There was a bit of controversy when the unrated Hatchet II was unceremoniously yanked from theatres by AMC after its opening weekend, and director Adam Green wasn’t told about it and had to find out on his own. A major theater chain agreeing to run an unrated film in wide release because it couldn’t be edited down to an “R” rating is, I believe, unprecedented to begin with. Even NC-17s-rated films like Philip Kaufman’s Henry & June and Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution were condemned to very limited art house runs. The major difference here is that Hatchet II‘s inability to secure an R had nothing to do with nudity or sexual content, which is what the puritanical ratings board usually objects to, but instead solely because of violence and gore.
I managed to catch Hatchet II during it’s theatrical run at a Mann’s theatre in Los Angeles, and I have to say that I don’t think the movie being pulled had anything to do with a major theatre getting cold feet about running an unrated movie. I think it was simply because the owners of AMC got a look at the movie and concluded what anyone else would after seeing it; the film is total and utter shit. My guess is that AMC decided to run the movie hoping for the most American of things: money. I’m betting that AMC was banking on a little controversy to draw in some audiences and make them some green. And that when audiences stayed away during that opening weekend based on negative reviews, AMC realized the audience sizes weren’t going to be increasing and they didn’t particularly want to keep their theatres empty running a film that no one was going to see.
The first Hatchet, also directed by Adam Green, is pretty standard slasher fare, a throwback to the 80s genre, filmed on an almost non-existent budget. Still, it’s got a playful sense of fun about it as terrible as it is. Lead Joel David Moore is the reason for most of this, but Green peopled his movie with some decent C-list character actors and a couple of fresh faces who were far better than the material, including female lead Tamara Feldman. Earlier this year, Green released Frozen, which was a huge step up for the director. Frozen follows a trio of college students who get stuck on a chair lift after hours and over a week when the ski slope is shut down. The movie was shot on location in the elements, and the actors often doubled as crew helping to changes lenses while being suspended for hours on the chair lift. Frozen saw Green working with a talented and game young ensemble. It was well-acted, well-shot, and seemed to be a signal of a forward evolution for Green’s career.
I assumed that all of this meant Green would be heading back into Hatchet territory with a bigger budget and a more advanced set of filmmaking skills, hoping to improve his previous effort and do what he perhaps hadn’t been able to accomplish previously. There’s certainly been more dollars thrown into the gore, but that’s about where any improvements end. For all of it’s problems and mediocrity, the first Hatchet is, by far, the superior film. If anything, Hatchet II seems to suggest that the quality behind Frozen was simply some kind of a fluke.
Hatchet II appears to have been shot with a few pages of outline instead of a finished script. The plot is thin; after surviving the first movie, Marybeth returns to the swamp with with Reverend Zombie and an assorted collection of rednecks and bounty hunters to kill Victor Crowley. The first misstep is that Tamara Feldman from the first Hatchet has been replaced with genre actress Danielle Harris, and let me tell you, finding a worse actress is a quest not many could ever hope to complete. Her performance is not only embarrassingly awful, but downright painful to watch. There are a bunch of genre actors and creators featured in Hatchet II, and it seems likely that Green’s real impetus for making this movie was simply to get some of his heroes and friends all in one place and on a set together. Tony Todd returns as Reverend Zombie, Kane Hodder returns as Victor Crowley, and guys like Troma-head Lloyd Kaufman and Saw screenwriter Marcus Dunstan are among the hunters.
The few who escape relatively unscathed from this whole fiasco are Shawn Ashmore, who has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as a hunter, probably as a personal favor after being in Frozen and not aware of how awful this movie would be; micro-indie actor AJ Bowen from The Signal and The House of the Dead, in a small role as another hunter who gives such an honest, natural performance that by comparison, it makes the rest of the film look even worse; and Kane Hodder himself. Hodder gets to play Victor Crowley’s father in an extended flashback, and shows off some genuine acting chops. I have to imagine that for a guy who has spent his life behind a hockey mask, this was something he’s waited for his entire career. If this movie has any reason for existing, maybe it’s to give Kane Hodder something to put on an acting real so that he can use it, along with his name, to try to get some supporting acting roles on things like television’s Supernatural.
Other than that, everything about Hatchet II is simply embarrassing. Tony Todd may not be the greatest actor on the planet, but he’s competent enough, and I just felt bad for him having to be on-screen for so much of the running time and vamp through pages and pages of exposition and horrendous dialogue. If I were Tony Todd, just knowing that this movie exists and is largely identified with me would keep me awake at night. It’s that bad.
As for the violence and the gore, sure it’s intense and over-the-top. I think the ratings problems came from the fact that Green really tried to up the gore level, but that he also wanted to be a little more naturalistic in the way it was presented. It’s not quite as tongue-in-cheek as other horror movies, and that may have been part of the problem with the ratings board. As ridiculous and over-the-top as the violence is, it’s probably one of the more naturalistic and subtle parts of Hatchet II when compared to say… the writing and the performances. Still, it’s a bad horror movie full of outrageous gore that can’t really be taken seriously and in no way even approaches the level of personalized violence in something like 127 Hours, which is graphic and powerful and that much more affecting because it’s based on a true story and is portrayed as realistically as possibly. It’s ironic, in a way, that the MPAA would object to the violence here, but perhaps they give allowances when violence is handled with certain intentions and a desire to tell an inspirational, human story, no matter how graphic and cringe-inducing it is, versus a lowbrow, slasher crapfest.
Hopefully with this out of his system, Adam Green can return to the promising career trajectory hinted at with Frozen. But the very fact that he produced this afterwards, and that he stood behind it, casts severe doubts over his ability to ever again produce anything even remotely watchable. And while I didn’t spend much time on it in this review, because I try not to think about it, like an eight-hour hangover spent puking into a toilet while passing in and out of consciousness, but I feel I must mention it again in closing to really warn people off. That “performance” by Danielle Harris; I can’t even bring myself to call her an actress. It’s more revolting than anything else in this unrated, gore-filled horror movie. Let me put it this way: this is probably the single movie of the year that’s actually worse than Kevin Smith’s Cop Out.