (Easily one of Jason's finest adventures.)
Lead actor Joel Moore, probably best known as Owen in that hilarious Dodgeball flick, anchors the movie quite effortlessly. Potential victims Deon Richmond (the best buddy), Tamara Feldman (the good girl with a secret), and Parry Shen (the inexperienced tour guide) keep the movie colorful in between all the dispatches -- and the background of Hatchet is pretty much packed to the gills with horror geek heroes: Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, and John Carl Buechler. Hell, the director even gives himself an early cameo -- and is funny!
And yes, there is pointless female nudity.
So after months and months on the festival circuit, Hatchet is finally making its theatrical debut, thanks to the genre slingers over at Anchor Bay. The flick opens today (September 7) in about 80 theaters, and the hope is that the flick will 'go wider' if the horror geeks do their part. I realize that "I'll wait for the DVD" is a practical approach to most gory horror movies, but in the case of Hatchet I'd ask you to make an exception. With Rob Zombie's Halloween raking in huge cash, a 'grass roots' semi-hit for Hatchet would send a message that R-rated horror is not even remotely dead. Frankly I can't imagine the slasher fan who wouldn't dig Hatchet, but (after waiting all this time for the theatrical release) I'm very curious to see what the horror hounds have to say about it.