showing up late to adam green’s “hatchet” series

I think I’ve mentioned here that every Thursday night I sync my Netflix or Amazon Prime account with two friends and together we watch movies that’re empirically bad, meaning they star a bunch of muscular men with no charisma at all who save a town and get the girl and whatever (I’ve pressed for more Steven Seagal on this front but lately we’ve stuck with Jean-Claude Van Damme), and we talk over the action, sometimes about personal stuff but mostly about the action itself. Last night’s choice, however, was off-the-cuff: a slasher movie from 2006 called Hatchet that seemed less-than-promising in the first act but later proved pretty good, especially the gore effects, which are shot in fairly bright light, even though the whole thing takes place in a midnight swamp, and whose ingenuity attests more to the filmmaker’s passion than his budget. 

Slashers used to occupy a pretty robust wedge of my moviegoing diet but they’ve tapered off lately and Hatchet is the first slasher I’ve watched since reading Grady Hendrix’s most recent novel, Final Girl Support Group, in which he dissects the problems of the genre and focuses, as the title would suggest, on that trope of the “final girl,” the woman who’s made to watch all of her companions die horrible deaths before finally killing the monster. There’s a final girl here, in Hatchet, but the movie cuts to black just before she dies–and her uncertain doom befalls her after she’s already lost her dad, her brother, and all the other people on her guided tour of the swamp. 

She’s kinda glutted with grief and trauma. 

But whatever, it’s not terribly upsetting, and the whole affair feels less like a feature-length story than like an homage, a film school project, where we get a single cameo scene with Robert Englund, who played Freddy Kreuger, and then a single appearance by Tony Todd, who played Candyman, and then a long spell with Kane Hodder, who’s worn Jason’s hockey mask for several installments of Friday the 13th, and here plays both Victor Crowley, our deformed, pitiable, super-strength monster, as well as Cowley’s father-in-flashback. (And he does a pretty good job in his dual-role as Crowley’s father! It’s all flashbacks, but he comes off as genuinely paternal, and almost sheds a tear at one point!)

Art from the recent “Hatchet” comic book series, art by Puis Calzada

I grew up watching these guys in horror movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s and I’m warmed just to see them for a quick spot in a movie, especially a movie that seems to speak the self-rev- and referential codespeak of genre fans.

Some teenagers who aren’t necessarily fans of horror but who stumble upon this on a night when they’re looking for a transgressive thrill are likely to remember it.

Hatchet comes off as an experiment by the filmmaker, Adam Green, who after seeing so many slasher movies as to get a pretty good idea of what works, and what doesn’t, decides to make a very lean, very cheap, very fun horror movie that’s got just a dollop of pathos, a good schmear of humor, some playful nudity that never tries to actually be sexy, and to run the whole thing on the backs of some amusing characters who ultimately succumb (most importantly) to a violence that’s horrific to the fine delicate point of being fun. 

Fun but not funny. 

It’s cool to watch and appreciate the craftsmanship behind a piece of entertainment that isn’t really trying to be artful or special or revered. It’s just trying to be good, trying to be worth your time as a viewer. 

Kudos to Hatchet! I’m surprised it’s taken me so long to get around to it, but I’m a fan. Over the next couple Thursdays my friends and I are gonna go through the franchise and I’m realizing that, as we do so, we’ll be exploring one of the few 21st century slasher franchises to catch a loyal following. As I discussed with Grady Hendrix in our conversation about Final Girl Support Group, the genre’s really a creature of the 1980s and ‘90s and, with the occasional exception of a belated Scream or Halloween sequel, it seems the dust can’t really be blown off of it. 

I have a good feeling about what’s ahead. 

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