Even writer/director Adam Green is aware that a lot of hype began to build around his film soon after he created a teaser trailer, shot on video, and designed to help sell the film's concept of a tongue-in-cheek slasher film, made in the style of the eighties horror flicks.
Hatchet, Green's second feature-length film, manages to evoke a lot of the qualities that make eighties slashers so popular among horror fans. As in Britain, violent horror films were among the first movies released on VHS and Beta, and video labels were initially able to release on tape uncut versions with all the gruesome naughty bits.
On the plus side, Adam Green walks a very fine line between comedy and horror, and the film successfully celebrates the stupidities of the genre as well as the gory effects that made it so shocking. On the DVD's excellent commentary track, Green cites a clear shift in horror effects: while the elasticity of latex fell out of vogue and gave way to phony CGI effects during the nineties, Green's revisitation of practical, flexible gore offers a more tactile shock, and allows the actors to witness some truly disgusting effects – revving up their performances, and synchronizing them to some horrific and disgusting images.
Films like Wrong Turn managed to keep the gross and sadistic violence high with some nasty, shocking blends of practical and CGI effects, but there's something special in seeing a face torn apart by ripping the jaws past their hinges; it kind of goes back to the old stop-motion films from the thirties and forties, which had a T-Rex getting its own maw stretched past the cracking point by a giant gorilla, leaving the dead creature on its back with frothy muck bubbling from its mouth.
There are practical effects within the torture porn genre, but the slasher film is meant to guide and cheat audiences into moments of peace and lighthearted tranquility before an act of ridiculously bloody violence, like a character getting his arms torn off and having his torso slammed against a tree followed by a big wet splat.
Like Scream, Hatchet follows specific rules to ensure it doesn't obsess on human suffering like Hostel; the death are supposed to be over the top, the characters have to be kind of whiny and annoying – even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) had a few twits we didn't miss once the saw was plunged into their groins – but Green's script has one serious flaw that sets it apart from Scream: it lacks a genuine mystery, so once the misanthropic characters become stranded on an island, the film becomes a straightforward body-count film, with few of the characters actually evolving beyond genre caricatures.
In spite of strong performances by Joel Moore and Tamara Feldman, the topless bimbos stay stupid, Ben's best buddy remains a wise-cracking penis unmoved by the overall danger, and the killer mutant child is a mild variation of Halloween's The Face, popping up with various implements without much logic. That conceit does allow some spectacularly gross deaths – including a gas-powered belt-sander – but the whole thriller ride concludes with an obvious nod to the finale of Friday the 13th (itself borrowed from Let's Scare Jessica to Death).
Without a genuine mystery, the film lacks an edge, and even the veteran special wizards hired for the film – John Carl Buechler – acknowledges an overuse of specific bodily trauma needs sparing application to avoid audience boredom. So while the first half is a lot of fun (blood, boobies, and silliness), once stranded on the island with Victor Crowley roaming the woods, Hatchet runs out intrigue and maintains a rather narrow focus on deaths, with us waiting for the survivors to either live, or die in one big swoop.
Limitations aside, there's no denying Green knows how to set up the shocks for a fun ride, and he excels beyond the generic direct-to-video productions; in spite of his characters' limitations, he respects them and doesn't smother their weaknesses with editorial flourishes or a vain ersatz visual style designed to draw attention to a director's attempts at being clever genre stylist.
That's one of the rewarding aspects of the DVD's extras, as Green and his production team coalesced into a supportive filmmaking group because they often shared a special fondness for vintage slasher films; that's why some of the genre's icons – Richard Englund and Kane Hodder, often stuck in direct-to-video junk – admit to regarding the project as something unique.
The other facet that emerges from the DVD's well-produced extras is Green's faith in independent filmmakers reaching their goals through hard work and luck; he's an example who refused to settle for failure when things weren't going all that well. Initially doomed to hit video shelves before theatre screens, Green and is partners ponied up the cash to arrange a screening for distributors who were clearly passing on the film amid a packed film festival, and his efforts to publicize the screening paid off with a theatrical distribution deal.
There's also a great featurette with Green and Twisted Sister's Dee Snider, who oddly became a supporter of Green's efforts to realize his first film, the little-seen Coffee & Donuts (2000), made for $400, and filmed using equipment from a cable company not used at nighttime.
There's some slight anecdotal repetition among the commentary track with the director, cinematographer, and actors and the lengthy making-of featurette, but overall the featurettes - spanning gore effects, killings, and Kane Hodder's practical jokes - aren't full of the painfully self-congratulatory pap that's made most DVD extras awfully dull. A number of filmmakers tend to use the featurettes as venues to establish a persona – pop culture auteur, social commentator, etc. – so it's kind of jarring to see Green as an affable guy who loves what he does without the prima donna complex that bleeds from the fawning promo-styled extras accompanying the films of the genre's most recent egotistical directors and camouflaged hacks.
Green's next film is Spiral, a thriller co-directed with actor Joel Moore.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan