The Film: Hatchet II (2010)

The Principals: Danielle Harris, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, Tom Holland. Written & Directed by Adam Green.

The Premise: Picking up seemingly seconds after the end of Hatchet, Marybeth (now played by modern-era scream queen Danielle Harris) just barely manages to escape the mutant bayou retard ghost slasher Victor Crowley and return to civilization. Once back to safety she promptly revisits Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd), who owns the ill-fated haunted swamp boat tour Marybeth was on in the first film. If you’ll recall (or not), in the first film Marybeth was looking for her father and brother, who both died in Hatchet‘s cold open. Well, she knows they’re dead now, but she really wants to get their bodies back, so she talks Reverend Zombie into returning her to the bayou to claim the corpses. Zombie knows the only way to do this is to kill Crowley once and for all, so he assembles a team of hunters to take Crowley down. Of course, they all fail spectacularly as Crowley plucks them off one by one.

Is It Good: That depends entirely on what criteria we’re using.

Is Hatchet II a good sequel to Hatchet? Yes. Most certainly. It is great.

On its own is it a good movie? Not so much. In fact, I found it extremely annoying. But I have to acknowledge that this dichotomy is there and that it makes the film somewhat critique-proof from me. Because by what logic does someone (me) who didn’t like the first Hatchet bitch about the sequel? Adam Green wasn’t out to fix things here, to finally “do things right.” While a great many people in the horror community were underwhelmed – even enraged – by Hatchet, it also has a huge number of rabid fans (the horror community is significantly more diverse than outsiders give it credit for). So on Hatchet II Green was working from the perspective that he’d fucking nailed it the first time around. Time to ramp shit up and do more of the same.

I hated Hatchet when I first saw it. And I even saw it with a packed audience in which Green did a Q&A afterward. The film came out during the height of the torture-porn backlash (again, a backlash that only pertained to part of the horror community), in which various films were being touted as a “return to form” to the glory days of the 1980’s. To me, these films always seemed to miss the point, coming off more like a lame bar-room white boy blues cover band and less like The White Stripes (to use a musical analogy). So I have to admit that Hatchet bothered me on a deeper philosophical level than the substance of the actual film I was watching. When I viewed the film a second time years later (again with a packed audience and Green doing a Q&A) the context of my rage had subsided and I was now able to see it for what it really is — an extremely average 80’s gonzo Slasher knock off with some spectacular kills. Far from seminal or particularly good, but certainly not hatable or even bad; if it didn’t get so much love from certain people I can’t imagine anyone saying it is “bad,” just “blah.”

Maybe I will see Hatchet II in a few years and like it significantly more. Impossible to say. But this time around I can’t see any external reason why I would find Green’s film so bothersome, except based on its own values.

All sequels are obviously aimed at the people who made the original film successful, and thus they tend to become more focused on those elements that were most popular — or at least those elements that the filmmaker was most drawn to (like Hellboy II). This is a given. This I expected from Hatchet II. What I didn’t expect was just how pandering the film was going to be. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a horror movie that was so blatantly and aggressively geared to play for a festival or convention audience. I knew I was probably in trouble when the opening credits ended on a cameo shot of Adam Green puking in the street while “Written & Directed by Adam Green” appears on the screen. And things don’t let up there. We get a TV epilogue to Green’s previous film Frozen, very stagy cameos from actors who have appeared in his other works, a ridiculous number of callbacks to the first film (including Parry Shen returning as the twin brother of his previous character), not to mention a cavalcade of appearances by notable horror icons, including directors Tom Holland and John Carl Buechler. There are no individual moments here that are particularly egregious – except maybe Buechler’s character watching an insufferably paced montage of footage shot by Joel Murray’s deceased Hatchet character – but the accumulation of them all eventually made the film feel like a video someone made for their high school English class — oh look, a cameo by our Social Studies teacher! And there’s Dave wearing that wig he wore for that project last semester! I remember that! Ha Ha!

Once more there are some gory fun kills, but I found them less enjoyable this time around mixed in with such a non-plot. Though I gotta give Green credit for upping the body count. At least he grasps the one thing that undeniably worked in the first film. I can’t say the same for his story. Marybeth’s motivation to return to the swamp makes no sense and it is frankly really uninteresting that we go back to literally the exact same location from the first film. If Hatchet III doesn’t involve Crowley leaving the swamp or at least going to a different area of the swamp, I think Green is going to need to give back his Promising New Horror Director badge — I don’t care what anyone thinks of Frozen. I’m not a huge Eli Roth fan, and I didn’t really like Hostel 2 but at least that film demonstrated that Roth understands the concept of advancing things and keeping shit fresh.

Tony Todd is always a treat to watch with his weird ass voice, and but the film criminally wastes the great Danielle Harris. I’m not sure why Tamara Feldman didn’t return as Marybeth but I love Harris so I’m not complaining. Alas, Marybeth sucks as a character and Green clearly doesn’t find her very interesting either, as she’s thoroughly buried in the film by the presence of all the badass hunters. All Marybeth does is cry and panic. Her only really great moment is at the very end in which she freaks the fuck out on Crowley — this is probably the best moment of the entire film. Hopefully she gets more to do in the third film.

Is It Worth Seeing: If you liked the first film I have to imagine you’ve already seen it. If you hated the first one, you’ll certainly hate this one too. If – like me – you have merely middling feelings about the first one, well, you’ll probably dislike this one. So… no, I guess it’s not really worth seeing unless you’re a horror completest and want to be able to comment on the film in an informed manner.

Random Anecdote: With Robert Englund getting killed in the first film, and Tony Todd finally crossing paths with Crowley, plus the appearance of Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III‘s R.A. Mihailoff – and Crowley of course being played by Kane Hodder – Jason, Freddy, Candyman and Leatherface have now all battled in this franchise.