Ever since “oldies” like Scream entered their “retrospective anniversary articles” phase, slasher cinema has failed to regain control of genre airwaves like those 80’s mainstays of pulp and cultural circumstance. Your still-relevant Friday The 13th or Child’s Play franchises. To that, I’ve always considered Adam Green’s Hatchet an exception to trends. My first taste of Victor Crowley’s bayou legend struck me as – pound for pound – one of the post-2000 era’s gnarliest slasher rebirths. Hatchet II and Hatchet III, two underrated indie continuations, only strengthened my arguments. Count me a ranking axe-wielder in the Hatchet Army, and a continual fan of Green’s work (Frozen chills to the core, Digging Up The Marrow blasts creativity).
Unfortunately, this just makes 2018’s Victor Crowley a bigger disappointment in my eyes.
Parry Shen returns as Andrew – the lone survivor of Hatch III’s massacre – and is duped into returning to Honey Island Swamp for a promised payday (his tell-all book attracts televised attention and disbelief). Along for the ride are film school brats trying to shoot their own slasher about Victor Crowley (Chase Williamson, Laura Ortiz, Katie Booth), assorted players (Felissa Rose/Brian Quinn), Andrew’s ex-flame/talk show host Sabrina (Krystal Joy Brown), a tour guide/hopeful actor (Dave Sheridan), and of course Louisiana’s overall-wearin’ murderer – Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder).
Full disclosure, I respect Green’s DIY attitude and maverick-with-a-camera outlook on horror filmmaking. Victor’s resurrection, much like the other Hatchet films, works to slice up cadavers and deliver laughs in unison. There’s a playfulness about the horror genre that Green understands and milks though outlandish kills sequences – but Victor Crowley is the first entry that loses grip of more horrific elements. Jokes become paramount, which often feels like improv riffing while a single-setting airplane cabin seals in formulaic staleness.
In revisiting Hatchet, there’s a darkness to voodoo mysticism that benefits Green’s personal touches. Jokes like a character lying about attending NYU (over Hofstra, my alma mater) don’t distract from the dangerously imposing advances of Victor himself. Scenes are drenched in doom and delight, whereas Victor Crowley brightens up set-dressings and exposes costume makeup with less tense results. By all means get crazy off meta humor, filmmaker cameos and personal brand references (the more Arwen the better, frankly) – *only* if it doesn’t play as a film’s prime intention.
It must be confirmed that practical effects serve up – without argument – a choice selection of go-for-broke kills. Victor Crowley goes all choppy-stumpy with his titular hatchet by lopping off heads, legs, or whatever appendage is freely hanging, but that’s not all. One woman’s arm is shoved through a nether region opening and out her mouth, still clutching her cellphone – whoa. Plus, who hasn’t wanted to see an “impractical joker” finally lose his mind (nailed it)? Fans of underground slasher sacrifices will have plenty to enjoy in franchise fashion, especially when an airplane engine starts whirring. If gore is enough, this is one New Orleans barbeque you shouldn’t miss.
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More so than Hatchet II and Hatchet III, Victor Crowley lacks any reinvention of the proverbial wheel. Granted, I do love seeing Crowley’s immortal adversary – Mr. Shen – devolve into survival madness for the fourth time. Sheridan lends his typically overzealous jokester persona and Ortiz plays a mouthy sass-teen with scream queen behavior in mind, but the rest of their castmates are unenthusiastic lambs for the slaughter. A bit too gaggy at times (captain announcements), which confines these actors to a tonal paradox where they struggle between translating terror and landing a well-cued zinger. Rarely benefited by the red-lite airplane cabin most souls never escape.
You have to understand, as I type this Victor Crowley review my heart is breaking. I truly hope enough of you support indie horror and get your boots bloody once again, because a Hatchet V would fill me with excitement nonetheless. Unfortunately, despite too many internal arguments, this regeneration falls a bit flat and far too familiar in terms of B-movie slasher fare. Adam Green has more to say than a lot of horror filmmakers working today – I just don’t find much of it in this simplified hack-em-up that seems more preoccupied with setting what comes next. Maybe – and hopefully – you’ll be able to appreciate what this reviewer couldn’t.
Adam Green never abandons his splattery sensibilities in Victor Crowley - which is a good thing for gore fans - but the franchise's darkened atmosphere is barely recognizable this time around.