Directed by: BJ McDonnell
Written By: Adam Green
Featuring: Danielle Harris, Derek Mears, Kane Hodder, Zach Galligan, Robert Diago DoQui, Caroline Williams, Rileah Vanderbilt, Cody Blue Snider, Sean Whalen
Adam Green's landmark franchise, Hatchet, has been controversial among horror fans since its debut in 2006. While some panned it as a rip-off of Friday the 13th and accused Green of being an overzealous fanboy hack, other fans bonded together to form a fiercely loyal fan club called The Hatchet Army who devour everything related to the series. These fans helped launch Hatchet into the stratosphere and ensured not only one sequel, but two.
Now, we have Hatchet III, the denouement of the trilogy conceived by an 8-year-old Green, wrapping up the arc of this particular storyline and coming across as little more than a gore-soaked love letter to the fans. Green stepped down as the director for the final episode of the franchise, allowing his cinematographer BJ MacDonnell to take the reins. Green said, "It'll feel like I never left," and this is certainly the case; the film is consistent with the other two and suffers no "slump symptoms" whatsoever. This is likely due to the fact that MacDonnell has been a part of the Hatchet crew from the get-go and maintained the tone and look of the other films, bringing consistency to the series while still putting his unique stamp on the project.
One of the more unique aspects of the series revolves around the fact that the entire trilogy takes place in the same 72-hour period. The first film follows Ben (Joel David Moore) and Marcus (Deon Richmond) as they embark on a cheesy nighttime New Orleans bayou tour that goes horribly awry , concluding with the group stranded in a swamp occupied by maniacal killer Victor Crowley. Local girl Marybeth Dunston (originally Tamara Feldman, but played by Danielle Harris in the two sequels) is all too familiar with the Crowley legend, and despite her best efforts to save the group, they suffer increasingly horrific fates at the killer's hands. The first sequel picks up at the exact instant the original film ends and continues Marybeth's journey as she seeks out New Orleans voodoo priest and conman Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd). The two lead a hunting party composed of local badasses into the swamp to hunt down Crowley, which of course results in a huge bloodbath. The third installment again starts with the final shot of the previous film, seamlessly continuing the story from there. This may make the Hatchet franchise one of the most fun movie-marathon options in the horror genre, as there are no confusing time jumps or lapses in continuity for the purists.
Hatchet III opens with Marybeth (Harris) staggering away from the carnage of the second film and finding her way back to the city, where she turns herself in to the police for killing Victor Crowley. Sheriff Fowler (Zach Galligan, Waxwork, Gremlins) and Deputy Winslow (Robert Diago DoQui) doubt her story but detain her since she came in soaked in blood and carrying part of a scalp. After Marybeth is booked and put in a holding cell, Fowler's ex-wife and local Crowley historian Amanda (Caroline Williams) arrives to try and get Marybeth to tell her the story again. Marybeth isn't interested in being the center of a media circus, but when Fowler dispatches a police squad to the swamp to check out her tale, they find a bloodbath unlike anything they've ever seen. Amanda explains to Marybeth that Crowley isn't a real person; he's a ghost doomed to continually resurrect and relive the night of his death, and though Marybeth shot and scalped him, she certainly didn't stop him. Meanwhile, back at the swamp, Crowley is turning the police and EMT squad into thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles in exciting, interesting ways. The requisite "bossy, asshole egomaniac" SWAT leader, Hawes (Derek Mears, Friday the 13th, Predators), arrives to take charge as Sherriff Fowler organizes the few men he has left, including the rookie Schneiderman (Cody Blue Snider, Frozen) and the fiery Dougherty (Rileah Vanderbilt, Team Unicorn). The new team heads out to try and aid the missing men, and as soon as Fowler is gone, Amanda convinces Winslow to help her spring Marybeth. Amanda thinks she has the key to defeating Crowley once and for all, but only Marybeth can deliver the killing blow because of her bloodline's ties to Crowley.
Adam Green has stated several times that he always intended for Hatchet to be a trilogy. The first film made it seem like Ben was the pivotal character, but it quickly became apparent that Marybeth Dunston was indeed the lead and that this was her story. And frankly, she may be one of the most classic scream queens we've had the pleasure of seeing in a horror film. As a character, she transforms throughout the three films, and symbolism runs rampant through her story arc. Green begins by killing off her only two remaining family members, leaving her frightened and alone, and she is forced to take a strong leadership role as the people around her begin to be picked off. In the sequel, Marybeth is put into the position of endangering the few remaining people who care about her when Reverend Zombie coerces her into inviting her uncle on the hunting expedition.
Marybeth is no screaming, shrinking violet who lucks out by beheading the killer at the last moment; she is a fiercely strong, independent, intelligent young woman and Green doesn't make the mistake of allowing her to be overly attractive despite finding beautiful actresses to play her (in spite of a scene where Harris is hosed off naked in the police station, fans would be hard-pressed to find a scene where she is portrayed as "hot" in the film; she is hot in the way that Sigourney Weaver was in Aliens: devoid of makeup, sweaty, stringy hair, and plain, unrevealing clothes). She stands on her own as an iconic woman more on par with the likes of Laurie Strode, someone who is resilient despite the horrific emotional and physical wringer she is put through as the films progress. By the third installment of the series, Marybeth has nothing left in her but piss and vinegar. She is merely exhausted, but Amanda refuses to let Marybeth check out of the situation. And as with all slasher franchises, eventually the Final Girl and the Big Bad have to have one final, epic showdown — all roads have led to this moment, and audiences of the series will not be disappointed in what happens when it comes.
Hatchet III embraces the industry decree that with each installment in a horror franchise, the body count must rise, the mythology must be expanded upon and the deaths must be even more bloody and over-the-top than before. Fan favorites like the gas-powered belt sander (as iconic to Crowley now as the razor glove is to Freddy Krueger) are back, but there is also plenty of gut-wrenching, bone-snapping, limb-shredding action involving both Crowley's weathered hands and a variety of other sundry tools. The cinematography is beautiful, shot on location in a Louisiana bayou in the dead of summer, and people who love the splatterpunk/comedy line that the series treads will delight both in the gruesome end most of the characters meet (I have no idea how many gallons of blood were utilized in this movie, but trust me, it's plenty) and in all the great cameos. Green is known for his own lifelong horror fan proclivities, and in each of his projects he installs genre icons who were his childhood heroes. Hatchet III is no exception, and if Danielle Harris and Kane Hodder weren't enough incentive for you, appearances from Caroline Williams (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Sean Whalen (The People Under the Stairs), Derek Mears, Zach Galligan and more should appease. There are also surprise cameos and wonderful little gifts from Green along the journey that are obviously intended as winks to his most loyal fans, ensuring that Hatchet III both appeals to broad horror audiences and the more specific in-jokes of the Hatchet Army. In this way, it is infinitely more successful than other sequels that have been called "self-serving," such as The Boondock Saints II, which relied entirely on the idea that the audience wanted nothing but nods and nudges to the original film and revisited many of the gags already proven successful.
Hatchet III breaks new ground and nicely wraps up the Marybeth Dunston story while remaining a fun throwback to the true slasher genre of the 1980s — unapologetically funny, campy, obscenely gory and irreverent. It's a great note to end this particular story on. Whether or not Victor Crowley is truly dead remains to be seen, however. You know what they say… you just can't keep a good slasher down.