Last year horror filmmaker Adam Green dropped a pleasant surprise for fans with the announcement that a new Hatchet film, Victor Crowley (2018), wasn’t just in development, but was finished and due for an early 2018 release. The original Hatchet (2006) was a fun, refreshing return to late-1980s slasher basics, effectively balancing over-the-top practical gore effects with a wicked sense of humour. While the sequels didn’t revolutionize the original concept by any means they were fun entries that gave fans more of what they wanted. With Victor Crowley representing the fourth entry in the series, and a belated entry at that, the question is whether there’s any blood that can be drawn from the concept.
Parry Shen, the only cast member to appear in every Hatchet film, takes over lead actor duties from Danielle Harris this time around. Ten years have passed since the Honey Island Swamp massacre, and Shen’s sole survivor Andrew Yong now makes a living peddling his book, ‘I Survivor’, while making the rounds on trashy TV talk shows. Desperate for money, Andrew reluctantly agrees to return to the massacre site for a stunt interview but a plane crash dumps him and the film crew into the swamp where an accidentally resurrected Victor Crowley is waiting.
Not surprisingly, Victor Crowley is a much more scattershot effort than the previous films in the series. Adam Green doesn’t deviate from the formula that has made the series a fun throwback but the diminishing returns are had to ignore. The Hatchet films have always pushed the boundaries of good taste but the humour this time around is hit or miss with many of the jokes feeling forced or dragged on well past their expiration date. A fan at a book signing pulling out his penis and asking to have it signed might prompt a few initial shocked laughs but Green invests a little too much time in the joke. Sadly it’s not the only ‘dick joke’ in the film.
Victor Crowley also struggles to give audiences a character with whom to identify or route for. Danielle Harris, a horror film favourite, carried the sequels, and Joel David Moore’s Ben from the original film was likeable. While Parry Shen’s Andrew was an amusing secondary character, he’s not able to carry the film and the rest of the characters either fail to register or are just plain unlikeable. Even David Sheridan’s ‘Dillon’ – intended to replace Shen as the film’s comic relief – just grates on your nerves. Green subverts expectations, killing characters you think are going to survive, and while these swerves may have a short-term impact on audience expectations, the long-term effect is to leave you with characters you have much less interest in.
Even the death scenes and the gore effects are a little underwhelming this time around. Green still uses practical gore effects and a few of the deaths are worthy of the series. The standout in the film sees a victim dispatched with a hammer and it’s sure to get a few squeamish screams out of the audience. Part of the problem stems from the low-budget roots of the series, which really has not been a problem in the previous films. Green lets the camera linger a little too long for some of the deaths perhaps overexposing the effects. The result is a cheaper aesthetic than what Green has previously achieved.
The most glaring problem with Victor Crowley is pacing – the film takes its time getting to business and even when business picks up it still grinds to a halt far too often. The Hatchet films have always been lean and tightly paced by necessity given the simplicity of the concept and Victor Crowley drags, feeling much longer than its actual run time. Its ending feels very abrupt and a mid-credits scene that hints at more sequels and a returning favourite character comes too little too late.
Victor Crowley isn’t a bad film. Fans of the series will still find something to enjoy and, for newcomers, if you walk into the film with appropriate expectations, there’s definitely some fun waiting. Nevertheless, the Hatchet series has definitely run its course with this latest entry and Victor Crowley should be left buried in the swamp. Adam Green is a wildly creative horror filmmaker and I think his fans would be best served if he moved on to new endeavours.