More Meat for the Market

Hatchet III

The Hatchet movies are an interesting lot. Made on a low-budget but with clear, modern sensibilities, the films still go the throwback route in terms of its killer monster and standard, by-the-book setup. Like a Friday the 13thOne of the most famous Slasher film franchises, the Friday the 13th series saw multiple twists and turn before finally settling on the formula everyone knows and loves: Jason Voorhees killing campers 'round Camp Crystal Lake. or Nightmare on Elm StreetThe brain-child of director Wes Craven, A Nightmare on Elm Street was his answer to the glut of Slasher films that were populating the multiplex. His movie featured an immortal character, Freedy, with a powerset like none other, reshaping the expectations for Slasher movies to come., once you’ve seen one Hatchet film you know the basic gist of what’s going to happen in all of them. The surprises come not from the story but from the kills and the only way to truly rate one of these films, past the first, is to decide if the kills were big enough, gory enough, good enough to sate the tastes and desires of the viewing audience.

From that perspective, this third film in the series does deliver. It has plenty of over-the-top kills, with spines ripped out, limbs torn off, and bodies mutilated beyond all reason. Its kills are sometimes so big, so gory, so dumb that it’s hard to actually take them seriously. But, by the same measure, this is what the viewers of these films expect. The first film was over the top and the sequel only amplified that further. If this third film couldn’t actually top that again then there wasn’t even really much point to the movie, at least not for its fans. Considering this was originally thought of as the last film in the series (at least until a continuation was dreamed up by the creator) this final chapter had to go in and go hard. All or nothing.

For Hatchet fans, that’s all they need to know. Those that liked the first two films and want to know if this third one is more of the same (and a lot more of it) can stop reading now because, well, this film delivers that.

But, for anyone looking for a good movie, it’s hard to say that Hatchet III actually delivers. I know it’s a slasher film and the definition of “good” is different here than from, say, arthouse cinema or blockbuster productions. We don’t rate Hatchet III like we would Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or The Dark Knight. This is a very different genre with very different expectations. When it comes to the basics of good filmmaking, though – good characters, good story, solid execution – this film does suffer. The producers created the biggest, boldest, more over-the-top Hatchet yet in the series, but that doesn’t actually make it a watchable, good film, not if you want anything more than just a conveyor belt of kills.

The film picks up right at the end of Hatchet II, with heroine Marybeth Dunston (played by Danielle Harris again for this third film) slaughtering Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) with a shotgun. She takes a piece of him, maybe to stop his resurrection and maybe as proof of his existence when she heads out of the swamp, turning herself in to the police. She’s drenched in blood, carrying a shotgun and a body part, so the local cops do the only sensible thing: they arrest her and book her for murder.

They also, though, send a crew of men out to where she said she did the killing to find any evidence. What they find is a lot of it, so many bodies from the previous nights of killing as more and more people had gone to Crowley’s swamp and then died. It’s so many bodies that the whole crew of paramedics can’t even tell who is who or just how many bodies might be out there. Unfortunately for them, one of the bodies is Victor Crowley and even a full shotgun blast to the head won’t stop the beast from coming back, again. He rises, and starts slaughtering this new crew of people in his swamp. And then, when the sheriff (Zach Galligan) hears that more men are dying, he heads out into the swamp himself to find the murderer. But Marybeth’s part in this story isn’t done, as the sheriff’s ex-wife, Amanda (Caroline Williams), has a plan to stop Crowley for good: taking the ashes of the last boy that caused Crowley’s original death and giving them to Crowley to break the curse. Maybe it’ll work, but it’s also likely a lot of people are going to die between now and then.

Hatchet III is a mixed bag of a movie. On the one hand it is nice to see the film try to find a way to end Crowley’s curse and bring this series to a close (although with the knowledge that there’s a fourth film that was eventually developed, and a fifth maybe on the way, apparently even that didn’t stick). The series has slowly developed, and retconned, the way Crowley died and how to stop his reign of terror, so to come up with a way to actually, finally end it, I respect that. If the Friday the 13th films had done that, and actually stuck to it, we’d have had four films leading up to Jason’s death and then a new series of killings (and killers) unrelated. That might have been interesting. But it’s hard to put a killer down and, even if this was the last film, there would also be an air hanging over it… “is it really?”

At the same time, despite the film trying to come up with a way to end this series, this movie does also feel like more of the same from the previous two films. A group of people head into the swamp, not really understanding the threat they’re under, and then, one by one (or sometimes two or three at a time) they’re killed off by a poltergeist that can’t be stopped. He rips and tears and, yes, hatchets his way through victim after victim, and while the kills are interesting in isolation, the whole story for the film rarely deviates all that far from what we’ve seen before.

The B-plot, I suppose, is what matters, with Marybeth and Amanda and a deputy – Robert Diago DoQui as Deputy Winslow – heading out away from the action to find the ashes of the last boy so they can take them to the swamp. But that is also not the most interesting thing going on because, by its very nature, it’s away from the action. All the killing is happening elsewhere while these three go on a driving trip up upper Louisiana. Yes, it’s important to the story to get the boy’s ashes, but it’s not a thrilling watch. Finding a way to get them closer to the action, maybe like having the boy be buried somewhere near the Crowley cabin, would have upped the tension on this side and made for a B-plot that actually worked.

The A-plot is just boring. It has all the kills, but it’s also what we’ve seen before. It’s basically the exact same plot from the second film, with a bunch of trained hunters going into the swamp, but you can change out “yokels with shotguns” for “a full SWAT team” and it still plays the same. A bunch of nameless people wandering through the swamp, just there to get killed. Some of them have a small iota of personality, but most are clearly there to be meat on the conveyor and nothing more. It’s very hard to care when that’s all someone gets to be, especially when you know it from the outset.

That is, also, a flaw with this series: no one gets to live. The films each introduce a ton of characters, but there’s only ever one survivor, at most, for each film. More meat is thrown into the slaughterhouse each time, but it’s hard to say that the escalation of violence means an escalation of enjoyment. Are there some fun kills? Sure. A dude gets his arms ripped off and then his head is stomped in. A bunch of people are torn apart one after another. One lady has her head and spine ripped clear out of her body… But is that any different from what we saw before? Not really.

And that, I think, is the real problem with Hatchet III. Yes, it brings the trilogy to some kind of end (at least for a time) but it doesn’t really have anything new to say. The best slashers find new ideas, new kills, new ways to go about the business. Even if the killer can come back, or if someone can take up the mantle and kill in their name, each film (in a good series) works well on its own. The Hatchet films have all felt about the same. The first was a fresh, retro throw-back, but the films after have had the same energy, the same vibe, the same setting, and the same kills. At a certain point you just want to see something new and, plainly, Victory Crowley doesn’t have it in him.

I mock Jason going to Manhattan and visiting space but, apparently, we didn’t know how good we had it. Maybe that’s what we need next: Hatchet X: Crowley in Space. At least it would feel different than these last three redundant films.