2017 Film Essays

Ten Years Later, Adam Green’s Cult Slasher ‘Hatchet’ Still Cuts

When Adam Green was first shopping around his throwback slasher Hatchet, a number of criticisms noted that he would proudly adorn marketing material for the movie. Among the comments: the flick isn’t a remake or a sequel, and — perhaps most demonstrative of the time in horror — it’s not based on a Japanese film.

Ten years later, with Bloody Disgusting suggesting 2018’s planned Halloween reboot might kick off a new slasher rebirth, it’s worth noting that Hatchet, and its deformed killer Victor Crowley, got there first. In fact, a whole Hatchet trilogy was released in the intervening years, inspiring an army of passionate, bloodthirsty devotees.

This might come as a shock to casuals, particularly the Annabelle-obsessed multiplex crowd, but it really shouldn’t. Each year brings more cries for the next great slasher villain, the next great Friday The 13th-esque slasher series. The trouble is that we’ve already had him (and it) for quite some time now.

At a slated 10th anniversary screening of the movie back in August, Green shockingly revealed to the gathered fans and media that they were actually going to watch Victor Crowley, the fourth installment in the Hatchet series — which, up until that very moment, nobody even realised was in development.

Similar to the previous year’s unfairly derided Blair Witch, a sequel to the infamous 1999 found footage shocker (which was originally marketed as an unconnected, standalone movie simply called The Woods), Victor Crowley was unleashed upon hordes of the same fans that had supported the movies since the outset.

Unlike Blair Witch, the response from those clamouring for another installment for years was pretty much universally positive.

Looking back at Hatchet and a decade loaded with horror movies both good and bad, what’s immediately striking is just how old school this defiantly “old school American horror” movie is. Green follows the template set down by 80s slasher behemoths such as the Friday The 13th series (in which Crowley actor Kane Hodder memorably played Jason Voorhees) and injects it with modernist meta humour a la Wes Craven’s celebrated Scream, itself the only 90s challenger to the slasher throne.

In keeping with this familiar aesthetic, the laughs come hard and fast — more so, arguably, than the scares. Green’s now patented sense of humour (most evident in his cult hit sitcom Holliston and monster mockumentary Digging Up the Marrow) is clear from the thrilling cold open featuring Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, chewing it up as a gator-hunting redneck who falls victim to an unseen killer.

From there, it’s a quick dash through the streets of New Orleans to get the cast of colourful characters into the swamp, where they’ll be left at the mercy of Crowley, who, similarly to Jason, may or may not be a ghost.

Although Hatchet seems kind of quaint nowadays, given its (charming) reliance on sticking to the slasher template (something that, Green discovered, wouldn’t make sense to studio heads at a time when the biggest horror releases were Saw sequels), the outlandish gore contained therein hasn’t aged a day.

If anything, moments such as when Crowley tears a character’s head clean open look more impressive 10 years on, created, as they were, with brilliantly gooey practical FX.

The Hatchet trilogy has a lovely DIY, proudly low-budget feel to it, and this is none more obvious than in the first movie, made with (likely literal) blood, sweat and tears by a ragtag bunch led by Green’s indomitable spirit (though, to be fair, most of the action takes place in forgiving darkness, papering over the cracks of a low-budget production). There’s a real commitment to making the gore as insanely over the top as possible, while Green trains his camera on it, always providing the money shot.

The writer-director sees his creation as an Elephant Man-style sympathetic villain (something that’s actually referenced by one of the characters in the first movie), and this is particularly evident in a sweet flashback sequence that sees Hodder, then known primarily as a stuntman and the dude behind the Jason mask, impressively playing Crowley’s father.

Back in 2007, when Hatchet was released, the horror marketplace was awash with torture porn and J-horror rip-offs. In 2017, filmmakers have gone back to the well with a real emphasis on old school shocks, particularly in the case of It, which is on course to be the biggest genre release of the year. Hatchet paved the way, knowingly or otherwise.

Funnily enough, its biggest competition will be out in force again with the Halloween release of Jigsaw, a reboot/sequel in the long-gestating franchise that surely only a select few are really anticipating. And Victor Crowley, which Green is touring, road show-style, around the country will technically be up against it again in October.

It’s worth noting that 10 years after Green was told his little slasher wouldn’t stand a chance opposite Saw, there’s considerably more fan support for Crowley. Green may not have envisioned his creation as bothering the likes of Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, but the current generation of filmmakers hasn’t produced a villain to rival him, aside from (I’m being very generous here) Jigsaw.

The original Saw is still a knockout, but its sequels provided increasingly diminishing returns. Hatchet, on the other hand, upped the ante with each new instalment (including Victor Crowley, which is an absolute blast), especially when it came to the all-important gore. This may be because the slasher template allowed more room for experimentation, whereas Saw painted itself into a corner with ever more elaborate traps.

Hatchet is resolutely simple, but such is its power. At less than 90 minutes, no time is wasted picking people off, but Green still makes sure to give the audience enough of a sense of who Victor Crowley is that his next appearance onscreen is always anticipated. This is played for laughs, too, naturally (most memorably when one character suggests going “that way” and points in the direction where a flashlight beam soon falls, revealing the killer is standing there waiting to pounce).

The years have been kind to Hatchet, suggesting that Green’s keep-it-simple, DIY mentality was the best way to go — something which, hopefully, based off the success of It and Get out, is also a lesson learned by studios in the intervening decade.

It’s rare to find a movie that pays homage to the good ol’ days while also paving its own way, but Hatchet is that. Green wears his influences on his sleeve, but as an original idea, the flick works considerably well in its own right, too.

Ten years later, Victor Crowley and his weapon of choice (definitely not a cleaver) still cut right through the competition, and it’s easy to imagine him eviscerating Jigsaw come October, at least in the minds of fans. Long may his reign of swamp-based terror continue.

Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.

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