Judge Gordon Sullivan is rated NC-17.
Victor Crowley Lives
I was not a huge fan of the first Hatchet. I didn't (and still don't) think the world needs another throwback slasher. Plus, no amount of good gore can make up for yet another film where Joel Moore plays a guy with girl problems. So, I wasn't really looking for a sequel, but then I heard about Hatchet II and its troubles with the MPAA, and I'm always up for someone taking on the ratings board. It seems that director Adam Green turned in his cut of the film, and the ratings board slapped it with the dreaded NC-17. This usually means that advertisers won't accept ads for the film, and many theaters would refuse to screen it. To keep his film intact and get around these problems, Green made the nigh-unprecedented move of going straight to a theater chain and asking them to distribute the movie. AMC saw the film and agreed to release it as an "AMC independent." In that capacity it was released to theaters and played less than a week before being pulled (although an R-rated cut was produced as well). Now fans have the chance to catch their favorite bayou monster on home video. For fans of the first film this will be a welcome sequel.
Facts of the Case
Hatchet II starts just moments after the first film ended, with Marybeth (Danielle Harris, Halloween) in the hands of the notorious Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder, Hatchet). She barely escapes, and makes her way back to the shop of Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd, The Graves). He agrees to help her get the bodies of her brother and father back. To do so, he assembles a team of hired killers so he can hopefully rid the swamp of the ghost of Victor Crowley forever.
I watched Hatchet II, and I'm still trying to figure out why it was rated NC-17. That rating literally means that no one under 17 will be admitted, which must mean that something in Hatchet II is so scary/gory/gross/etc. to mean that it would corrupt any viewer who didn't have at least 17 years of experience on our planet. I just don't see it. Basically, Hatchet II takes everything we're familiar with from other slasher films and turns it up to 11 in an adolescent geyser of gore. I don't want to give too much away, but this is the kind of film where a couple is having sex and the man gets his head cut off. The female partner tries to continue and wonders why it's not working before being killed herself. It's silly and sophomoric, but hardly likely to warp the spines of impressionable 15-year-old boys.
Maybe I'm wrong about the MPAA, though. Maybe instead of protecting the young minds of tomorrow from some fake blood and faker breasts, they were really just trying to save everybody from watching Hatchet II by giving it an NC-17. Because everything that the MPAA likely objected to certainly keeps this film from being particularly good. The film's 85-minute running time feels like an overlong effects reel show casing the (admittedly impressive) gore contraptions at work. Except whereas films like Saw build their narratives around their gore-soaked effects set pieces, Hatchet II relies on tired slasher tropes to get from killing to killing.
The film isn't helped by other structural problems either. It takes over 30 minutes to get Marybeth and crew back into the swamp, which means we're left with recycled killings from the first film and a lot of tired exposition about the curse of Crowley and how he died. Some of that material is fine, for what it is, but the flashback structure just feels like it's killing time. Once in the swamp the film still takes a while to build up to the killings, and while those are cool it still doesn't help keep any interest in how the plot is (or isn't) moving forward. This is all followed by the inevitable twist and "shocking" ending that sets up yet more sequels.
Then there are the characters. Reverend Zombie is only tolerable because of the dependable Tony Todd, but pretty much every other character is a bad stereotype. The lone female and lone black hunters are especially poorly done, but even the main character (Marybeth) is obnoxious and one dimensional. Most fright flicks make up for that by making the monster the centerpiece, but Crowley just isn't compelling enough to carry a feature like this.
On DVD, Hatchet II is nothing to write home about. The video transfer is generally okay looking, but a bit noisy. It's not as crisp as its predecessor, and all the scenes in the dark don't help matters. It's certainly watchable, but I expected more. The 5.1 surround track is a bit better, with some atmospherics in the surrounds and clear dialogue.
The main extras are the pair of commentaries. The first is "production" commentary with Adam Green, Will Barratt (cinematographer), and Robert Pendergraft (special effects). The trio is very active in discussing how the film came out from a technical stand point. The second features Green, Tony Todd, and Kane Hodder. There some good stuff on this track, too, but Green still controls the show. Note that these are only available on the "Setup" menu, not the "Extras" menu. Then we get a 30-minute featurette that intersperses interview footage with Green and on-set footage. Finally, there's a group of publicity materials including a trailer, a teaser, a TV spot, and a radio spot.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As a special effects reel, Hatchet II delivers the goods. Based solely on the kills, this would be in the upper echelon of slasher films. The deaths are clever, funny, and well-executed, and as a fan of the genre I often found myself smiling, laughing, or exclaiming during the killing moments. I really don't think it's enough to save the film for most viewers, but many genre fans will likely overlook some of the narrative problems because of the righteous kills.
Hatchet II pretty much squanders any goodwill generated by the first movie when it takes almost half the film to get us back to the swamp. Despite these narrative holes, though, the film does deliver the goods in the gore department. So, for fans of the first film or slashers in general this one's worth a rental if the fast-forward button on your remote is working.
I'm not happy that Victor Crowley lives, but Hatchet II is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
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