Hatchet wasn't really a horror film. It was horrible, but that's not the same thing. Tasteless, poorly written and indifferently shot, Hatchet thoroughly failed to be a loving throwback, unless accurately recreating the worst inanities of the Friday the 13th franchise counts as success. In boasting that it was not a sequel, a remake or based on a Japanese film, Hatchet only made us wish we were watching any one of those things instead.
It's something of a surprise, then, that Hatchet II is an improvement over its predecessor in almost every department. It's still not a good film, but it's an acceptable way to waste an hour and a half. That has nothing to do with director Adam Green's decision to release the film without a rating: the over-the-top gore remains the worst aspect of the franchise. No, Green gets the job done with old-fashioned good writing and casting. But we'll get to that.
The film opens where Hatchet ended, with Marybeth (Danielle Harris, replacing Tamara Feldman) being attacked by Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder). She escapes his undead grip by poking out his eye and flees the swamp, the only survivor of Crowley's murder spree. She's picked up by Jack Cracker (John Carl Buechler), who throws her out when he realises whose son she is, but tells her to see Reverend Zombie in New Orleans. After Marybeth is gone, Crowley attacks Cracker and strangles him with his own intestine.
After the credits, Green transports us back to New Orleans, where an incredibly tasteless establishing shot of someone vomiting on the pavement reminds us it's the day after Mardi Gras. Marybeth drops by the voodoo shop of Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd, promoted from a cameo in the first film), who eventually agrees to take her back to Crowley's cabin so she can retrieve the bodies of her father and brother. Zombie insists, though, that Marybeth bring a family member along, while he'll assemble a team to go into the swamp that same night.
The cast duly return to the swamp by boat. Once on land, they split up into several teams of expendable meat plus a central group of five. The former are nought but bodycount padding, and I shan't bother to list their names, personalities of varying obnoxiousness, or their gory deaths. The latter consist of Marybeth, Reverend Zombie, badass middle-aged biker Trent (R.A. Mihailoff), Marybeth's uncle Bob (Tom Holland) and Justin (Parry Shen), the twin brother of Shawn, the previous night's tour guide. Marybeth soon finds out that Reverend Zombie has a sinister plan. It turns out that the three children who killed Victor Crowley were Marybeth's father Sampson, her uncle, and Trent. Zombie hopes that by killing these three Crowley will at last complete his revenge and find peace, leaving the long-forbidden swamp to Zombie's control (or something).
This plot twist means that Hatchet II has far higher stakes than the first film, where Marybeth was merely looking for her father and brother (who we already knew were dead). The element of uncertainty and suspense - will Crowley kill Trent and Bob? will the curse be ended? what of Reverend Zombie's nefarious schemes? - makes the film much more emotionally satisfying than the original's simple-minded 'meat enter swamp & die' schema. It's still full of shameless padding, though: Victor Crowley begins carving the meat 54 minutes into an 85-minute film. Before that, it's mostly inane drama about characters we know will not live long.
Aside from the peripheral meat, the characters themselves are much better drawn and acted. Todd's venal, theatrical performance is one-note, but it's an enjoyable note, while Holland and Mihailoff take sketchily drawn characters and turn them into full human beings (well, full slasher archetypes, but you know what I mean). Harris is better than Feldman, but mostly it's just damn amazing to see Danielle Harris, one of the great scream queens of the modern era (she's done four Halloween films, remember, the same number as Jamie Lee Curtis), get an absolutely terrific final shot that threatens for the briefest of moments to elevate Hatchet II to 'good', before we remember what came before.
It looks better, too: Will Barratt's daytime cinematography is superior to the nighttime equivalent thereof, although the latter, too, is improved. It's ridiculously, implausibly gory, with far more actual hatcheting than the first film. I'm no gorehound, but I've seen enough slasher films to know that a master like Tom Savini would laugh at the practical effects in the Hatchet franchise. That, of course, still seems to be the intention: to make us laugh. As it is, Hatchet II still isn't all that enjoyable, although a greatly improved sequel. On the current trajectory, it almost makes you look forward to Hatchet III, coming out this year - almost.
In this series: Hatchet (2006) | Hatchet II (2010)