Hatchet III (2013)

HATCHET III / Director BJ McDonnell

Featuring smoother cinematography than the previous Hatchet flick and it does what all good Part III’s should – blow shit up. Literally. This is the “firepower” instalment of the Hatchet franchise, the closest the series will get to Aliens or Predator as a bunch of special ops hard cases go in with big guns. With series mastermind Adam Green here handing the director’s chair over to B. J. McDonnell, there’s a worry this instalment could end up lacking a certain touch, but for the most part this is just as good as what came before.

The film somehow recovers from the seemingly impossible-to-retcon cliffhanger of Hatchet II – where Victor Crowley’s head was blown to smithereens with a shotgun blast at point blank range – and broadens the parameters of a Hatchet movie. There are multiple storyline strands here and not everything is confined to the town and swamp. The self-aware factor is taken up a notch with Perry Shen returning and playing his third character in as many films. The slasher cameos are more substantial too with Billy from Gremlins playing a local cop, Caroline “Stretch” Williams taking on a key role and a brief appearance from none other than the great Sid Haig. Series MVP’s Dannielle Harris and Kane Hodder return too, naturally.

I’ve watched/rewatched these movies in such quick succession recently that they are beginning to blur together which I would consider a good thing. They are all consistently exactly what they set out to be: gleeful slasher throwbacks that indulge in some wacky, splatty effects and bayou bloodletting. They’re driven by some knowing, silly humour that keeps everything light on its feet and you can tell everyone on screen would have just as much fun watching this film as they would acting in it. As a devout fan of the films they continue to riff on, I welcome each Hatchet instalment with open arms, ripe for severing.

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Hatchet II (2010)


The jump from film to digital makes the back-to-back viewing experience of Hatchet and Hatchet II a tad jarring – this one certainly looks shoddier than its predecessor – but otherwise this is a gleefully satisfying continuation. The first thing that jumps out is the replacing of Tamara Feldman from the previous film with Dannielle Harris as Marybeth, but her presence is more fitting in this universe which is almost exclusively populated by actors with some slasher heritage. Feldman was great in the role, but Harris’ baggage makes the recast feel like a necessary upgrade.

Elsewhere, AJ Bowen and Fright Night writer/director Tom Holland fill out the colourful cast of Crowley-fodder and returning franchise mastermind Adam Green certainly revels in being more brazen with the gore and humour while also retaining a terrific sense of continuity. The way he re-stages the title sequence from the first Hatchet, for instance, to update it with the remains of the carnage from that film is a simple but inventive flourish.

This one takes a bit longer to get going but once it begins, the body count is bigger and more riotous. The leviathan chainsaw gag is exactly the kind of thing only movies like this can get away with, but what fun. The best compliment I can give Hatchet II is that it feels like it was shot the day after shooting the first film wrapped. Shooting format aside, the two films do feel of a piece and are a lot of fun. But like the first movie, it never quite identifies itself as anything other than a loving tribute to classic examples of the slasher genre.

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This Must Be the Place (2011)


This spends a lot of its time, too much time I suspect, amusing itself with the image of Sean Penn dressed like Robert Smith. However, as Cheyenne, Penn’s slow, mild-mannered rhythms soon become patience-testing. Yes, that’s the point, but as far as unconventional movie leads go this one comes dangerously close to being insufferable. The film works best not as a piercing, heartfelt character study with an off-kilter sense of humour, but as a sad jaunt through a bunch of outskirt-America hot spots – dive bars, motels, trains – and a flipbook of ace character actors putting in fleeting performances. Frances McDormand, Harry Dean Stanton, Judd Hirsch, even goddamned David Byrne, all steal the show whenever they are on screen. The film feels a bit too tangental for its own good as a result – granted I did watch the extended cut – as if Sorrentino was too precious about killing his darlings. Maybe a streamlined, less rambling and less episodic version of this story would have more impact.

I’m a huge fan of Penn as an actor and while I don’t think he’sthe problem here – it’s the entire concept of the character which falls flat – this supposedly revelatory performance landed like a bit of a failed experiment for me. I haven’t loved any Sorrentino movie I’ve seen to date, but I can definitely recognise he is a filmmaker with a voice and a sensibility, it’s just one that doesn’t work wonders for me.

Watched on blu-ray.

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Rapture (1965)


An American film by all technicalities but wholly European in its feel and locale, John Guillerim’s Rapture is an oddity through and through. As a tiny, character focused drama with minimal square footing it stands out in Guillerim’s filmography which is frequently defined by big budget bloatbusters such as The Towering Inferno and King Kong. As a moody, psychosexual drama with Polanski and Bergman undertones it stands out by being funded with 20th Century Fox money. It is also anchored on a young french actress, Patricia Cozzi, who seemed to immediately jump into early retirement and fade into obscurity, making this film the only showcase for her exceptional skills. Rapture is the kind of unsung, strange film you can’t quite put your finger on; exceptional enough to make you question why it remains so obscure, but bizarre enough for you to wonder how and why it got made.

Concerning a small family living in a farmhouse in rural France, the young daughter, Angela (Cozzi), is growing into womanhood and struggling with feelings of desire under the firm parentage of her widowed father. Angela first aims her frustrations and desires on a scarecrow which she treats as a real person (weird echoes of Nekromantik‘s perverted desire also rippled through my mind) which then morphs into an obsession with an escaped convict (Dean Stockwell, looking the youngest I’ve ever seen him) who she and her father offer a safe haven to. Naturally it all builds to a level of sexual hysteria you’d expect, but the film’s surroundings, casting and aesthetics – a french farmhouse, the forbidden love between Cozzi and Stockwell, that symbolic scarecrow and the shadowy monochromatic photography as well as Georges Delerue’s score – make the journey to that familiar territory refreshingly unfamiliar.

The suppressed sexual feelings of a mousy female has fuelled enough semi-horror movies (Repulsion, Symptoms, all the way up to last year’s Thelma etc.) that it is practically a sub-genre at this point but Rapture doesn’t quite feel of a piece with those. I brought up Bergman earlier because Guillerim seems to be aspiring to a certain level of psychological artistry and character-based drama beyond genre titillation. It has an unmistakable feel, a dampness and dankness that made me think of Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly (and Polanski’s Cul-de-sac) as well as a sharpness in its bite that reminded me of Persona. Cozzi is such a big part of the film’s success. She is odd and peculiar with a look that is just off-centre of being traditionally beautiful but is more captivating because of it. There’s an unflinching determination to her stare that makes her seem dangerous and unstable, but she’s never unsympathetic. Her young age, mixed with the sexual overtones, could certainly lead to some uncomfortable material but the film is more interested in exploring her feelings and desires – her inner-turmoil – rather than exploiting it in the service of some distasteful sexualisation. The intent isn’t to be sexy or arousing, but raw and emotional – a key distinction a lot of films of this ilk don’t make.

Now fifty years old, it feels like people are seeing and talking about Rapture more than they did upon its original release, though it is still scarcely referenced. Apparently Guillerim himself was instrumental in getting the film restored for home video before his death in 2015. Out of all the films he made this was the one he was the most proud of, suggesting the blockbusters he became renowned for later did not necessarily represent his true sensibility. It makes you wonder what other films he had inside him and will begin a mourning for those movies, now forever unmade. As it stands Rapture is a curio that could easily be lumped in to the various sub-genres it flirts with (lets not forget the gamut of escaped convict love stories – The Beguiled, A Perfect World, Labor Day – it also resembles) but is best enjoyed when seen for the mainstream shadowland oddity it is.

Watched on Eureka blu-ray.

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Hatchet (2006)


Hatchet is a slasher movie made by people who love slasher movies for people who love slasher movies. Writer/director Adam Green invites you to celebrate the genre alongside him. It’s a film that opens itself up for audience participation immediately and the more literate you are with slasher movies, the more fun you’ll have. Packed top to bottom with tributes to the films which came before it – from the horror alumni-filled cast to the titular villain who comes across as a hybrid between a maskless Jason Voorhees and Buddy from Slaughterhouse – almost everything about Hatchet is delivered with a knowing wink. All the actors know exactly the kind of film they’re in too and are more than ready and willing to go along for the ride which goes a long way. Likeable guys, a solid final girl and actresses who manage to make screaming in scantily clad clothing and getting butchered seem like incredibly dignified work rather than exploitation which is always the ideal.

For the most part Green’s film is harmless, genre-drunk fun but it does indulge in the kind of hetero frat-boy tone that I wish was left in the 80s; lots of dumb gags, emphasis on exposed tits, etc. Horror can be way more inclusive and sophisticated now (and even in 2006 when this was originally released) and I’m not willing to merely let Green off the hook by attributing it to the film’s throwback nature. It’s an area of the film – and by extension, the very genre it is inhabiting – he could have been more progressive with by opening it up into something less narrow-minded. It’s the fatal flaw that keeps Hatchet in the shadow of the films its cribbing from rather than stepping out into its own contemporary pantheon of slashers.

Nevertheless, Hatchet does have some dizzyingly furious and crazy gore, vividly augmented by some wonderfully bombastic and bloody physical effects. It’s in these moments that the film hits its stride and becomes a proper crowd pleaser, even if that crowd is me in my living room. As soon as Victor Crowley started ripping jaws open I was so down for this. So much so that I would love to to watch this movie in a cinema with a packed audience one day. I have a lot invested in slasher movies so I’m an easy “get” in that sense. Of-course I enjoy Hatchet, even more so upon this rewatch. It has its problems, sure, but when that hatchet starts flying and Kane Hodder does his thing, they’re soon forgotten.


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The Cremator (1969)


The Cremator plays like many things, primarily a sociopolitical document of 1930s Czechoslovakia presented as a monochromatic horror film assembled with the same hectic anarchy which frazzles Terry Gilliam’s cut-up animations. But it also works as a photo essay of bizzaro Czech faces headlined by the intensely slimy Rudolf Hrušínský. It is also, of course, a showcase for the visionary aesthetics of the 60s Czech new Wave.

Locked in a vault until 1989, it’s no surprise that Juraj Herz’ film has only started to gain exposure and a loyal fanbase over the past decade or so but were it available for consumption earlier, there’s no doubt it would be widely considered an important and singular work by now. It is a film of sharp edges, and not just in the jagged style, but also its attitudes and opinions. As a not-so-veiled tale of the rise of Nazism in 30s Europe, it constantly operates at a steady simmer, feeling like a hotpot of political and social tensions until finally showing its hand in the last act and boiling over into proper hysteria. The film is electrified by a jittery paranoia which it doesn’t try to repel but embraces, ultimately submerging itself into spittle mouthed fury. You might not spend a lot of the running time asking yourself “What has all this got to do with a seedy Cremator?” but as soon as you have your answer you’ll be kicking yourself for not asking that question sooner.

First and foremost though The Cremator really works its magic as a subjective and immersive character study. Hrušínský’s performance is one for the ages. Comparisons to Peter Lorree are on the money but I also found myself thinking of Richard Attenborough in 10 Rillington Place. Hrušínský’s performance is so rich with odd details – the way he runs a comb through the hair of a corpse only then to use it on himself – and also how flies seem to buzz around his greased down hair at one point. It’s a performance that fuels the entire film, but one which the film itself also works hard to animate. The editing patterns, the use of wide lenses – like fish-eye wide – are all in service of the titular Cremator’s wild psyche. His weirdness is furthered by the extended cast too, as strange characters seem to populate the edges of every scene and location. Watching Hrušínský’s Cremator snake his way around these people and hearing him narrate in endless soliloquies is to become acquainted with one of those unique characters you’re only happy to befriend with the safety of a screen between you. He is utterly fascinating to watch and dislike, to the point of actual enjoyment.

With its gorgeous gothic verite aesthetic, nightmarish imagery and layered subtext, not to mention the lead character inseparable from the film he is inhabiting, The Cremator is an uncut gem of Czech cinema that really makes a mark. Even now I can think of the way the film cuts from extreme close ups to vacuuous wide shots and feel the jolt, like that pull in your stomach you get when you go on the big dipper. Even in the relative safety of your subconscious it remains stylistically visceral.

Watched on Second Run blu-ray.

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Married to the Mob (1988)


Another 80s Demme banger that welcomes you with open arms upon every revisit. So full of screwball wit and genre-bending charm. I especially enjoy Demme and Fujimoto’s growing confidence with the subjective camera and the foregrounding of colourful oddballs. It certainly feels like Demme let Modine go wild with his character in particular and his FBI agent Mike Downey truly is one of the oddest inventions – pleasurably so – in Demme’s entire back catalogue. Michelle Pfeiffer too, my god! That’s a movie star for you. It’s obvious why Demme would be so enamoured with her and seemingly committed to casting her as Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs until history would intervene. Married to the Mob hasn’t been as widely reappraised as Demme’s Something Wild – and admittedly it’s not that good – but I do wish it got more appreciation.

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