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Truth be told, this is quite a difficult review to write, because despite great little moments, HATCHET II is not very good—and moreover, it’s a disappointment. However, the buzz for this sequel and the circumstances under which it’s opening make it a bit bigger of an issue than simply reviewing a film I didn’t particularly like.
First, despite my own opinion, many will love HATCHET II. It’s ingrained in their blood, and as I’ll discuss further down, I do believe the film delivers much of what they’re looking for. Second, there’s the much-publicized and hyped wide-ish release (by a major theater chain, no less) of the unrated and uncensored version. It’s the biggest debut of its kind in some time, which, depending on how you feel about the subject, could render harmful opinions irrelevant. Some might feel it necessary to sidestep negative reactions to support what could be an exciting first step in larger rollouts of unrated, challenging and alternative cinema.
As many fans already know, HATCHET II (once again written and directed by Adam Green) begins the moment the first ends, with Marybeth (now essayed by the much-adored Danielle Harris) being terrorized in the water by Victor Crowley (a returning Kane Hodder). Upon escaping, she’s taken in by Louisiana swamp recluse Jack Cracker (John Carl Buechler, also encoring), who’s happy to help—until he learns just whose daughter she is, foreshadowing all that the audience is about to learn of the origins of the swampland slasher. Before he himself is dispatched in one of the film’s best deaths (in fact, no matter where you sway on the rest of the movie, it’s hard to dispute each kill is pretty great), Jack directs Marybeth to the abode of Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd, whose cameo presence in the first is beefed up considerably to second lead), who will make everything much clearer for her. What results is a host of secrets revealed about Crowley, his father, his birth and his death—and the decision to round up a band of hunters to take out the monster once and for all.
Up until the makeshift squad embarks on their mission, HATCHET II moves along nicely, keeping up a lot of the previous film’s genuinely fun atmosphere and even delving into a bit of darker, angrier territory (there’s an eerie little moment amidst the flashbacks, involving Thomas Crowley’s dead wife, that may be the film’s best bit). Todd is clearly having an excellent time hamming it up, and despite her faux occasional Southern accent, Harris puts her all into Marybeth. There are also plenty of nice in-jokes throughout the first half, including a “Jack Chop” sign displayed on Rev. Zombie’s wall and a clever and very welcome reference to Green’s FROZEN. Reverend Zombie’s motivational roundup (which I’ve dubbed “the cookie scene”) contains a bunch of neat little cameos, including THE CONVENT director Mike Mendez and Lloyd Kaufman, and there’s even a nod to BEHIND THE MASK. By the end of the sequence, a team consisting of Marybeth, her Uncle Bob (FRIGHT NIGHT writer/director Tom Holland), Rev. Zombie, Justin (Parry Shen, playing the twin brother of the first film’s Shawn), Trent (former Leatherface R.A. Mihailoff) and Layton (THE SIGNAL and HOUSE OF THE DEVIL’s AJ Bowen) make their way into the swamp. Also along for the ride is Layton’s ex-mistress Avery (Alexis Peters), the ever-annoying Vernon (Colton Dunn) and good ol’ boys Cleatus (Ed Ackerman), Chad (David Foy) and John (Rick McCallum).
Here’s where HATCHET II loses steam. The stretch of time from Zombie’s shop to the point when Crowley starts popping up and offing the cast, and the subsequent periods between the kills, are often tedious—filled with lame jokes/one-liners and a constant repeating of information. I was hoping the film would differ from the original in its character types, but the hunters (aside from Mihailoff, who, as expected, is bad-ass) often act just as stupid as those young, dumb kids, except here the comedy falls flat. The most notably irritating is Vernon, who is to some degree meant to be a pain in the ass, but far exceeds that and comes off nothing short of grating. There are exceptions, like Layton and Avery’s love scene, but otherwise it’s just a matter of waiting for the next gruesome kill.
Yet while the demises are spectacularly over-the-top (the sex decapitation, extra-long chainsaw and Crowley’s final piece of art are true highlights), they aren’t supported by a foundation of good storytelling. The last half of the movie is a simple formula of two characters walking out on their own, having a quick bit of dialogue and are being taken out.
I suspect many fans won’t have much of a problem with this, and some may find hilarious what I didn’t. But the hype for Victor Crowley’s return has been overwhelming, and however awesome the bloodshed is, there might well be a contingent of the moviegoing audience who’ll be a little saddened the whole experience wasn’t as entertaining as they hoped. And while I wasn’t enamored of the film, part of me still wants to encourage fans to get out there and see it to support horror and unrated releases in general.
Green is definitely talented (as he truly showed with FROZEN), and unlike many, I didn’t consider the idea of returning to HATCHET a step back, but it seems as if he didn’t apply much of what he honed or learned on that suspenseful chiller here. HATCHET II does have its fun moments, and midnight screenings will no doubt be a good time (and for a film of this nature, perhaps that’s all you should be worried about), but ultimately, like the first, it may become a victim of its own ads’ and festival reviews’ hyperbole—and what might really prevent it from being a success is lack of replay value.
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