Saturday, October 23, 2010

How I've Devolved -- Reflections on "Hatchet" (2006)

Who do you think is gonna get killed first?

When I was in college, I would have hated Hatchet.

Most people, I think, seem to mature with age, but for some reason I seem to be digressing. I've loved horror fiction, going way back to my teen years, but for some reason I was a real snob about it. Slasher flicks were beneath me, you know. They were full of pathetic stereotypes doing stupid things, and it was all so nilhistic that I not only hated them, but also made fun of those who liked them. Slasher films are like the country/western music of the movie world -- they seem to cater to the most simple-minded fans.

Yet, as time has gone on, my tastes seem to have devolved. I find myself loving slasher movies with the same amount of gusto I used to have for the more serious fare, like Frailty and Silence of the Lambs. Either I've become simple-minded (possible), or there's more to slasher films than I originally thought (hopefully).

Hatchet is a dyed-in-the-wool, heart-on-your-sleeve slasher flick. It exploits every cliche in the genre, from the excessive nudity to the intrepid female hero to the more modern idea that characters think they are smarter than they actually are. And it does it with such joy, such showmanship, and such a godawfully great amount of gore that it's hard not to love it.

Unless you're a snob, a religious nutjob, or someone who faints at the sight of blood, even of the corn syrup variety.

The story is as simple as they come: two friends, kickin' it at Mardi Gras, decide to take a break from the booze and the boobs by going on a "haunted" bayou boat ride. Ben (Joel David Moore) is a lovelorn geek who wants something more than hedonist New Orleans to get his ex off his mind. Marcus (Deon Richmond) is his best buddy, reluctantly along for the ride more out of guilt than anything else. The fraternity-esque chemistry between the two of them sells the film early until they reach Bayou country, home of the ghost of the deformed, persecuted, and pissed-off about it Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder).

Along the way, Ben and Marcus meet lesbian porn stars, Jenna and Misty, their fraudulent producer Shapiro (Joel Murray), a charlatan tour guide (Parry Shen), and an old couple (Richard Riehle and Patrika Darbo). All of them are slasher kills in waiting, but you should have already known that.

More interesting, though, is another rider named Marybeth (Tamara Feldman), who has taken the lame haunted cruise into illegal bayou water in order to find her missing dad (Robert Englund) and brother. She knows the stories of Victor Crowley and is all too willing to share them once people start dying the most brutal of deaths.

And brutal the deaths are. To spoil them would be to take away the fun. If I told you the entire movie's story, that wouldn't be much of a spoiler (it's a pretty traditional slasher plot), but to tell you about the individual, that would be a problem. Suffice to say, director Adam Green seems to be having an obscene amount of fun putting together some kill moments that will have you laughing, groaning, and tweeting "WTF!!! Watching Hatchet right now!!! U shood 2."

The horror movie snob in me would say this movie has none of the creative brilliance of more meta works like Scream and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. But the devolved me wants to say that Hatchet is brilliant because it takes a style of film that has been cliche and passe for a long time and has found a way to make it fun and fresh without having to resort to winking at the audience. This is not going to be the stuff of legend -- it's no Halloween -- but it's a great horror popcorn feature for a Friday/Saturday night when all you really want is time to turn off your brain and watch blood and boobies.

I have no idea what college me would say about older me right now. Maybe if he knew he would one day love slasher flicks so unapologetically, he'd take a hatchet to his own face.

Metaphorically speaking. Of course.

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