Not to call this one critic-proof, but having already garnered considerable praise from other festivals, notably New York’s Tribeca, and clearly a love-letter from the director to 80s slasher flicks, it went down a storm at FrightFest 2006, hitting its target audience dead-on. Admittedly, directly following Pan’s Labyrinth it was a clear case of going from the sublime to the ridiculous, giving those who found del Toro’s latest subtitled effort too arty something with copious amounts of blood, boobs and brutality to feed their need. There’s no question but that it lives up to its poster’s billing of “Old School American Horror”, however.
Dumping his buddies to look for a ‘haunted swamp’ tour during New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, Ben and loyal Marcus join an amateur porn-maker, his breast-flashing wannabe starlets, an elderly tourist couple and a distant, edgy local girl on a boat driven by bogus guide Shawn. Trapped inside a storm-lashed bayou by a breakdown, the group run afoul of local legend Victor Crowley, a cross between The Elephant Man and Jason Vorhees. Will any of them survive the night?
When something succeeds on its own terms, however limited those may be, one has to ask if it is worth holding it to a higher artistic standard. Hatchet is everything the director intends it to be, a straight-forward slice-and-dice flick that offers much female toplessness in the first half-hour, then much blood and gore throughout the rest of the film. Cameos from Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger) and Tony Todd (Candyman), coupled with the casting of Friday the 13th parts 7 to 10’s Jason as the wielder of the titular instrument, are about as post-modern as it gets. The script is admittedly pretty funny, making the most of its stereotypes, and the actors (recognisable faces from all over the place, particularly US TV – fans of Buffy & Angel’s Harmony will be in hand-job heaven over McNab’s persistent toplessness) are all smart enough to play them straight, vacuousness and all, making their inevitable gory deaths just meaningful enough to the audience to induce the required frisson. The gore itself is reasonably inventive, with famed FX maestro John Carl Buechler pulling out all the stops for one particularly inventive 360° shot which moves smoothly from actress to dummy then getting her head torn open from the jawline! In the end, however, even if you have seen all the features in the Nightmare On Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th, House, Sleepaway Camp, Candyman, Hellraiser, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Slumber Party Massacre series, you have to ask yourself if a film that is barely a variant on these, to the degree that it looks as cheap as them (probably because it cost no more to make – the director did say it was a real struggle to get the film made) and can offer nothing more than the same again, whether such a film is worth your time and money. Even though all the above films can be found now on DVD in uncut form from one region or another, permitting extended repeats of them as often as one would like, the response at FrightFest would indicate for many a resounding yes, clearly as jaded as the director by endless remakes, sequels, and recent Asian horror. All congratulations to writer-director Adam Green for getting such a labour of love made, but unfortunately I cannot share in the enthusiasm – I really no longer need to see another such film, having seen so many in the past, and not when gifted film-makers such as Del Toro are feeding all my cinematic needs.
Hatchet is currently only screening at festivals.