Noteworthy Heroines of Horror is a recurring segment on Wicked Horror where we shine the spotlight on a female character from the annals of horror history that has made a significant contribution to the genre. The characters we select may not be the obvious final girls that regularly grace top ten lists, but their contributions to the genre are meaningful and worthy of note.
As a throwback to the bloody slashers of the 80s, the Hatchet trilogy has been embraced by horror fans for bringing the over-the-top gore and fun back to the genre. Time will tell if Victor Crowley, the vicious, murdering spirit that haunts the swamps of Louisiana, will be taking his place amongst other horror villain titans like Freddy or Jason. But one thing is definitely for sure–all three films have given us a dynamite female character in the badass star of the series, Marybeth Dunstan. There is not really one film that defines her as a heroine more than the others because she changes a little with each installment, and the three movies really play out like one long story. So let’s take a look at the journey of Marybeth Dunstan, who was played by two different actresses in the series: Tamara Feldman in Hatchet, and Danielle Harris in Hatchet II and Hatchet III.
What’s interesting about the first Hatchet is that we are not introduced to Marybeth right away as the star of the film. We start out the story with Ben and Marcus, two friends celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans. They decide to go on a haunted swamp tour and on the journey there, Ben meets Marybeth on the bus. She’s sitting by the window alone, arms crossed, obviously not wanting to talk to anybody. This doesn’t dissuade Ben from trying to make (somewhat awkward) conversation, even though she continues to give him the cold shoulder. What Ben doesn’t realize is that Marybeth is on her own personal mission by going into the swamp: Her father and brother went missing while hunting alligators and she’s trying to find them.
She comes prepared with a gun, and with extensive knowledge about Victor Crowley so she can help the others survive. She is just as scared as the rest of them, and does her fair share of screaming and crying, but never stops trying to come up with new plans, and never loses her determination or fight to live. She’s willing to put herself in danger to stand guard while Ben looks for gasoline; she shoots Crowley several times; and she sinks a gardening tool into his head when they are trying to light him on fire. Even while going through the emotional turmoil after finding the bodies of her father and brother in Crowley’s shed, she knows she doesn’t have the luxury to shut down, and continues to fight just as hard for herself and for the other people, whom she has just met. Feldman makes Marybeth sweet, yet still a formidable opponent to Crowley because of this. Marybeth also has a biting wit that she’s not afraid to direct at any member of the group, which I always love in a female character.
Hatchet II picks up from the same frame where Hatchet left off, and Danielle Harris steps into the role of Marybeth. The tone of this sequel is much more serious than the first, which matches Marybeth’s demeanor and attitude this time around. In the scene where Marybeth goes to talk to Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd) to learn about her family’s connection to Victor Crowley, all of her emotions are on display. She has lost her brother and father and been through this horrible ordeal with Crowley, yet she is still brave enough to go back into the swamp the next night. She has nothing left to lose at this point. Maybe she goes back knowing that she might die and actually welcomes it, but she hasn’t lost that fight.
Marybeth wants revenge against Victor Crowley, and though she’s surrounded by a bunch of experienced hunters with guns, she leads the way through the swamp, and surprisingly doesn’t show much fear. She wildly but accurately attacks Crowley with his own hatchet, and when Reverend Zombie pulls her away as Crowley is attacking her Uncle Bob, Marybeth furiously fights him because she wants to help him. Of course, Marybeth gets her greatest moment at the end of the film when she repeatedly chops Crowley’s head into mush with a hatchet. And just to make sure he’s really done for, she grabs a shotgun and gives him another blast to the face.
But of course, that’s not the end of Marybeth and Victor’s story. Hatchet III once again takes off from where the last film ended, and even in that short time, Marybeth has become quite a changed woman. She has now squared off with the monster twice, and actually finishes the fight from the second film in the first few minutes of this one. Harris’ diminutive stature against Kane Hodder’s massive frame is even more evident in this first scene as she first tries to start that crazy long chainsaw, and then when Crowley lifts her up over his head. But again, that doesn’t stop her from fighting back as she punches her whole arm through his head before sending him onto the active chainsaw where he is split in half. Armed with a shotgun and Crowley’s corpse, Marybeth looks like a different person when she gets to the police station to tell them what happened.
Admittedly, Marybeth spends the majority of Hatchet III acting very pissed off and uncooperative. I don’t think anyone could blame her for this after everything she went through, and especially when she finds out that she has to go back to the swamp and face Victor Crowley yet again. Amanda (Caroline Williams) is the resident Victor Crowley expert who explains to Marybeth that she is the only one who can stop him by giving him the one thing that he wants–his father. They retrieve Thomas Crowley’s ashes from a relative and head to Honey Island Swamp, where paramedics and SWAT members are being picked off left and right. Marybeth is quite audibly against this plan and actually doesn’t go in willingly. However, once she gets there and is standing in front of Crowley with his father’s ashes, there is a change in her. Marybeth kneels in front of Victor actually apologizes for what happened to him and what her father did to him. She is teary-eyed when she says this, showing that she does have true sympathy for him, despite everything that has happened. She seems to realize that he is just scared and confused, the victim of a voodoo curse and bad circumstances. She also realizes that she can finally release him, and still manages to do so even when she is badly wounded.
The last frame of Hatchet III left many people debating whether Marybeth was dead or alive after her final encounter with Victor Crowley. Series creator, writer, and director Adam Green has his definitive answer on the topic, but to me it is not about how Marybeth’s journey ends, but the journey itself. She goes from being a desperate girl not really knowing what she’s getting herself into when she goes to look for her family in the swamp, to a woman with nothing left to lose. Yet she still manages to find the power and drive to fight for herself. Marybeth Dunstan has a feisty and stubborn attitude, a strong sense of self-preservation, and the ability to look at the other side and see that she may not be the only victim in this scenario. That makes her a Noteworthy Heroine of Horror.