In 2006, Adam Green unleashed a new horror icon upon the world in Victory Crowley. The swamp-dwelling mutant antagonist of Green’s surprise indie hit, Hatchet, joined the ranks of Freddy, Jason, and Michael, and signaled a rebirth of the old school slasher film, replete with buckets of blood, bountiful boobs, and a wise-ass sense of humor that made the film a smash with genre buffs who had long since tired of the dour torture porn films being cranked out by director’s peers. After a much more serious turn with the excellent survival thriller, Frozen, Green returned to the swamps for Hatchet II, in which he promised more of everything that made the first film so endearing. Having seen it, I can safely say Green’s lived up to his promise, and then some.
Hatchet II opens with Marybeth (Danielle Harris, stepping in for Tamara Feldman), the sole survivor of the ill-fated swamp tour, narrowly escaping death at the hands of Victor Crowley when Jack Cracker (John Carl Buechler) pulls her from the swamp and takes back to his cabin. Marybeth tells Jack of the events of the night prior, explaining that the reason she went out to the swamp in the first place was to find her father and brother. When Jack learns that who Marybeth’s father is, he begins to panic, and threatens to kill her himself if she doesn’t leave his home immediately. It seems that Marybeth’s father, Sampson, has wronged Victor Crowley, somehow, and, for answers, a terrified Jack suggests she seek out Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd), who, in turn, tells her the true origin of Victor Crowley, and of her father’s involvement in the man’s death decades earlier.
Marybeth insists that Zombie bring her back out into the swamp so that she can both recover the bodies of her father and brother and exact her revenge upon Crowley, and Zombie agrees, but only if Marybeth bring along her Uncle Bob (Tom Holland). That evening, Zombie, Marybeth, and Bob return to the swamp with a mercenary gang of hunters and poachers, as well as Justin (Perry Shen), the twin brother of the ill-fated boat captain, Shawn. Marybeth thinks that Zombie’s rounded up all of this extra fire power to hunt down and kill Victor Crowley once and for all, but unbeknownst to her, the good Reverend has his own agenda.
Boasting the largest giggle-to-gore ratio of any American horror film since…well…the first Hatchet, Hatchet II is an absolute blast from start to finish. While Frozen proves that Green has matured as a filmmaker, when it comes to all out gore, he’s still very much the proverbial kid in a candy store, gleefully orchestrating bigger and bloodier ways for Victor Crowley to decapitate, eviscerate, and mutilate his prey. Crowley not only gets a bigger body count this time around, he’s also given a deeper, more satisfying back story, as well as a potential weakness that his enemies seek to exploit. It’s a logical step forward in the character’s evolution, and one that hints at some truly cool possibilities for future installments should the series continue.
Armed to the rotted teeth with an arsenal of power tools and cutting implements that would put Home Depot to shame, Crowley hacks and slashes his way through a whole new cast of characters, as well as a few returning faves, including the always excellent Todd, and the very likeable Shen. The real star, however, is Danielle Harris, who not only replaces Tamara Feldman; she makes us forget that another actress ever played the role in the first place. It’s no disrespect to Feldman – the pint-sized Halloween star has such huge presence that she simply inhabits the role as though it were hers all along.
Hatchet II comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Dark Sky Films, and is presented in a crisp and vibrant 1.78:1 transfer that sports some really nice fine detail, especially evident in facial features and fabrics. Black levels are deep and true, and, while I did notice the odd compression artifact here and there (as well as a flash of pixilation early on that I had to rewind and see again just to make sure my Blu-ray player wasn’t on the fritz), I found the transfer fairly solid overall. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, on the other hand, is well above average, boasting rich, booming bass, crisp dialogue, and some really effective and immersive surround effects. The swamp comes alive all around you, with buzzing insects, lapping water, crackling undergrowth, and off-camera cues that’ll have your eyes darting around the room. Excellent stuff indeed!
Dark Sky loads up the Blu-ray with a great assortment of all-HD goodies, including two fantastic audio commentary tracks, one featuring Green, Todd, and Hodder, and the other featuring Green, cinematographer Will Barratt, and make-up FX supervisor Robert Pendergraft. Both tracks offer a decidedly unique perspective on the film, with the first track dishing out more in terms of on-set antics, in-jokes, and character nuances, while the second track is, as should be expected, a bit more technical but no less engrossing. We also get a fairly meaty behind-the-scenes doc entitled Hatchet II: Behind-the-Screams, an FX featurette entitled The Killing Machine, in which we meet the men behind the carnage, as well as a short EPK and trailers for this and other Dark Sky/MPI releases.
Hatchet II is a non-stop barrage of some of the most brutal kills set to celluloid, peppered with in-jokes and cameos from the “Greenverse” (watch for the blink-and-you’ll miss it Frozen bit!), and boasting a cast of genre favorites from both in front of (Harris, Todd, Hodder) and behind the scenes (Fright Night/Child’s Play director, Holland; FX guru, Buechler). Despite a couple of minor issues with the transfer, Dark Sky Films Blu-ray presentation is exceptional, offering superlative audio, and a great selection of HD extras, making Hatchet II an easy recommendation.