Sunday, January 6, 2008
HATCHET: Axe me again and I'll kill you the same.
There are three things I want everyone to know about HATCHET.
The first is that Mercedes McNab (aka "Harmony" from the Buffy-verse) needs to leave her clothes on. I'm not often accused or prudery nor would I find myself administering the proverbial kick for the proverbial cracker should the otherwise nubile Miss McNab be involved. It's just that the poor poppet is sporting one of those unfortunate boobjobs where the implants have started migrating towards the armpits, causing her nipples to slant inwards and give her funbags an off-putting, cross-eyed effect. Highlighting those in the first ten minutes of the movie telegraphed a freshman director whose judgment is less than razor keen. And completely spoiled a piece of Harmony on Willow fan porn that I've lost the will to write. Sigh.
The second is that actor Joel David Moore is a font of underappreciated screen goodness, so much so that I've already added SPIRAL (which is also by HATCHET director, Adam Green) to my Netflix queue. Joel David Moore may not ring any bells but you've seen this guy. His trademark Gilligan meets Shaggy awkwardness is refreshingly genre-neutral and, in HATCHET, makes him a solid comic foil for mayhem. I should also mention that he is from Portland and I have a soft spot for the local boys. In fact, I once met Moore's family at an Old Town Chicago Pizza Works after the local premiere of DODGEBALL, in which Moore plays Owen and scores my favorite crazy-eyed Amazon, Missi Pyle. Good on you, you lanky bastard. His family was a salt of the earth, good natured crew that could not have been more proud of their son/sibling/cousin and went on at great length about his success to anyone with a sympathetic ear. I was of course interested in knowing why, if Moore was so loved and successful, weren't his sainted parents seeing DODGEBALL in Hollywood with their son and Vince Vaughn instead of in Clackamas with Aunt Ruby. Sadly, the jalapeño poppers had just arrived so no satisfactory answer was forthcoming.
There is a scene in HATCHET where Moore witnesses boogieman of the week, Victor Crowley (played with practiced ease by Kane Hodder), cleaving his best friend from collarbone to hip (as homicidal hunchbacks are so oft to do). Moore's response is one of the more reasonable in recent slasher film memory: beat feet and when you've attained some distance, vomit like a you're in a Monty Python sketch. And by jingo, there was no sad, mouthful-of-thousand-island-dressing vomit that most "actors" expect us to swallow as gut-wrenching pathos for JDM! Nay, I say! This was a violent fountain of half-digested fear, an acrid plume of viscous, yellow-green fury that seemed to erupt from Moore's very soul! Dumbfounded, I paused the movie and watched the scene frame by frame, looking for the hoses, the bladder, anything that could cue me in to how they did it. Nothing. Moore - for his art, for his film, for the dusty, forgotten gods of cinéma-vérité - was legitimately hurling like an Amish schoolgirl full of cheap tequila, an act that was further supported by the DVD's special features. Take notes, students. Joel David Moore is the new Lizard King Viking Sex God of character actors. You may quote me.
And the third thing (remember? stay with me) is something you'd think I'd have already learned by now. The more effusive the critical praise for a horror film is prior to its limited theatrical release (especially when it comes from horror-biased sources like BLOODY DISGUSTING and ICONS OF FRIGHT), the higher the likelihood that it will choke. Horror icon Kane Hodder even went so far as to say - and I quote - “This is the best horror movie I have ever been involved with. All I can say is that it’s great. I stake my reputation on it.”
Wow. Hodder was in THE DEVIL'S REJECTS and JASON X, two horror films that grace my permanent collection for two very different reasons, so this is high praise indeed. Either HATCHET is a buttery slice of cinematic gold or Hodder is an indiscriminate shill whose pants are on fire. G'wan, take a guess.
Let's just say that as far as being a film critic, Hodder is an excellent stuntman.
But I want to be fair to HATCHET. It's not a horrible movie. If you're a insatiable horror movie slutpig like myself, HATCHET is practically required viewing. It's what all the cool kids are watching. And it's a damn sight better than 90% of the pestilent drivel that's passed off as horror these days. So don't overlook it because I was left wanting. I am callous and bitchy, with unrealistic expectations, a hair trigger hatred for sloppy film making and a petty but seething jealousy for one-shit wonders that somehow manage to get their vomitous films into every Blockbuster in the universe. It isn't right. And no, I did not misspell one-hit.
And make no mistake, HATCHET is a sloppy film. In one of HATCHET's final sequences, the three main characters find themselves being chased through a cemetery by the maniac. As if subtitling the movie as "Old School American Horror" could possibly forgive this sort of cliché, my favorite bit is when the protagonists lean against an ancient, moss-covered mausoleum - oh-so-subtly emblazoned with the director's surname in giant gold letters - and the whole wall wobbles like it was made out of paper mache. Because it was. I was about to rewind the DVD to make sure I had seen what I thought I saw, but the editor was kind enough to include two more shots with the same wobbly wall. I assumed that the director meant Jason or Freddy when he said "Old School American Horror" but I guess he meant Ed Wood.
But despite this and other shoddy production design, some clumsy directing, the predictable story arc and the lazy character design (the maniac Crowley is unremarkable and little more than an unmasked Jason), I managed to enjoy HATCHET for what it was. The cinematography was consistent and the acting was surprisingly solid for a film of this budget. Director/writer Adam Green did a nice job with much of the dialogue and obviously has a penchant for blending humor and horror that I assume will blossom once he loses his directorial baby teeth. And here's what most of you are waiting for: the gore. The gore is plentiful and fairly splendid. The deaths are straightforward hatchet jobs (ba-rum-BUM kissssssh!) that are obviously crafted with a canonical reverence for the subject matter that I feel makes up for their lack of originality.
None of it is as good as that vomit shot, though.