Adam Green's 'Hatchet' is a little bit of an anomaly in the story of naughties horror, a shamelessly trashy throwback to the heydays of 80s slasher movies, mixed up with genuinely funny comedic dialogue and outrageously OTT practical gore effects. The resultant film was unpretentious late-night pure entertainment whose popularity amongst horror fans led to the inevitable question of whether it would ape its slasher inspirations and spawn a sequel. Well, a few years later and Green is now ready to return to the swamp with his original crew, and continue the story of Victor Crowley.
The film picks up immediately at the point that the first film abruptly ended, with Marybeth (now played by Danielle Harris) being attacked by Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) in the rowing boat on the swamp. Escaping (I won't say how), she returns to the town and seeks out tour-boat proprietor Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd). Wanting to return to the swamp in order to retrieve the bodies of her brother and father, she persuades Zombie to take her, whilst the Reverend puts together a posse of local hunters in order to kill off Crowley and reclaim the swamp once and for all.
To all intents and purposes, 'Hatchet II' (or, to be more accurate 'Adam Green's Hatchet II'), is fundamentally just more of the same. A group of people go into the swamp, there's some amusing moments, gloriously OTT gory deaths, and the originality and inventiveness doesn't extend beyond the splatter. Green does seem to have listened to some of the criticisms of the first film – there's less of that “people standing in a row” level of blocking, and some effort to provide more emotional character work. This is all centred around Marybeth, with the wonderful Danielle Harris taking over the character from Tamara Feldman and providing a strong dramatic core to the film. The trouble is that upon returning to the town, there's a run of character-driven scenes, which lack the witty banter of the dialogue scenes in the first film. Whilst the film does not lack all the comic elements of the first film, the humour is mostly relegated to the secondary characters, who are not as memorably well-drawn as those in the first film. It also means that the film does start to drag in the dialogue scenes, which the first film managed to avoid, and does make the film slightly uneven in tone.
However, once you get to the swamp the reservations do start to disappear. Green knows that the Hatchet films are fundamentally about Crowley killing people in the most inventively gory way he can, and on this level once the film reaches the swamp, it delivers in spades. Whilst not wanting to give too much away, a particular highlight is a sex-scene slaying, and if the (ahem) climax of the scene could be accused of that hoary old slasher cliché of misogyny, Green is quick to redress the balance in the next scene and give it to the guys just as bad. Whilst Reverend Zombie's cunning plan to stop Crowley is pretty guessable there is still a sense of genuine excitement once it starts to kick in as the film reaches its denouement. If it's mayhem you're after, make no mistake, the last half-hour of 'Hatchet II' delivers the goods big time.
It's great to see Tony Todd get what is essentially the co-lead this time around after his brief cameo in the first film, and he gives a terrific performance, capturing the spirit of the film perfectly. It's a pastiche of his more serious horror turns, walking a fine balancing act between Tony Todd-by-numbers and a full-on self-spoof, and somehow managing to come up trumps. It's also great to see more of Kane Hodder without the masks and make-up, and he handles dramatic moments (and yes, a sex scene) with aplomb.
As essentially a love-letter to the slasher genre, 'Hatchet II' is packed with geeky in-jokes, references and cameos, some of which are shamelessly obvious, some of which are blink and you'll miss it. It's a film that knows exactly what it is and simply wants to have as much fun with that as it can. If you disliked the first film, then there's nothing here that will change your mind about the merits of Victor Crowley. But if you're in synch with the sensibilities of the first film, then the expanded narrative and even more outrageous gory ultra-violent death scenes will put a big fat smile on your face. It's not exactly art (except maybe for its practical effects work!), but it is ridiculously fun and top late-night, beer and pizza entertainment.