“Hatchet 2” begins abruptly, picking up only seconds after the end of the first film and plunging us head-long back into that haunted piece of steamy, moonlit Louisiana swampland known (rather incongruously) as Honey Island, without so much as a pause for breath, let alone a scream. The first film’s ‘final girl’, Marybeth Dunston (now played by today’s horror scene’s no 1 scream queen, Danielle Harris), is still frantically struggling for her life against the giant, dungaree-wearing mutant slayer known as Victor Crowley, in what amounts to an affectionate re-staging of the lake dream sequence from the final moments of the original “Friday the 13th”. Writer-director Adam Green’s follow-up to his original hip, smash-hit, cult tribute to that blood splattered cannon of classic ‘80s slasher flicks, is full of such insider homages , frequently taking the form of in-jokes and fleeting cameos under the banner of what is here made a much bigger, bolder, fleshed-out scenario, re-launching the freaky mutant murderer who is essentially an amalgam of Freddie Kruger (he’s a ghostly supernatural killer, so can appear anywhere at any time with scant regard for logic or geography), the pre-hockey mask ‘mongoloid’ version of Jason Voorhees ( shabby denim dungarees would make Victor a fashion laughing stock if his victims actually had the time to deride his sartorial inelegance before finding that their spinal cords has just been yanked through their gaping mouths or that their brains were being diced with a sand plainer), and the monstrous gigantism of the lumbering inbred killers from “Just Before Dawn” – that film providing the most obvious pedigree precursor for the Hatchet franchise’s priority concern, which is finding the most outrageous, ridiculously over-the-top and gore-drenched methods of dispatching the largest number of hapless fodder in the shortest time possible.
The rubbery-faced Crowley looks like a melted mash-up of Chucky and the Toxic Avenger, and the Troma sensibility is indeed never far from the surface of Green’s body count opus. Clocking in at a laudably concise 85 minutes, “Hatchet 2” doesn’t pretend to offer anything much else apart from a string of knowing, grossly violent to-the-point-of-cartoony bloody kills one after another, leavened with knowingly gratuitous female nudity and a soupcon of fan-centred humour, one of the highlights being Colton Dunn doing a Candyman impersonation to Tony Todd’s face. And after climaxing by paying tribute to Tom Savini’s exploding head effect in “Maniac”, “Hatchet 2” follows the example of the first film by cutting impatiently to the end titles with no tolerance whatsoever for the usual courtesy rituals of end-of-film wrap ups, having also now supplied a rationale for Crowley’s relentless sprees of nightly butchery which appears to guarantee future episodes in the franchise should anyone wish to provide them, no matter what kind of apparently fatal injuries or debilitating mutilations are inflicted on Crowley’s outsized person over the course of each film.
After opening to much acclaim at the 2010 Frightfest festival in London, “Hatchet 2” found itself on the receiving end of an even bloodier hatchet job curtsey of the MPAA in the U.S., losing two minutes of gore in the R-rated version, while the much trumpeted unexpurgated cut was pulled from theatres after three days because of a complicated set of circumstances involving the AMC theatre chain which was supposed to be screening it in 64 outlets, all of which Adam Green explains in detail on one of the two commentaries on this Blu-ray edition. It’s bizarre that this particular film should have experienced such difficulties over excessive violence when it is clearly a picture aimed solely at fans of the genre, which proposes such an unreal scenario full of larger-than-life, unrealistic cardboard characters, that it is impossible to see it as anything other than a great big, broad, good-time party-riot of absurd gross-out silliness, with buckets of blood being thrown around – literally -- with an abandon that is almost careless. The fact that the cast is packed to the rafters with past horror/slasher alumni from both in front of and from behind the camera should have been enough to make that fact obvious to all, with Tony Todd (Candyman), R.A. Mihailoff (Leatherface) and, of course, Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees) making a holy trinity of leading horror legends who head up a cast that includes Halloween’s Danielle Harris as Marybeth Dunston and the director of “Child’s Play” and the original “Fright Night” Tom Holland playing her uncle; and cameos from a plethora of directors and actors, including prominently among them Lloyd Kaufman, whose Troma Films outfit is surely the spiritual provider of inspiration for such disreputable goings on – all of them together making a cast that acts as a ready-made convention panel, as Hodder himself so rightly says.
“Hatchet 2” is a straight continuation of the previous film -- more a chapter Two than an ordinary sequel, and although now shot with digital video technology and including certain changes to Victor Crowley’s make-up to enable it to have more mobility and to be capable of much more expression, aims to satisfy the fans of the original by staying true to the spirit of the Crowley legend. It helps that Green clearly had the whole trajectory of both pictures mapped out from the beginning: some of the weapons Victor uses to dispatch this film’s crop of victims had already been visually referenced in the previous instalment because Green had always planned that they should later get used in this sequel; while the film throws in many jokey references to lore already established in the first film, such as one-eyed survivalist Jack Cracker’s (John Carl Buechler) penchant for drinking his own urine – a fact that provides a gag in the sequel that only fans of the first feature would ever catch. Most satisfyingly, Tony Todd’s original casting in what was previously a minor role now makes perfect sense, as his character proves vital to the continuing story here.
One of the primary aims of this second film (besides cramming in even more murderous mayhem) is to fill out the detail in the Victor Crowley backstory, something which also turns out to provide Marybeth’s quest to avenge her murdered father and brother with an extra layer of irony. We begin to get a hint of this after Jack Cracker helps pull the hysterical girl from the haunted lake, but then forces her out of his lakeside survivalist’s shack at gunpoint when he learns of her relatedness to Sampson Dunston. Marybeth immediately heads back to New Orleans, still determined to avenge her murdered family and the deaths of her friends. Green turns up in his own warped version of a Hitchcock cameo during the very first shot after the opening titles – slumped insensibly on a New Orleans street corner in a pool of vomit as Marybeth walks past, on her way to the Reverend Zombie’s Voodoo Shop (‘readings & rituals’).
Here, the fake seer cum small-time boating operator with a liking for flouncy pirates dress and harlequin eye make-up (“the only thing he’s Reverend of is being an asshole,” Marybeth’s uncle Bob succinctly explains later) relates the origins of Victor Crowley’s spectral orgy of violence, tracing them right back to supernatural beginnings in a curse that was put on Victor’s pregnant mother by the dying woman she was meant to be caring for in her capacity as a nurse. We learn that Crowley is the illegitimate mixed race product of an affair with this terminal patient’s husband. The cursed pregnancy resulted in Victor’s birth deformity and in his black mother’s death during the act of giving birth to the mutant Crowley. After telling this tale, Rev Zombie decides to help Marybeth take her revenge on the deformed hatchet wielding ghost, but insists that she bring her only surviving relative with her ‘to help keep her safe’. But the duplicitous snake oil salesman has a much more direct and self-interested motive for gathering the team of huntsmen that accompanies him, Marybeth and her uncle Bob (Tom Holland) back into Crowley’s swampland lair: his real plan is to bring the mass murderer’s supernatural reign of terror to a permanent end by offering a terrible sacrifice that goes right to the heart of Crowley’s own quest for vengeance.
We learn here that Victor Crowley is a supernatural entity called a ‘repeater’ – meaning he returns to the same state every night and re-enacts the graphic spree of vengeance he took on those kids who lit the fire that killed his father on that fateful Halloween many years ago. It also means that you can shoot him, stab him or drown him, but no matter what, he will be back again the following night as though nothing happened! Zombie thinks he sees a way to bring this process to an end once and for all, though, meaning he can restart his boating tours of the swamp and make money out of the legend – his primary motivation for going back into Crowley’s heartland.
Todd is by far the best thing about the film -- he makes Reverend Zombie comical with his performance of the character’s insane commitment to playing the psychic voodoo mystery man, despite the fact that no one takes Zombie seriously in this capacity for a moment; but Todd also makes him seem increasingly menacing, the character’s self-interested motives and utterly ruthless personality becoming more and more apparent as the film goes on. Danielle Harris has a difficult task to accomplish, here, in that she has to portray someone who is on the verge of hysteria for most of the film because of what occurred in the last instalment, and also make it plausible that Marybeth would ever want to go anywhere near Honey Island swamp again after what happened there the first time; plus she also still has to be the one the audience most identifies with in the midst of a cast of misfits, freaks and monsters. She does a good job overall and Green’s casting of her is the perfect choice given the scream queen pedigree she’s built up over the years.
The rest of the cast is fleshed out by a great ensemble of minor characters which are ultimately there to provide kill fodder for Crowley to cleave his way through, but Green allows each of them a moment or two to shine before they eventually get the chop, and it is essentially in this collection of silly moments that the film’s good natured spirit becomes most apparent despite the truly dire fates meted out to a large number of hapless victims throughout. The body count is massive and the kills range from the ugly (one guy gets pounded in the face with the edge of a hatchet thirty times) to the cartoonish (someone has their intestines ripped out and then used as a cord to throttle them to death with; two people get bisected from crotch to head on a twelve foot long chainsaw; another gets given a drastic haircut with a belt sander!). Green also takes advantage of his all-star cast to stage a face-off between Hodder and Mihailoff that is destined to be a convention talking point for years to come and ends with a bizarre ‘kerbing’. Everything looks much bigger this time, although it becomes evident from the commentary tracks that Green was still working with a fairly small budget and had only seventeen days to shot the entire film! Nevertheless, the mix of real-life locations in Louisiana and the studio-built recreation of Crowley’s broken down shack amid the vines and swamp-curdled foliage of Honey Island, creates the impression of being plunged into a moonlit fantasy landscape where all manner of outrageous spectacles can be played out unmolested by reality in any shape or form.
The upshot is that “Hatchet 2” is really great fun: better made, bloodier and sillier than its predecessor. This is a film that has been made by a fan purely and simply for the fans of this much maligned sub-genre, and does exactly what you expect from a movie with the tag line ‘hold on to your pieces’. When all the wrangling with theatre chains, censorship bodies and internet bitching has been put aside, that’s what will ultimately be fondly remembered about this insanely over-the-top, ramped-up slasher machine on steroids.
Arrow Films release the film in the UK on Blu-ray with a HD transfer that strikes a nice balance between the grungy aesthetic the sub-genre demands and the rich detail we expect from the Blu-ray medium. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio is powerful and the mix does a good job of occupying the surrounds with eerie swampland noises to keep you guessing about when and where Crowley will suddenly next be lurching into view. Extras wise, the two commentaries provide the most in-depth information about the film on the disc. Green appears on both of them and doesn’t sound like a man who gets lost for words too often in life. He manages to motor through both without too much of a problem, and is joined by cinematographer Will Barratt and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft for a technical commentary on the production, and by actors Tony Todd and Kane Hodder on the second track for a more informal chat. We learn here that the film was approached as something of a reunion vehicle that gathered together again almost everyone who worked on the first film, including the entire camera crew. Hodder expresses gratitude for his being allowed to play a proper acting role besides that of the make-up bound Crowley: that’s because he also gets to play Crowley’s dad in the flashback origins scene. Apparently his performance here has opened up a whole new aspect to his career. Green ends the second commentary by launching into an impassioned and angry diatribe on the always controversial subject of the illegal downloading of movies, and also uses the chance to have a go at internet critics who thought the whole fiasco involving the unrated movie being pulled from theatres after just three days was all part of a publicity stunt.
The disc also includes several making-of features in the form of one 34 minute behind-the-scenes piece and another 8 minute short, which, between them further illustrate many of the anecdotes that are also related during the commentaries; and there’s also a 6 minute featurette on the FX team’s work, as well. The theatrical trailer and a teaser trailer short, both of which push the unrated nature of the sequel (rather ironic in view of what happened with the film upon release) round off a great package for a film that is nothing more nor less than a total treat from beginning to end for the diehard slasher fan.