Blu-ray Review: Hatchet III – Unrated Director’s Cut
Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 at 10:00 am
Hatchet III Unrated Director’s Cut Blu-ray | DVD
Directed by BJ McDonnell
Starring Danielle Harris, Zach Galligan, Caroline Williams Dark Sky Films
Release Date: August 13, 2013
The latest installment of Adam Green‘s extra-bloody slasher movie saga Hatchet III has arrived in full force on Blu-ray, but unlike the first two movies, Green did not direct this one. He both wrote and produced the new movie, but decided prior to filming to hand directing duties off to newcomer BJ McDonnell – Green’s cinematographer on the first two Hatchet movies. When the original premiered on the film festival circuit in late 2006 and arrived briefly in theaters and on home video a year later, horror fans who had long been swamped by turgid remakes and watered-down PG-13 studio offerings lapped up every drop of crimson grue dripping from its celluloid frames. Though far, far from being a box office success, Hatchet‘s explosive popularity with fans warranted the requisite sequel.
Arriving almost five years later and with little of the fanfare that greeted the original when it debuted, Hatchet II briefly wormed its way into the national mindset once the news broke that it had been pulled from most theater chains due its being released without an MPAA rating. The seemingly manufactured controversy (which reminded me of the mild uproar over homophobic slurs used in Eli Roth’s first Hostel movie that was kept alive on the letters page of Fangoria for a brief period in 2006 mostly through the efforts of the director himself) couldn’t help Hatchet II build a fraction of the cult following earned by its predecessor and overall audience reaction was unimpressive. However, it did well enough for a prospective third movie to get the green light, which brings us to the present day and Hatchet III.
Marybeth Dunston (Danielle Harris) has just killed Victor Crowley. Or so she thought. After obliterating the face of the deformed psycho whose horrific exploits have haunted Louisiana’s Honey Island Swamp for decades with a shotgun and then cutting him down the middle with his own chainsaw, Marybeth walks into the Jefferson Parish Police Department with Crowley’s scalp in her hand and his blood all over her. Sheriff Lewis Fowler (Zach Galligan) orders her arrested and refuses to believe her story of Crowley returning from the dead and killing the hunting party she went after the monstrous killer with in the previous sequel. Fowler and his men journey out to the swamp to verify her version of the events and discover countless mutilated corpses, all bearing Crowley’s gruesome handiwork, but have trouble buying that Marybeth could have been responsible for the massacre.
The only person coming to her aid is Amanda Perlman (Caroline Williams), a local reporter and self-proclaimed expert on all things Victor Crowley – not to mention the ex-wife of Sheriff Fowler – who believes Marybeth is innocent and knows just how to destroy Crowley once and for all, but she will need the younger woman’s help since her family has a dark connection to the killer’s past. A state S.W.A.T. team commanded by the gung-ho Tyler Hawes (Derek Mears) arrives on the scene to join the police in their search for the killer while Perlman breaks Marybeth out of police custody with the reluctant help of Deputy Winslow (Robert Diago DoQui) and go searching for the man who holds the key to ending Crowley’s reign of terror. In no short time, Crowley returns stronger and angrier than ever and begins knocking off Fowler and Hawes’ team in spectacularly violent fashion. Tonight, come hell or high bloody water, the Hatchet series will come full circle.
Making slasher movie sequels is a profitable yet creatively thankless task; the genre strives on familiarity and adhering to a simple formula. All you really need is an indestructible psychopath, a gaggle of potential victims collectively lacking in brain cell activity, an isolated location offering plenty of unique killing opportunities, and lots of stage blood and gore. The better examples of the slasher sequel are usually successful because they manage to offer plenty of style and clever surprises amidst the routine proceedings. Hatchet III has style and bountiful bloodshed to spare, but anyone who has seen a movie or two like this before will find nothing surprising. But like getting on a rollercoaster you’ve rode in the past, just because you pretty much know exactly what to expect doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun in the long run.
Hatchet III gives longtime fans of the series everything that they crave, and its readily apparent that originality and wit are not on that hallowed list. It’s a gorehound’s delight with a modicum of plot to string the plentiful visual effects set pieces together to create the illusion of being an actual piece of film. In the end it works just fine. Green and McDonnell came up with a satisfying end to a series that had long run its course, but at least provided some decent work for old school horror actors and FX men adrift in the unforgiving world of modern Hollywood. It’s always nice to see the undervalued Zach Galligan (Gremlins, Waxwork) and Caroline Williams (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) get to sink their teeth into some interesting parts. I never thought Galligan could be a credible hardass cop, but he spits and snarls almost every line of dialogue he has and comes across as a good movie version of a cynical law enforcement officer. As always Williams brings charm, energy, and genuine likability to her role and gives the only worthwhile performance by an actress in the entire Hatchet series.
Danielle Harris, as an actress, has never grown on me. I like her just fine but none of her past performances could be considered impressive, Stake Land notwithstanding. Being saddled with a poorly-written character in Hatchet III doesn’t help matters at all. Marybeth is supposed to be the heroine of the trilogy and yet here she has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the plot even though the chance is presented to finally put Victor Crowley away proper. Seeing as how her family is intimately connected with the Crowleys and thus has to play the greater role, the decision to make Marybeth the most reluctant of all of the characters is a severe mistake. I can understand why she wouldn’t be the most thrilled to confront Crowley so soon after their last encounter and that makes a serviceable justification for her actions during the first act. But after that she needed to become more proactive rather than have Amanda dictate her every move for the entirety of the story. Battling Crowley and surviving with her body and soul barely intact two times prior when all else have bitten the big one the first time should have built Marybeth into the badass to shame them all. The lack of direction for the character cripples any chance Harris had of really coming to the forefront this time around and taking her place in the pantheon of horror movie heroines, but at least Green gave her some funny vulgar dialogue. It’s a minor consolation.
In one of his rare acting turns out of the make-up chair, Derek Mears looks and carries himself well as the swaggering S.W.A.T. cop in charge Hawes. You know the asshole is going to die and beautifully and Mears is highly enjoyable until his inevitable downfall. Parry Chen makes his third straight appearance in the Hatchet series playing a different ineffectual Asian character. In one scene where another character is discussing the events of the first movie and describes one of Crowley’s earlier victims as looking just like him, Chen takes visible umbrage at the remark but fans of the series will get the in-joke that the victim from Hatchet was also played by the same actor. There are a few digs at the previous movies inserted into this sequel – at one point after listening to Marybeth’s outrageous recounting of the events of the first two movies, Sheriff Fowler says, “That has to be the stupidest story and some of the most idiotic and contrived decision making I’ve ever heard.” Cut to another prisoner looking annoyed by that remark. And that prisoner? Hello there, Mr. Green. There are also a few surprise cameos including one from a previous Hatchet cast member that earns one of the movie’s biggest laughs in my book.
Most horror movies like Hatchet III have to have at least one character who spends their every second of screen time spouting multiple variations on the line “We’re all gonna die.” Aliens had Bill Paxton and his legendary catchphrase “Game over, man! Game over!”; McDonnell’s flick has Cody Blue Snider (son of Twisted Sister’s Dee and brother of comics creator and musician Jesse Blaze) as the oh-so-freaking-annoying Deputy Schneiderman. He’s an even bigger macho douchebag than Mears’ character and his big moment with a rocket launcher and a perfect target in a briefly vulnerable Crowley has a terrific pay-off. The deliriously gory death scenes are the real draw of these movies; executed in-camera with little or no CGI assistance, the bloody kills of Hatchet III are the most twisted and imaginative the series has yet produced. For those of you possibly interested in seeing this movie, I won’t spoil them all for you, but just know that you will get to see a vital part of the male anatomy hanging from a tree, people torn limb from limb by Crowley’s bare hands, and blood spraying like Vegas hotel fountains. There’s also a severed head used as a projectile weapon. That’s it, no more spoilers.
Kane Hodder, the Sean Connery of Jason Voorhees actors, is a fearsome and hulking delight. Despite being buried under mounds of disfiguring make-up, Hodder’s immense physicality and body language help sell the character of Victor Crowley as the rampaging beast everyone knows him to be. McDonnell does an excellent job his first time on directing duties; he borrows visual ideas from some of Spielberg’s movies, like the ever-popular scenes of light beams cutting through the darkness. Honey Island Swamp is a perfectly ideal spot for a Gothic killing ground with the hanging moss of its trees looking like they could reach down and grab a human snack at any moment. They don’t, but if a voodoo curse can keep a bloodthirsty mutant mass murderer coming back to life to kill and kill again then just about anything is possible these days.
Dark Sky’s 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of Hatchet III is powerful stuff. Grain content in minimal, print defects are nonexistent, and the geysers of stage blood look plenty wet and red. If this movie had been filmed in 3D a complimentary poncho would be a necessity. English and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Turn this sucker up loud. The Blu-ray’s sole audio option is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. This channel packs plenty of kick in the sound department. Dialogue and music mixes are strong and well-balanced, but your ears might pop from the force of the sound effects mix. Every juicy and crunchy detail is boosted to maximum effect, giving the many gory death scenes surprising force and impact.
Extras kick off with two audio commentaries: on the “crew commentary,” Green and McDonnell are joined by cinematographer Will Barratt and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft, and for the “cast commentary,” only Hodder joins his writer and his director in the recording booth. Both tracks provide an ample amount of production stories, lousy jokes, and backslapping, and fans of the franchise will find them entertaining and essential.
Three brief featurettes are also included: “Hatchet III: Behind the Scenes” (9 minutes) is full of footage from the filming of certain scenes; “Raising Kane” (5 minutes) shows Hodder getting into his Crowley make-up and conversing with the effects crew responsible for his frightening on-screen appearance; and finally we have “Swamp Fun” (9 minutes), an assemblage of various cast and crew members goofing off between scenes and complaining about the bugs. It’s fun if you want to see Zach Galligan do his Ozzy Osbourne impression.
A minute-long teaser trailer, theatrical trailer (2 minutes), and upfront previews for Stitches, Manborg, Sleep Tight, and Frankenstein’s Army round out the bonus features.
Everything about Hatchet III has been done before and better, but not bloodier. This is as all-you-can-eat gore and blood buffet that brings Adam Green’s fun slasher throwback franchise to an entertaining close. If there are further sequels, it will be hard to top this one.