The Rosetta shot: “Hatchet II”
You know how teenaged gorehounds sometimes make excitable lists of all the bizarre and hyperbolic ways they’d like to see people dispatched in films? There’s a reason big-budget movies aren’t made from those lists.
Adam Green’s Hatchet isn’t a great movie. It’s not even a good movie. But it does scratch, however nakedly, that old-school slasher itch; once it gets going (and, like the films it emulates, it takes way too long to get going), it offers some undemanding cheap thrills. Dumb as dirt and half as useful, Hatchet nevertheless delivers on the splattery promise it makes to its audience. That said, it doesn’t do anything else worth consideration and is ultimately kind of pointless. Hatchet is to cinema as a 7-11 microwave burrito is to food - it’ll satiate hunger by the most basic understanding of the concept, but there’s no reason to consume it unless you’re drunk or desperate, and even then you’ll probably hate yourself afterwards.
With that in mind, Hatchet II is what happens after the burrito combined with the alcohol and/or shame turn on you. In the ignominious tradition of pretty much every slasher sequel, it’s a wretched piece of regurgitated rot, the kind of film that still takes half a movie to set up its universe despite having thoroughly set it up in the first part. The only innovation, as with a good many of these types of things (i.e. the Friday the 13th series), is the escalated brutality of the money scenes, yet Hatchet II screws up even that by pushing its kills so far over the top that they become extravagantly ridiculous. The intended effect is to make the audience go, “OH COOL WOW I’VE NEVER SEEN THAT BEFORE,” but the actual effect is an alienation - Victor Crowley’s dallying with belt sanders and table saws and so on try so hard to be so unique and KOOL that they become faintly insulting, like we’re being pandered to.
Compounding the issue, Green’s puerile sense of humor gets even freer reign than it did in the first film. For instance, consider the two hunters (one of whom is an Odious Comic Relief black dude who’s all rampaging, sassy id) who get ambushed by Crowley as he wields the most enormous chainsaw in creation. The two are then simultaneously bisected from crotch to cranium, and in most slasher flicks that’d be it - the wild death is the punchline. Green can’t resist trying to plop a cherry on top of the sickness sundae, though, so we’re treated to a shot of one unfortunate party’s disembodied testicles flopping to the ground. That’s not clever, son, that’s just moronic gilding of the bloody lily.
But let’s be honest - it’s not like Green doesn’t warn you from the get-go. As you can see above, his writing/directing credit appears on screen hovering above a fresh puddle of vomit. That alone sends enough of a warning, but here’s the kicker: Guess who that is in the scene as the ashen-faced fratboy responsible for said vomit? Adam Green, of course. Essentially he’s saying before things have even started, “Yep, I puked this thing up, and you’re stuck watching it. Too late to get your money back now, sucker.” Prost to you too, buddy.
Horror Challenge entry #9: Laid to Rest (2009, Robert Hall)
This really coulda been something if it didn’t keep getting in its own damn way. I guess, since it’s not 1983 anymore, it’s not enough for a movie to simply be an inventive and gruesome slasher flick - it needs to have a plot and characters and stuff, stuff more complicated than, “big dude in mask guts people.” What irks about Hall’s sophomore feature is that he’s really damn good with the basics of the slasher genre - his direction is solid, he builds tensions and knows how to time his shocks, and his makeup gags are cruelly creative. (Johnathon Schaech’s death scene is remarkable in its terrifically-staged savagery.) If he’d only stick to that, make a stripped-down killfest and leave it at that, he’d be aces with me. But far, far too much of Laid to Rest is spent on sussing out the relationship between its killer, an implacable camera-toting mute named Chrome Skull, and its Final Girl, a whiny nameless amnesiac whose every action seems to get someone slashed. The script goes on and on like it’s got an ace up its sleeve, a big twist it’s hiding. Then we reach the climax and… nothing. The big reveal is a big kaput, as it changes little about the film aside from clarifying the already-subtextual (and not exactly difficult-to-figure-out) reactionary streak in Chrome Skull’s rampage. Dude, I read Carol Clover too. I know how this stuff works. No need to highlight and underline it for the sake of coyness. Might be worth seeing for the curious and undemanding for its gore FX, which again are terrific, and for the sight of Kevin Gage in an unabashedly heroic role.
Horror Challenge entry #7: After.Life (2010, Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo)
Allow me to boil this film down to its essence:
CHRISTINA RICCI: I’m not dead.
LIAM NEESON: Yes, you are.
CHRISTINA RICCI: I don’t feel dead.
LIAM NEESON: Trust me, you are.
CHRISTINA RICCI: How do you know?
LIAM NEESON: I’m a funeral director, I know corpses when I see them.
CHRISTINA RICCI: So how are we having this conversation?
LIAM NEESON: I can talk to the dead. And before you say anything, it’s not a gift.
CHRISTINA RICCI: I don’t believe you. I’m not dead.
LIAM NEESON: As a doornail, sweetie.
Repeat above annoying conversation for roughly 90 minutes. Garnish with red-on-white color scheme and awful symbolism (a bobblehead? really?). Toss in stupid twist ending that makes the whole thing pointless and intellectually suspect.
Horror Challenge entry #3: Daybreakers (2010, Michael & Peter Spierig)
A stylish and darkly funny social satire with horrific elements for much of its running time, but it’s clearly a film where the concept was a strong draw yet the Spierigs never quite figured how to fully utilize it. They set up the world, set up the conflict and set up the characters, yet on the evidence here they never quite nailed down how to resolve that conflict with the characters and world provided. What was pretty neat starts to go wobbly around the midway point, when the vampirism cure starts to foreground itself; by the third act, the film has broken down into generic action-packed blood-n-bullets mayhem, with convenient heel turns (and vice versa) and heroic characters who are never as dead as expected. Also, Ethan Hawke is such a wet blanket, I mean really, and the good-brother/bad-brother conflict is weary, weary shit. I know I’m in the minority on this, but I have to say I still prefer the Spierig’s scrappy crappy debut Undead.
Horror Challenge entry #1: Frozen (2010, Adam Green)
Maybe this Green kid knows what he’s doing after all. Far removed from the jokey emptiness of Hatchet, Frozen is a taut, ruthless and dead serious bit of survival horror that wants us to care about what happens to its unfortunate characters. Myriad are the horror films where youngsters, privileged youngsters, do stupid stuff to deserve their fate and we in the audience agree. Rarer, and much harder to pull off, is the horror film where the main characters do stupid stuff to deserve their fate yet we hope they avoid it because the film works hard to make us see past their faults to the essential humanity underneath. That’s the strength of Frozen: It’s a combination of bad luck and the-rules-don’t-apply-to-us brazenness that gets three youths accidentally stranded on a powered-down ski lift, yet as the elements take their toll and guards get dropped, sympathy starts to creep in. Once that happens, it’s an easy jump to hoping for the best for these characters, which then means Green can start throwing gut punches. Exposure and rot, the fragility of flesh, place this as uncomfortably close to body-horror as a man-vs.-wild shock show can get, and each bodily failing is played for maximum impact (the blonde’s hand on the metal railing, for instance). A striking step in the right direction for a hopeful young talent; let’s hope this proves to be the rule and not the exception in his career. (Hatchet II seems a regression, though I haven’t seen it.)
Nine out of ten times, you lose that battle.
My review of The Other Guys posted today on In Review Online. Horror Challenge reviews to commence soon, promise.
My review of The Human Centipede (First Sequence) went up over the week at In Review Online. I’m not a fan.
From the Shelf: Bad Santa (2003, Terry Zwigoff)
Acquired: I… I don’t actually remember. Pretty sure I bought it rather than received it as a gift, but couldn’t tell you the time frame.
Seen before?: Several times.
This is a film I adore and have seen a number of times. Because I adore it, and because I’ve seen it a whole lotta buncha times, I don’t feel I have anything to say about it that I haven’t already said. Bad Santa, with its gloriously pungent dialogue and perfectly boozy, sleazy performance from the invaluable Billy Bob Thornton, is the kind of film I’ve seen often enough that I’ve incorporated it into my everyday dealings with the world - I’ll quote the film a few times a week, mostly the line, “Well, they can’t all be winners, kid, now can they?” (Though lately, I’ve also grown inordinately fond of “I’m gonna stick my whole fist up your ass.”) Interesting to note on repeat viewings how the creeping sentiment that defines the film’s last third begins to feel earned because Thornton truly invests himself in the character of Willie and allows us to see the flashes of disappointed humanity that he spends all his waking moments trying to drown in alcohol and licentiousness. This is, if nothing else, a dark portrait of a man on the edge of ruin who wakes up just enough to keep himself from going over the edge, and we laugh anyway because the self-destruction is so outsized and surly that it’s sickly amusing. That’s probably why the vulgarity has an impact beyond simple shock - it’s an expression of existential despair as potent as anything by Bergman.
Up next: From one drunk to another…
Where we’ve been.
I’ll be back soon - got a few things that need taking care of first. In the meantime, here’s a few pieces posted at In Review Online (which just debuted its snazzy new design):
One decade later, and another one must fall down.
Totally forgot to mention: My review of the retarded Remember Me went up last week at In Review Online. Check it out.