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Hatchet

Starz / Anchor Bay // R // December 18, 2007
List Price: $26.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted December 18, 2007 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

When Hatchet begins in a swamp somewhere in the deep south, two alligator hunters (Robert Englund and Joshua Leonard) are going about their business when they're suddenly murdered. From there we cut to New Orleans where meet Ben (Joel David Moore) and Marcus (Deon Richmond), two young men who decide to leave the Mardi Gras festivities behind them and take a 'ghost tour.' They sign up for the tour and meet the rest of the participants: two aspiring actresses named Misty (Mercedes McNab) and Jenna (Joleigh Fioreavanti), a filmmaker named Shapiro (Joel Murry), a pair of average tourists named Mr. and Mrs. Permatteos (Richard Riehle and Patrika Darbo) and a shy girl named Mary Beth (Tamara Feldman). The tour leader, Shawn (Parry Shen), loads them all up on his boat and takes them into the swamps outside of town and the tour begins.

Soon enough, the boat and its crew run into trouble and the group find themselves lost and stuck in the middle of the deep, dark swamp. Mary Beth then tells the group about a local deformed maniac named Alexander Crowley (Kane Hodder) who may or may not have died in this very swamp years ago after a nasty fire. Of course, the group soon finds out that Mr. Crowley is alive and well and he hasn't put his axe murdering ways behind him.

Owing a huge debt to popular eighties backwoods slasher films like the Friday The 13th series, The Burning and Madman, Adam Green's Hatchet doesn't bring anything new to the slasher genre, but neither does it try to. It's made clear from the very start that this is an 'homage' to the film that inspired it and while it might have been nice to see some more creativity and effort put into the script, taken for what it is Hatchet turns out to be a lot of good, dumb fun. The film's biggest problem is that while the opening murder scene is a good way to get things started, from there we're hit with roughly thirty to forty minutes of sub-standard character development before we get to the good part. That said, once Crowley is out in the woods and doing his thing, the movie excels even if some awkward forced humor disrupts the tension now and again.

While the protagonists are almost completely disposable (they're little more than fodder for the Crowley character), Kane Hodder is excellent as the killer. His imposing physical presence brings an undeniable sense of menace to the part that, when coupled with the wonderfully splashy effects, ensure that the murder set pieces in the picture carry some impact. The effects are great - no CGI here, simply good old fashion latex and fake blood - and they literally steal the show. Green directs the film with enough style to ensure that it looks decent enough but doesn't go so over the top that the film looks too modern. The movie is goofy and has some pacing problems but the last half makes up for the complete lack of characterization and originality with gore galore and some fun jump scares. As made painfully clear by the UNRATED tag on the packaging, this cut of Hatchet has all the bloody bits intact. The effects done here are pretty effective and about as splattery as you can get with limbs ripped off of torsos, power tools used in interesting ways, a head split in two and more.

The DVD

Video:

Anchor Bay gives Hatchet a pretty solid 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Color reproduction is quite strong, the reds in particular look nice and bright without ever looking too sickly or contrasty. Black levels are pretty solid and even the darker scenes have decent shadow detail. There aren't any problems with compression artifacts to complain about and there are only slight traces of edge enhancement. The film was made on a fairly low budget and at times this shows but by and large Anchor Bay have done a very nice job with the transfer for the film as it is clean, well authored and free of any major defects.

Sound:

Equally as impressive is the English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix on the disc. Rears are used in a few of the more intense scenes to provide some nice jump scares while the quieter, more relaxed moments in the film feature well balanced levels and audible dialogue. There are no problems with hiss or distortion and the score sounds quite good. An optional Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround track is also included but if you've got 5.1 capability, that's the superior way to watch the movie.

Extras:

First up is a very active audio commentary with Co-Producer/Writer/Director Adam Green, Co-Producer/Cinematographer Will Barratt and Actors Tamara Feldman, Joel Moore and Deon Richmond. This project was Green's baby and he dominates the track but all involved have a few things to say about their time on the set. There's a lot of reminiscing and some fun stories are told. We learn that parts of the film were shot on the same locations used for The Devil's Rejects and we learn about some of the effects work, the casting, and interestingly enough, about some of what went wrong on the production. There are a lot of great 'stories from the trenches' in here and the track turns out to be pretty interesting stuff.

Up next is The Making Of Hatchet, a documentary that takes us behind the scenes of the production by way of some on set footage and some interviews with the cast and crewmembers. There's some audition and rehearsal footage in here as well as some clips of a few people joking around with one another, and we see some of the actors coaching one another and hear from one of the effects guys about his efforts on the film, all of which were accomplished using traditional effects work - there's not a trace of CGI anywhere in the film. From there, check out the Meeting Victor Crowley featurette, which shows what it's like to work with Kane Hodder on set. Hodder has some rather unorthodox methods he uses to get into character and to keep his co-stars intimidated and it's interesting to see him at work here and to get a feel for how seriously he prepares for certain roles.

The Guts And Gore featurette is a peek behind the scenes to show how some of the gore effects were created with an emphasis on the make up effects that were created so that actress Rileah Vanderbilt (Green's real life girlfriend) could play the younger Crowley. Related is the Anatomy Of A Kill featurette. This is a fun segment and without wanting to spoil a key scene in the film let it suffice to say that it examines one of the movie's effects highlights. Don't watch this one until you've watched the feature itself as it has some heavy spoilers in it. Also included here is A Twisted Tale which is a funky little featurette that covers how Adam Green got to become close friends with Twisted Sister front-man Dee Snider after giving him a letter at a horror convention.

Rounding out the extra features are the film's original theatrical trailer, a brief gag reel, trailers for a few other Anchor Bay DVD releases, animated menus and chapter stops.

Final Thoughts:

Hatchet borrows liberally from a few different and better horror films from the eighties but director Adam Green has delivered pretty much exactly what he set out to deliver. Is it an original film? No, not really, but as a throwback to the eighties backwoods slasher boom, Hatchet works and despite a slow start, it winds up being a whole lot of fun. Anchor Bay's DVD looks and sounds just fine and it features plenty of extra features. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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