Like some chewed up roadkill that just won’t die, Victor Crowley is once again haunting Honey Island Swamp for yet another Hatchet sequel, but this time with a new director at the helm. BJ McDonnell, a camera operator on both Hatchet and Hatchet II, is passed the directorial torch from creator Adam Green, leading his crew directly into the Louisiana swamps for some down-home shooting for Hatchet III. The bugs were ferocious and the climate was exhausting, but everyone involved favored the great outdoors over some LA sound stages. Would their bug-spray covered efforts be enough to continue the gory legacy of horror icon in-the-making Victor Crowley? Or would all the cuts, bites, and poisonings be squandered on nothing but a sub-par horror sequel.
To put it simply, the Hatchet franchise has not aged like a fine wine. I witnessed Hatchet break onto the horror scene as an outstanding old-school 80s slasher homage which absolutely floored viewers, then I saw Hatchet II favor enjoyably over-the-top ridiculousness over storytelling with spectacle like results, but Hatchet III marks a sequel downslide for a franchise attempting to repeat initial success. Humor, practical gore, extremist thinking, and a “f*ck it all” mentality kept Hatchet alive for the first two films, but this time all those aspects felt different – something felt off. There was no strong core holding everything together, just a mishmash of kills, cheesy puns, generic scenery shots, and a pissed off Victor Crowley.
Continuing Green’s established timeline in which Hatchet I, II, and III all happen in continuation (Green is already teasing a mastercut of all three tied together as one film), we open with female protagonist Marybeth (Danielle Harris) blowing Victor Crowley away with a shotgun, which is exactly how Hatchet II ends. Thinking she’s finished off the curse, Marybeth walks to the local police department, bloodied and holding Crowley’s scalp, and is immediately put into custody by Sheriff Fowler (Zach Galligan) under the suspicion she murdered all the Crowley victims. What else is the cop to assume, a local ghost story killed everyone? This doesn’t hold for long though, because when the first response team reports numerous corpses strewn about Honey Island Swamp, all viciously mauled and dismembered, Fowler is forced to reconsider the fact that a foul-mouthed little Southern girl was capable of such actions, and he goes out to survey the damage himself. But when night hits, stories become a reality, as Victor Crowley rises once again, slaughtering the entire first response team. Intent on ending things once and for all, every available unit is called in for backup, local and SWAT, as Fowler takes to the swamp for answers. His ex-wife Amanda (Caroline Williams) also has plans of her own, being an “expert” on the Crowley myth, and thinks she has a real way end Victor’s nightly rampage using Marybeth’s bloodline. Will it work?
What remains evident is that Green really knows how to have fun with horror, which is painstakingly obvious in his scripting. His fun-loving demeanor and genre excitement makes him super self-aware of the references he can throw in, be it quippy little lines about his character’s past work (Derek Mears/Kane Hodder both having played Jason at one point for example) or nostalgic references to his own sequels, which adds an enjoyable tongue-in-cheek vibe to Hatchet III. Once again you’ll see familiar faces, travel back to some of your favorite moments from the first two films, fill in existing franchise gaps which still remained open, and become one with the Hatchet world. The problem is though, these were the best moments of Hatchet III, as the new material just felt weaker than what Green had established through Hatchet I and II.
I’m not taking a cheap shot at director BJ McDonnell here either, because he really brought a few Hatchet worthy kill sequences to life, but his vision just wasn’t on par with the previous Hatchet films. Camp is what Green’s franchise is all about, keeping those schlocky old-school practical effects which spit blood like a freakin’ garden sprinkler, but Hatchet III felt like an aesthetic step down compared to the original two. I’m not sure of the budget, but a downgrade in the effects department had me rolling my eyes instead of laughing maniacally as a character is torn apart by Victor Crowley. Hatchet I and II had show-stopping kill sequences that exploited practical effects for all they’re worth, be it Joel Murray getting his head twisted or the Hofstra liar getting her face torn apart, but Hatchet III didn’t have the same consistant shock-value this time around. The bloody sprays were mistier, the fake bodies more noticeable, and the deaths favored quantity over quality, all leading to this third installment feeling like a distant step-cousin of the original Hatchet family.
While talking about the aesthetics, I also noticed while Hatchet III spent more time shooting in Louisiana swamps, the organic settings didn’t provide a step up in visual quality – quite the opposite actually. I found some of the nighttime hunting scenes extremely fuzzy and unclear, losing the crisp visuals from the first films. Dare I say the sound stages looked better than the actual thing?
Luckily, Kane Hodder’s ghoulish performance as Victor Crowley still made me shudder, as the famed monster actor presents such a unmistakably intimidating force. When in character, Hodder beefs up the tank-like Crowley and goes into this maniacal killing mode which has carried all through the franchise, and I honestly believe no one can play a horror villain like Hodder. While he may not have lines and while he’s covered in costume makeup magic, if Victor Crowley goes down in history as a slasher icon, Kane Hodder will be the reason for it.
Hatchet III is one of the rare horror sequels I was actually excited to see, but BJ McDonnell’s crack at Adam Green’s slasher franchise is a few steps away from dismissive mediocrity. Judging the film against Green’s first entries will have franchise fans witnessing a low point for Victor Crowley, rehashing more of the same dismembering violence while letting overall watchability drop.
As a Hatchet lover though, I can absolutely say I still dug Hatchet III for Green’s nostalgic glory and the brutally approvable Crowley killings. I may sound a little negative in my review, but that’s only because Hatchet was such a monumental movie for me. McDonnell’s entry doesn’t fall completely flat, and doesn’t fail miserably, but his film won’t be one to bring new audiences into the franchise. Our third installment is for the die-hard fans out there that will pick up every little reference, and offers a Victor Crowley movie with a much bigger scale than were used to. Green has told the story he wanted to tell, and McDonnell finishes the trilogy off with a bang. It might not be the loudest bang, but there’s plenty of Hatchet-inspired hack n’ slash destruction to satiate the Hatchet Army’s diabolical appetite.
The legend of Victor Crowley has spanned three full movies, but maybe it’s time for this southern-fried slasher to retire before things go sour…