Adam Green is an upstart horror mogul, one of those fans-turned-filmmakers that hasn't quite calibrated himself well enough – he's still too much of a gushy fan-boy, and not enough of a filmmaker. He blurs the line between horror convention attendee and speaker. And there are some that may find this totally acceptable and charming, but he of all people needs to realize that for a genre movie to be really special, it has to be about more than how cool it looks when someone's head splits open.
Still, this is the main thing you'll take away from 'Hatchet,' Green's debut feature that played the Tribeca Film Festvial in 2006 before getting a very slight theatrical release in the fall of 2007. There's nothing more to 'Hatchet.' It's not political (as the best and most lasting horror accomplishments are), it's not particularly clever or beautiful-looking. It just sort of is. The box art (and original posters) proclaimed it the return of "Old School American Horror," to which I want to scream: "That's not enough!"
The plot of 'Hatchet,' as much as there is one, involves a "ghost tour" of the bayou, which starts out in New Orleans, and goes out on the fog-shrouded waters to look for a legendary "hatchet-face" bogeyman called Victor Crowley (played by former Jason Voorhees Kane Hodder) who may or may not be haunting the surrounding era (spoiler alert: he may!) On this doomed boat include Ben (Joel David Moore, many years before 'Avatar'), a college kid nursing a broken heart (Deon Richmond plays his buddy); Misty (Mercedes McNab), a breast-baring girl-gone-wild; Shawn (Perry Shen), the tour guide; Marybeth (Tamara Feldman), who has a connection to the feared bogeyman; and the sleazy girls-gone-wild guy Doug Shapiro (Joel Murray).
As the movie unfolds, the various victims wander around the swamp and get mutilated in various grotesque and creative ways. This is about as much "plot" as you're going to get out of 'Hatchet.' I remember seeing it a little while ago and being mildly entertained, and re-watching it for this review (and in anticipation of the sequel – groan) I was struck not by the horror (because, let's face it, everything looks outlandishly fake and rubbery) but by the humor. There are some horrible things that happen in 'Hatchet,' but there's not a malicious bone in the movie's proverbial body. There's a kind of genial goosing that goes on through most of 'Hatchet' that makes it somewhat refreshing – this was a movie born out of the love of similarly out-there horror oddities, not by studio demands or remake requirements or unnecessary serializing.
All of that doesn't make 'Hatchet' a good movie, but it does make it a good time. After 'Hatchet,' Green made the genuinely affecting 'Frozen,' about a trio of kids that get stuck on a ski lift. Then he returned to the 'Hatchet' universe for 'Hatchet II,' a movie so devoid of anything even mildly endearing or entertaining that I could barely watch it. While I'm not the biggest fan of 'Hatchet,' any good will went right out of the window, er, screening room, with that sequel.
But anyway, if you're only interested in the fountains of gore that can bubble forth from a foam latex head, without much in the terms of subtext, political commentary, or basic narrative logic, you should have a good time with 'Hatchet.' It thankfully does away with much of the cynicism associated with the recent rash of "torture porn" horror flicks; even when it's bleeding from the head, 'Hatchet' is wearing a warm smile.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Hatchet' slashes its way onto the high-definition format on a 50GB disc that is Region A locked. The disc auto-plays, followed by a series of trailers (including one for Adam Green's superior 'Hatchet' follow-up, 'Frozen'), before halting on the main menu.
'Hatchet' comes equipped with a serviceable 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer (aspect ratio: 1.78:1) that is probably the best the movie has ever looked. That said: it's a pretty crummy-looking movie to begin with.
The early, daytime scenes are easily the cheapest looking in the movie, but the transfer does a good job of adding some level of texture and dimensionality. Skin tones look good, colors (like the pearlescent Mardi Gras beads strung around peoples' necks) pop admirably, and even the make-up on Tony Todd looks pretty great. When the movie shifts to the night boat cruise, and into the darker phase of the film (which lasts for the duration of its running time), the transfer keeps up.
Had the black levels been bungled, then the entire movie would have been nearly unwatchable. Thankfully, the transfer keeps things deep and inky and, what's more, there's some nice depth to these sequences; only occasionally will things get flat and blurry.
The downside to the crystalline sharpness evidenced in much of the movie is that the cheap-ass make-up effects and gore gags look even more cheap-ass-y. Victor Crowley in particular, who is supposed to be a hulking bayou bogeyman, looks like a B-level stuntman loaded up in rubber appliances, which is exactly what he is. Also, the blood might be a little too red when it spurts out of victims skulls and bodies, with those fake bodies looking a bit on the obvious side as well.
Additionally, there's a healthy amount of grain, which makes the movie look more like a real movie and less like the fan boy wish fulfillment fantasy it actually is.
The transfer is a mostly good, only occasionally bad, always workmanlike transfer that is probably as good as 'Hatchet' is ever going to look. If you're a fan of the film, this might not be a revelation, but it will make you happy.
Better than the video portion of the disc is the lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound mix, which brings some thunderous blood letting to high definition. It may not be the most nuanced audio presentation you've ever heard, but it sure is loud.
Like the film itself, the mix fluctuates wildly between eerie atmospherics and slam-bang-crash loudness, and both sound great. From the cricket-infested bayou to the moment when Victor Crowley crunches the torso of a victim up against a tree trunk, these are rendered in crisp clarity, with just the right amount of oomph and surround sound support necessary to make things really pop.
Is it the best mix you've ever heard? Well, no. Sometimes the directionality of the mix is lacking, and just like the rest of the movie, things are handled without much finesse. But it was much more than I was expecting, with the track excelling in key areas, including dialogue reproduction and sound effects which are loud but never overwhelm the mix.
There's only one audio option but there are subtitles in both English SDH and Spanish. So there's that.
There are a number of extra features on this disc, the majority of them ported over from the original special edition DVD release, although this does feature a new audio commentary exclusive to the Blu-ray (more on that in a minute).
I wasn't crazy about 'Hatchet,' and find it's proud proclamation of "Old School American Horror" to be a dubious distinction at best. It's a horror movie that's only in it for the splatter, and nothing more. All that said, 'Hatchet' does have a good sense of humor, so it's not a complete bore. With above-average audio and video and a whole bunch of extras (including one of my favorite commentary tracks in recent memory), means a cautious recommendation from me, if you want a midnight movie and are all out of other options.