You will believe a first-time director with a $1 million budget can make a run-and-gun horror film on-location in Louisiana while ducking Hollywood unions.
Bored with the drinking and bead-throwing of New Orleans Mardi Gras, Ben (Joel David Moore) seeks out less drunken entertainment, lured by the promise of a scary nighttime boat tour through supposedly haunted swamps. Shawn (Parry Shen) captains the bus tour and scare boat to and around Honey Island Swamp, home of a local legend: the ghost of Victor Crowley. Tortured by local kids who set fire to the boy’s home, the deformed child’s father accidentally killed his son with the axe intended to free him. Since that time, locals say that you can hear the spirit of poor Victor — aka Hatchet Face — calling out for his missing daddy in the dead of night. One tourist on the boat, however, not only hopes to hear those mournful cries but fully intends to look Victor dead in the eyes… even if it takes every other life on the boat to get that chance.
Welcome to Love Rodeo, the name writer/director Adam Green reportedly used to keep his production on the down-low and under budget. Gambling the cost of a plane ticket to New Orleans and a swamp tour, Adam and friends shot footage they cut with a child’s voiceover reading a creepy script and released a trailer for their intention: an old-school American horror film in the slasher tradition. The trailer was effective enough to not only convince viewers the movie had already been made but won actual financing. As amateur filmmakers going pro, it quickly become clear that the funding really wasn’t enough, but would ducking union representatives and sneaking around permissions for location shoots make ends meet enough to create the film they promised?
Proof it never hurts making contacts and asking for favors, Green and company pulled together known talents such as Tony Todd, Robert Englund, and Mercedes McNab, not to mention Kane Hodder doing double-duty as stunt coordinator and “the monster” himself. The comedy bits are turned up a notch higher than most 1980s horror, winking at the audience while asking them to come along for the fun. An unfair amount of the budget appears to have gone into dummies of cast members to make the kills as gory and over-the-top as possible. Realistic? No. Fun? Absolutely. In the spirit of the “set ’em up, knock ’em down” slasher genre, Hatchet plays fast and loose with tropes while adding its own bloody stylized spin and keeping things down and dirty.
Pointless nudity? Check. Overuse of blood? Check. The production even creates its own recurring tropes to terrorize characters and amuse audiences, but there’s also an infusion of dry wit throughout that feels reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead while avoiding the silliness the Evil Dead sequel slipped into. Some characters even echo the audience with clever ideas that go horribly wrong in spite of best intentions. Genre fans will have to decide for themselves if more money would have improved the production or if the lack of funds led to more imaginative ways to stay in budget. In a rare appearance as himself, Hodder also plays the monster’s own father in a flashback!
When the screaming starts, the fun doesn’t don’t let up until the final kill, then BAM: credits. Don’t look for denouement here, and that’s for a good reason — also a tale for a later time; you’ll find out.
Hatchet is rated R for strong bloody horror violence, sexual content, nudity, language, and “Daaaaaaaddyyyyyy…!”
Three skull recommendation out of four
Death Meets the Man Himself: Kane Hodder (TFM 2018)