For Hatchet 3, series creator Adam Green handed the directing reins over to his camera operator from the previous two movies, BJ McDonnell, while retaining the sole screenwriting credit. It was a smart move, even if Green returned to the helm for sequel Victor Crowley, injecting some much-needed freshness into a slasher series that was on the verge of becoming stale. The problem with Hatchet, as with many slashers set in a single location–most notably Friday the 13th–is that there’s nowhere for the story to go past a certain point. Why do people continue to go there, knowing the danger they’re exposing themselves to? Why isn’t the damn place condemned by now? Why can’t Victor Crowley just die already?
One of the cleverest lines in Hatchet 3, which boasts plenty of Green’s characteristically whip-smart, self-referential dialogue, ensuring it still feels like his movie despite McDonnell ostensibly taking over, occurs when a character explains: “You can’t kill him, he’s already dead.” The same could be said of the wily Marybeth, a final girl with a vengeance who’s so keen to rid the world of Crowley that she sticks her hand right into his head and twirls it around to cause as much damage as possible. The first shot of horror icon Danielle Harris in Hatchet 3 is totally bad ass, and her long walk to the police station, holding Crowley’s severed face in her hand, is scored by Gwar’s powerful ‘Hail Genocide’–a perfect choice lent an air of poignancy following the untimely death of beloved band leader, and Green’s long-time friend and Holliston co-star, Dave Brockie.
There are several constants in the Hatchet series; Victor Crowley’s inability to fully perish, Marybeth’s steely determination, which never wavers, particularly in Harris’ capable hands (the actor took over the role in Hatchet 2, after Tamara Feldman originated it in the first movie), and the eye-popping gore, which is still among the most impressive in modern horror and deserves way more recognition. Nowadays, plenty of (predominantly male) horror fans herald the Terrifier franchise for breaking new ground when it comes to gore and practical FX, but the simple truth is that Hatchet did it all years prior, better, and crucially without those movies’ cruel edge. Crowley may tear his victims limb from limb, but he’s an empathetic villain not least because Kane Hodder’s wonderful performance shines through even with layers upon layers of prosthetics.
Hatchet 3 is bigger, bolder, and badder as any good threequel should be. It’s wall-to-wall horror icons, but never feels like pandering or as though the filmmakers are trying too hard. Although it’s a treat watching Hodder choke out Derek Mears, who played Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th (2009), the coolest cameo is easily Sid Haig as a grumpy, racist old man who openly refers to a cop as “the colored.” He also complains that “It’s the middle of the night” only for another character to clarify “It’s 8.45.” Haig could play this kind of role in his sleep but it’s still such a delight to see him, even briefly. The great Caroline Williams, meanwhile, makes mincemeat out of the role of nosey local reporter Amanda, who may or may not be an homage to Scream 2’s Debbie Salt considering her haircut and job. Williams has struggled to find the kind of roles someone like Barbara Crampton is typically afforded, slumming it in the likes of Verotika and Blood Feast, but she relishes Amanda’s unabashed ambition.
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Suffice it to say, the body count of Hatchet 3 is reliably massive. The filmmakers stuff the movie to breaking point with colorful characters, both side and main, trying their damnedest to finally rid the swamp of Crowley, all of whom, we know by now, haven’t a hope in hell of doing so. There’s a running joke about the number of guns at the disposal of the various teams dispatched to deal with Crowley, with McDonnell frequently framing the action to demonstrate how comical it is that a hail of bullets barely even seems to tickle the unstoppable monster. It’s rare that we get to see the cleanup following a horror movie bloodbath, and one of the cleverest choices Hatchet 3 makes is to split the action between the trio of do-gooders trying to figure out how to stop Crowley and the increasingly large bunch of well-meaning but completely out of their depth narcs working to clear the scene. The location is a far cry from Hatchet’s infamous parking lot, while the use of score is minimal, McDonnell trusting the strength of the material, so the music only really swells during an all-timer melting sequence in the film’s final moments.
Plenty of franchises are treading water by the time they reach their third entries but this one has a real point of view and, even more impressively, McDonell plays around with the mythology without going too far outside of what Green established in the previous films. There’s an ominous shot of a hatchet–an actual hatchet, not a cleaver like the Insane Clown Posse logo–and a character gets unceremoniously cut off while retelling Crowley’s origin story, while the kills are consistently vicious and impressively practical–we don’t even mind when an actor is quite obviously buried in the ground while Crowley tears his arms and legs off because it just adds to the charm of the whole thing. Likewise, the shot of Marybeth impaled on a tree is terrific and horrifying, solidifying how the gore has been seamlessly amped up throughout the movie. The message is clear: More of what we’ve come to expect, with an incisive, knowing twist.
The scariest sequence occurs when the core group is stuck in an ambulance boat and Crowley is trying to get in. The tension is ratcheted up to the extent that it’s unclear who’s going to survive, if anyone, with even Parry Shen’s franchise hero put in serious danger. Shen is the beating heart of the Hatchet series, but Hatchet 3 doesn’t give him quite as much room to shine as Victor Crowley does, mostly because he has to compete with Harris for screentime, which isn’t really a fair fight. Regardless, the future soap star remains sweetly sympathetic and understandably nervous throughout his return to the swamp. One of the biggest criticisms aimed at the kind of classic slashers Hatchet so lovingly apes is that they don’t have any heart, believable characters, or even a compelling story. The modern Scream sequels have been criticized for essentially retreading the same old ground over and over, but it works because we love it, and Hatchet 3 is in that same kind of vein.
It’s familiar enough to feel like a Hatchet movie but with enough innovation to keep us invested. Most impressively, despite the seemingly definitive ending, there’s clearly more story to tell here–no mean feat for a ghost killer who can’t leave his own damn swamp.