The hardest monster to kill in the world of horror films isn't a supernatural being bent on revenge, it's franchising. Ever since John Carpenter brought the slasher genre to the big time with Halloween and in the process begot a neverending stream of sequels, remakes and successors, hulking horrors with weapons of their choosing have been the clearest and most problematic victim of the need for more more more. Adam Green was undoubtedly aware of this when he made Hatchet, which premiered to enthusiastic crowds at genre festival like Austin's FantasticFest back in 2006. A loving homage to the gritty, gory slasher flicks Green grew up on, Hatchet's charm came from the way it honored the subgenre's past with references to everything from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Slumber Party Massacre and worked in iconic monster actors like Robert Englund, Tony Todd, and the legendary Kane Hodder. But it was also an effectively scary film, hinging on the powerlessness of its cast against Kane Hodder's Victor Crowley, an unstoppable giant man-child who was the helpless victim of local bullies before being reborn as a terrifying killer.
Hatchet also had a clear ending that didn't necessarily warrant a sequel, and the poor box office returns seemingly guaranteed it wouldn't get one. Yet like Crowley himself, Hatchet came back from the dead in the zombie-like world of rentals, where the unrated edition more than made back the film's budget. In typical fashion, the sequel ramped up the gore and also added more horror icons, with cameos from Lloyd Kaufman, R.A. Mihailoff and others, as well as Tony Todd returning in a much more augmented role. But it suffered in two major ways- it lacked the vitality and verve of the original, and, worse, it just wasn't scary. So it's not too surprising that Hatchet III, which tellingly lacks Adam Green behind the camera, continues the franchise's descent into blandness.
Like Hatchet II before it, Hatchet III picks up right where the previous entry left off, this time with newcomer BJ McDonell (the cameraman for the prior two films) in the director's chair. Marybeth (Danielle Harris) stands over the seemingly defeated Crowley (Kane Hodder) and continues to shoot him in the head with a shotgun. He of course gets right back up until she manages to tear him apart with a chainsaw in a scene that would be more brutal if it was clearer, but it instead comes across a little too much like a gag from Green's excellent short film The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, where a Nazi soldier takes so long to die even the rest of the cast gets bored. From there, we get some standard set-up involving a sheriff's refusal to believe Marybeth's story, which leads to Marybeth being placed in custody while the first response team heads out to examine the crime scene which in turn leads to the entire police force of Louisiana descending on the swamp to fight and be killed by a now seemingly super charged Crowley.
Hatchet III's plot is of course all set-up, and that's not necessarily a deal breaker in horror. Horror fans don't expect characters to be filled with back story, or for there to be much of an explanation for why things are happening. But what horror fans do expect is for the scares and kill scenes to not be so clearly telegraphed they lose all thrill. Characters in Hatchet III have a habit of telling everyone who they are constantly, like the sheriff's reporter ex-wife Amanda (Caroline Williams), who points out she's the sheriff's ex-wife nearly every second she's on screen, that is when she isn't telling every single person her plan for killing Crowley. A basically anonymous police officer who freaks out early on and warns everyone that Crowley is going to kill them, but who happens to be carrying Chekhov's bag of over-the-top guns, is of course as unsurprised by his fate as the viewers. Even characters who appear to be smart and put together, like the sheriff and a female SWAT officer, commit baffling mistakes that they communicate are baffling mistakes as they make them. At one point, a random, anonymous survivor of the first response team runs across the screen, surprising the main batch of second response survivors, only to get himself killed immediately…by an alligator. The sequence serves no point other than to provide the original film's lead Ben (Joel Moore) with a nonsensical cameo.
The film's script is its main problem, and Green receives the blame for that, but the poor performances of the bulk of the cast don't help matters, nor does the new hyperpristine shooting style. The original Hatchet intentionally utilized the graininess of '80s horror to great effect, making for a murky viewing experience that mirrored the swampy surroundings. While the sequel was more modern in its aesthetic, Hatchet III takes it further, and that unflattering clarity causes many of the film's grisly kill scenes to fall flat, though the fact that many of them are simply recreations of kills from the previous two films adds to the problem. Does someone's head get pulled off? Yes. Does someone's head get stomped on? You bet, twice, in fact! Do guts fall out at some point? So many guts fall out.
An artless exercise in the horror equivalent of gags and pratfalls, Hatchet III works best as an argument against sequels. While Hatchet itself remains an underrated and highly self-aware modern horror flick, each sequel chisels away at the original's own awareness: how could someone as versed in horror as Green think it's a good idea to wear down his fans with increasingly inept sequels? And more importantly, what kind of swamp voodoo must we utilize to stop him?
Special Features: Standard crew and cast commentaries, featuring Adam Green, BJ McDonnell, Kane Hodder and more; a behind the scenes featurette; a featurette on Kane Hodder; and a featurette on the swamp locations used in the movie.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he's the last of the secret agents and he's your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Comics Bulletin, or at Panel Panopticon, which he started as a joke and now takes semi-seriously. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover and explore the world of his musical alter egos at Fitness and Pontypool.