Undaunted by the debacle surrounding the abbreviated theatrical run of Hatchet II, Adam Green and company return with a vengeance in Hatchet III, a sequel that never once strays from the formula established in the first two films, but offers plenty of bloody fun for good-humored gore hounds. Handing over directorial duties to his experienced camera operator BJ McDonnell (who worked on both previous entries), series originator Green serves as writer and co-executive producer for round three, and it’s plain to see he’s having quite a good time dreaming up inventive kills and absurd scenarios to get Marybeth (once again played by veteran scream queen Danielle Harris) back into the swamp.
As with Hatchet II, the story in Hatchet III begins the very moment the previous chapter ends. Having just turned Victor Crowley’s (Kane Hodder) head into raw hamburger with a point-blank shotgun blast, tormented heroine Marybeth must once more fight for her life when the deformed maniac resurrects yet again. Fortunately for Marybeth, a well-placed chainsaw rips Crowley clean in two, allowing her the opportunity to make her way to the closest police station, where Sheriff Fowler (Zach Galligan) is contending with drunken Mardi Gras revelers. Drenched in blood and carrying Crowley’s scalp, Marybeth is quickly hosed down and locked up in a cell. As Sheriff Fowler heads to Honey Island Swamp with his best men to investigate, his ex-wife, disgraced reporter Amanda (Caroline Williams) convinces Deputy Winslow (Robert Diago DoQui) to let her question Marybeth. Meanwhile in the swamp, Crowley descends upon the first responders tasked with cleaning up the shocking scene. With half the force heading in as backup, Amanda realizes that the key to defeating Crowley may lie in his father’s remains, and talks Deputy Winslow into bringing Marybeth along as they head to a nearby town to retrieve them. By the time Amanda, Deputy Winslow, and Marybeth arrive in the swamp to confront Crowley, the madman has already massacred most of the police as well as a heavily armed swat team led by the fearless Hawes (Derek Mears). Should their bold plan fail, the trio will certainly die horribly. With no options left, they venture into the darkness to confront the legend that never dies.
As derivative of the first two installments as the original Hatchet was of the ’80s slasher craze, Hatchet III offers absolutely nothing new -- presenting the exact same scenario we’ve seen twice before, but with some fresh new faces served up for the slaughter (with the humorous exception of Parry Shen, who’s been resurrected nearly as much as Crowley in the series). Somewhat surprisingly, Green has toned down his trademark corny humor this time around, opting for an overall playful tone instead of assaulting us with the kind of unrelenting groaners that plagued Hatchet II in particular. Though the occasional gag, including a scene where Sheriff Fowler rips the logic of the series as a cameoing Green looks on dejectedly, does crop up, they’re a bit more subtle than in the past, giving this the feel of a horror parody over an out-and-out horror comedy -- something that’s playfully reinforced by the film’s delightfully squishy sound design.
The fact that Green reigned in the silliness somewhat here is a good thing, too, because given the shaky acting of the lead players, an attempt at outright comedy could have fallen painfully flat. As pleasant as it is to see him onscreen again there’s a good reason Galligan all but vanished from cinema following 1990’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and prolific as she may be in the genre, pretty Harris won’t be winning any major acting awards anytime soon. Fortunately, the cameo players are there to pick up some slack, with Williams, Sean Whalen, and one enduring horror icon all jumping in the pool with both feet.
The same could be said about BJ McDonnell as well. With an extensive list of camera operator credits dating back to the early 1990s, McDonnell certainly knows how to play with light, and the assured staging displayed in his directorial debut shows great promise for the future as well. He brings a sense of energy to the action that carries Hatchet III through some of its slower moments and functionary expositional scenes, and shoots the copious amounts of gruesome practical effects with the skill of an old pro. In the end, if you’ve seen the first two Hatchet films you know what to expect here from the very first shot, but just like AC/DC still rocks hard with those same three chords they’ve been using since the 1970s, Green and McDonnell have a way of making the familiar feel fiendishly fun. leave a comment --Jason Buchanan