By now we know the score. When it came out in 2006, Adam Green's Hatchet was billed as 'old school American horror', and its back-to-the-Eighties freedom from CGI and irony, though by no means original, seemed somewhat refreshing in the mid-Noughties context. Still, the middle part of its other US tagline - "It's not a remake. It's not a sequel. And it's not based on a Japanese one." - could no longer be maintained by the time Hatchet II (2010) came along. Now that Hatchet III is here, we realise that we are watching not so much a movie that emulates a Reagan-era slasher as a cash-in franchise following in the dreary footsteps of countless Friday the 13th or Halloween iterations. This is cinema by numbers, where eventually the digits that comes after the title risk overtaking the actual bodycount.
So when, at the very beginning of Hatchet III, we see the series' resident 'final girl' Marybeth (Danielle Harris) fire a rifle at close range into the head of revenant mutant killer Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), drive her fist right through his pulpy face, push his body onto a chainsaw that cuts him to pieces, and return to a New Orleans police station carrying his bloody scalp in her hand, we just know that come nightfall ole Victor will be back on his feet, reducing all comers to a gory mash of latex and corn syrup, before facing Marybeth once more. Which is, of course, exactly what happens - again.
Cameraman B.J. McDonnell (The Lords of Salem) has taken over the director's reins, but Green remains the writer, injecting his usual wit into the screenplay. "That has to be the stupidest story and some of the most idiotic and and contrived decision making I have ever heard," comments local Crowley expert Amanda (Caroline Williams), her words simultaneously challenging Marybeth's actions over the last two nights, and skewering the plot mechanics of the previous two films. Green also inserts postmodern gags about the repetitiveness of the series. "'Cos we all look the same - hilarious, asshole!" spits paramedic Andrew, calling his colleague Randy out for racism in suggesting that a dead Asian found at Honey Island Swamp looks just like Andrew - except that we know what Andrew cannot, which is that Perry Shan, the actor playing Andrew, had also memorably appeared as victim Shawn in the first film. There are other strange returns: Rileah Vanderbilt, who played Victor as a (heavily made-up) boy in the original, is a young SWAT officer freshly arrived from Arizona and expressly "new here" - while one of the main actors/characters from Hatchet enjoys (if that is the word) a hilariously brief cameo here. And if previous instalments have included appearances from horror icons Robert Englund and Tony Todd, this time it is the turn of Sid Haig as an, ahem, lovable old racist who might just possess the key to lifting the Crowley curse permenently.
It goes without saying that Hatchet III delivers maimings, dismemberments and corporeal destruction aplenty, all rendered with practical effects and interlaced with hit-and-miss laughs - but these are limited rewards aimed at limited mindsets. It is time that Victor buries the hatchet once and for all, and gets out while he is ahead - or at least not totally behind.
'Hatchet III' screens at Film4 FrightFest...
Main Screen, Fri 23rd August, 4.15pm
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