The Swamp Keeps Calling

Hatchet II

We looked not too long ago at the 2006 slasher flick Hatchet, a fun and slightly goofy ride that largely made up for its flaws (and its weak ending) with a ton of gore and good scares. Created by writer / director Adam Green, the film felt like a solid entry in the genre, a new voice coming out strong to put their mark on horror. It was a film that took many elements that worked from other horror movies, and even featured a couple of horror icons like Tony Todd and Kane Hodder, and combined it into a solid, low budget adventure. Again, it wasn’t perfect but it worked really well for most of its runtime. One would expect, with the same voice behind the second film, the sequel would work just as well.

Weirdly, that’s not the case. This film doesn’t really add much more to the genre than its predecessor did, arguably riffing on the first Hatchet more than anything else. Its story is largely a repeat of the first movie, its kills aren’t anywhere near as creative, and it absolutely butchers its lead female character, ruining one of the bright spots of the previous movie. I get the impulse to continue a series, especially when the first movie managed to become a cult classic and sell reasonably well on home video. Still, in this particular instance, it already feels like they should have stopped at one.

Hatchet II picks up right at the end of the first film, with final girl Marybeth Dunston (Danielle Harris) seemingly being choked to death by cursed poltergeist Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder). Instead of dying, though, Marybeth gouges the killer in the eye, forcing him to drop her. She swims off, being rescued by a fisherman, but when he learns who she is (and, more specifically, who her father was) he sends her away, fearing for his own life. He won’t tell her why, only instructing her to go see Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd) for answers.

As it turns out, her father was one of the three boys who, indirectly, led to the death of Victor. They set his cabin on fire and when his father (also Hodder) came to rescue the boy, working to chop down the front door to get in, he put a Hatchet right into the boy’s head. The boy, though, had already been cursed by his step-mother, and this combination of factors led to him haunting the woods, looking for his revenge. Since Victor has already killed Marybeth’s father, he only needs two more kills to get that justice. So, under false pretenses, the Reverend lures Marybeth and her uncle, Bob (Tom Holland), and Trent (R.A. Mihailoff), who comprise the last of the three boys that killed Crowley (along with a bunch of other hunters, all of whom are clearly fodder) so that Victor can get his revenge and stop haunting the swamp, and then Reverend Zombie can quickly begin making money off the swamp again.

At least, that’s the plan. But in any horror movie, plans quickly go out the window.

In comparison to the first movie, Hatchet II has a lighter tone. Not light, mind you, as this isn’t some studio comedy. The film does go harder on comedy, though, having characters that are clearly there to crack wise and make jokes. They don’t actually make good jokes, so the film isn’t legitimately funny. It tries too hard and never really nails down its tone, making for a much messier, and far less interesting story overall. But you get the sense the creative team knew they couldn’t make the same movie again and at least wanted to put out something slightly different.

With that said, it is basically the same film all over again. After the initial prologue, we get an explanation of Crowley’s backstory (again), Reverend Zombie gathering a bunch of people together (again), Reverend’s assistant taking those people out into the swamp (again, and this time with the assistant being played by Parry Shen again after his previous character died in the last movie) and then, despite everyone now knowing the dangers out in the swamp, people wandering off and getting picked off in ones and twos (all again). While not an exact carbon copy of the first film, the two are similar enough that it almost feels like Green placed paper over the first film and did a rubbing of it to create this sequel.

I don’t think I would mind so much if the kills in the movie were good, but they’re not. They’re less detailed, less drawn out, and far less exciting. Also, some of them are implausible and most of them are just plain stupid. An early kill sees Crowley pull the intestines out of a guy, strangling him with them until his head pops off, which is just physically impossible. Another kill involves a comically large chainsaw and two dudes and instead of either of them running away, they both purposefully position themselves to get sawed in half together, up the middle. Hell, more often than not, despite all evidence that Crowley can’t be killed and barely even feels pain in these movies, people keep charging at him to fight when they have more than enough room to run away. It boggles the mind.

I’m reminded of the scene in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (which also featured Hodder) where the boxer in the group decides to fight Jason and immediately gets his head punched off. The kills in this film feel like that. Expected, stupid, and over far too quickly.

Ruining the film further is the fact that Marybeth doesn’t feel like Marybeth here. I get that, for whatever reason, the producers had to recast the role. Tamara Feldman didn’t come back (and I haven’t been able to find any explanation for why, so we’ll assume a scheduling conflict) so they brought in scream queen Danielle Harris (of the HalloweenThe franchise that both set the standard for Slasher horror and, at the same time, defied every convention it created, Halloween has seen multiple time lines and reboots in its history, but one thing has remained: Michael Myers, the Shape that stalks Haddonfield. series). Generally I like Harris. I think she’s solid in certain roles. This was not one of those roles. Marybeth had strength to her. She was willing to go into the swamp to look for her father and brother, risking her life when she knew Crowley was out there. That character is not present in Harris’s performance, who instead makes her meek, scared, and small.

It might not entirely be Harris’s fault, though, as the script does her no favors. Her uncle is written as overbearing and way too protective. He refuses to let her go anywhere alone, certainly not into the swamp, and when she does he has to follow her to keep her safe. Considering she went into, and came out from, the swamp once already, this sounds patronizing, to say the least. He also calls her “little girl” constantly, and treats her like a child (despite the actress being 33 at this point, so Marybeth would be far from a little girl in her portrayal). It’s just not a good look all around, and it would have been better if the sequel had simply committed to Marybeth dying in the first film so that Harris could have portrayed some other final girl instead. She doesn’t work here.

Just all around this film is weaker than the first movie. It plays things slightly differently, trying to a changed tone and sillier kills. The kills, though, were the best part of the first movie and, but trying to inject comedy, it ruins the one aspect of Hatchet I couldn’t argue with at all. I wanted to like this movie, I really did, being largely surprised by the previous film, but Hatchet II failed to meet even modest expectations. It’s a lesser feature that ends in such a way that, if the team were willing, could have acted as the end of the series.

And yet, it’s not. We still have two more movies to go (with the threat of even more Hatchet on the horizon). I cannot begin to say how utterly thrilled I am. Just… so pleased. Sigh.