Does an exponential expansion of gore equate to an exhilarating sequel? Mark Lee thinks not, as he reviews the Hatchet II Blu-ray.
The original Hatchet arrived emblazoned with a ballsy tag line which resonated with a proportion of the jaded horror community; ‘It’s not a remake. It’s not a sequel. And it’s not based on a Japanese one’. The proliferation of tired remakes of horror classics (and a fair number of tired remakes of horror flops, too) had triggered an appetite for original, no-nonsense blood n’ guts. And Adam Green’s early career feature proved a tentatively pleasant surprise, as he fused juvenile comedy and slickly-executed gore around a swift and snappy plot to sate the desire for straight-out horror.
In the hiatus between the original and Green’s sequel, the writer/director busied himself with a healthy output of material, including a number of TV features, and the well received Spiral, and Frozen. Since the latter film in particular demonstrated Green’s ability to turn his hand to developing more effective and restrained tension (not to mention his decision to work with the promising young actress, Emma Bell), one could be forgiven for nurturing high hopes for Green’s return to the original story which made his name. Naturally, Hatchet II should embrace the silly humour and über-gore so liberally apparent in its predecessor, yet this time around the execution, far from benefiting from Green and crew’s increased experience, fails to capture the low grade black magic of the original.
The splatterfest starts as it means to go on, picking up directly from the closing scene of the original. Hatchet fans will notice that our female protagonist, Marybeth, has changed somewhat, thanks to the replacement of the impressive Tamara Feldman with Danielle Harris, and whilst the young yet experienced Harris plays with conviction, her delivery feels a little laboured and uncertain at times. Other actors exhibit similar problems, including, to some extent, Tony Todd (a familiar face to horror fans, from both the original Hatchet, and the legendary Candyman, where he played the eponymous urban nasty) in his reprised and extended role as Reverend Zombie, and Colton Dunn as Vernon, a character whose humour is only ever partially successful.
Whatever the shortcomings are with some of the performances, it’s the overtly cynical unfolding of the plot which is responsible for the failing here. Despite the exponential expansion of admittedly well executed and often blackly amusing death scenes (comedy gore fans will delight in the moment where a fisherman turns around to his friend after being sliced by Crowley’s axe), Hatchet II rapidly feels tedious. Green expands the mythology sketched out in the first film, yet as Todd’s Reverend gathers a band of misfits to hunt down the murderous Crowley in his native swampland, we know exactly what to expect, and the only remote element of intrigue is our base desire to see how each character will be dispatched – and with how much gore. When Marybeth asks the Reverend why he’s brought so many people out to hunt Crowley, he replies ‘safety in numbers’. Even with the supposed low plot expectations of horror’s gore seekers, an audience surely deserves better plot justification for a high victim-count slaughterfest.
I’m not suggesting that all-out gore circuses should be constructed within a framework of highly complex plot threads, and there are plenty of horror examples where threadbare plots are the ideal backdrop to a set of well-executed horror sequences. Yet without the exhilarating pace and humour of Green’s primary Hatchet, or in the absence of the build-up of tension showcased by the vastly superior Frozen, the graphic set-pieces feel somewhat diluted, and our attention gradually wanes.
It’s slickly shot, and the often delightfully ridiculous special effects are executed with undeniable aplomb. Yet while some viewers may be satisfied with the loosely connected set of impressive and hilarious death scenes, for many horror fans (and it just won’t extend its reach beyond a specific subset of genre fans) the sum total of Hatchet II simply won’t be enough to satisfy.
Arrow films continue their busy release schedule with Hatchet II on region B encoded Blu-ray. The movie is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with a resolution of 1080p, yet it’s regrettable that there are some issues with the transfer here. The transfer uses the MPEG-4 AVC codec, yet the quality is not consistent throughout the film. OK, so since some of the running time is dedicated to a deconstruction of the Victor Crowley mythology, there are a large number of flashbacks which demonstrate an intentionally grainy image. Yet the definition and clarity varies at other times too; the graininess wavers for the first 20 minutes, after which it settles down for a short amount of time and the sharpness of the image reaches what we would expect from a Blu-ray presentation. Alas, shortly afterwards, the sharpness reduces again, and this pattern repeats itself at various points in the film. This isn’t the worst of transfers you’ll see, and the quality is generally good, yet for a modern Blu-ray release, it isn’t up to the high standards of many of its contemporaries.
For all of that, the reproduction of colour is strong, and the many scenes shot in the dark forest (including the river scenes) demonstrate a pleasing separation of colour, with solid blacks to ensure these shots are suitably convincing.
In terms of technical details, the movie file is 19.6Gb, with the total disc size totaling 24.9Gb.
Since Hatchet II is released by Arrow Films, it arrives with a suitably upfront cover image which leaves viewers in little doubt of the contents.
As a short note, the Arrow web site states that the appalling attack on Sony’s Enfield warehouse has destroyed some of their stock, so I am unsure as to whether the movie will see the shelves in time for the release date.
Whereas the visuals suffer from the issues noted, the audio is cleanly presented using DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound. The clarity is strong throughout, with decent tonal separation. The musical score is enjoyable, with Ministry’s thumping industrial track Just One Fix making a robust entrance at the opening of the film, and Andy Garfield’s often orchestral musical accompaniment sounding pleasingly rich.
Regardless of my views on the film itself, I have to commend Adam Green for his dedication to providing lively and stimulating audio commentaries. His delivery during these accompaniments is always excited and absorbing, and the examples here are no exception. I actually enjoyed Hatchet II far more with the Audio Commentary with Director/Writer Adam Green, Cinematographer Will Barratt, and Special Makeup Effects Supervisor Robert Pendergraft. Clearly very comfortable in one another’s company, the discussion continues from the very opening of the film until the last credit, with Green even pointing out a typo during the closing credits. A number of interesting points are chewed over, including the replacement of female lead Feldman with Harris, the dedication of Tony Todd in his desire to understand the full personality of his Reverend Zombie character, and a mention of Danielle Harris’ amazing right eyebrow, which is often markedly higher than the left one; Green explains how the attractive Harris was more comfortable on the shots where her hair is allowed to drop down over the right eyebrow.
Green’s remarkable energy and enthusiasm continue throughout the second instalment, an Audio Commentary with Director/Writer Adam Green, and Actors Kane Hodder and Tony Todd. Green once again drives the conversation forward, making every effort to avoid repetition of the content from the first one (although there are a couple of occasions where stories are repeated). Hodder and Todd also prove engaging enough conversational partners, and Green’s comments on censorship of his movies, and a comparison of his flavour of horror to ‘torture’ style horror features makes for interesting listening.
Hatchet II: Behind the Screams is shot by one of the producers, and transpires to be a professionally done piece, with plenty of interviews, behind the scenes footage, and some handy storyboard segments presented alongside the eventual scenes as they appear in the film itself. At a half hour running time, this is an example of how ‘behind the scenes’ pieces should be.
Hatchet II: First Look is an eight minute promotional piece featuring some more content around the film, and was presumably shot as a taster to promote the film’s release.
Finally, we’re got a few snippets in the form of a TV Spot, a Teaser, and a frankly ridiculous Trailer.
Green is a filmmaker of proven talent to accompany his relentless enthusiasm and energy, yet Hatchet II fails to capture the lowbrow comedy and gore of the original shocker. The transfer has some minor issues surrounding the visuals, though there is some redemption in the form of the allocation of enjoyable extras. Lowering your expectations may ensure a decent enough late night viewing, so if well-executed comedy gore is singularly acceptable, you may be satisfied. For most viewers though, including fans of the original, the one-dimensional Hatchet II will inevitably disappoint.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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