Thursday, January 10, 2008

Movie Notes: Hatchet (2006)

Two general notes on art:

1. Artistic genres proliferate due to the general principle of emulation, which is the basis for the development of art more generally. Emulation, therefore, is central to the artistic enterprise. However, when acted upon unreflectively, emulation becomes imitation. This is what strikes us as unoriginal in some art.

2. We generally overestimate the first works of art we see and cling to these mistaken impressions due to nostalgia. People often speak of dreadful movies or songs that they loved as children in unnecessarily glowing terms. (However, I refuse to believe that The Goonies isn't really a masterpiece!)

Both of these points lead me to Hatchet, a film that was apparently made to emulate the slasher cycle of films from the early 80s without a clear explanation of why one would want to lovingly recreate films that were often cynical and formulaic in the first place. The slasher films, or "dead teenager movies" as Roger Ebert called them, followed in the wake of the very successful film Halloween by John Carpenter. A few dozen of these movies came out in the early 80s. They were very cheap to make- you can shoot twenty minutes of an unknown actor wandering around a dark house while a three note piano theme plays- and fairly profitable. I think they only stopped making them because they ran out of holidays.

The slasher films were often pure formula: one of the directors interviewed in Going to Pieces, a documentary about the genre, actually talks about watching a slasher film with a stopwatch to determine exactly when key plot twists should take place in his own film! There can be a joy in formula films- I personally adore Shaw Brothers kung fu movies. Many people love slasher films for their purity- the filmmakers just wanted to scare their audience. Some fans poke fun at the flaws of the genre, while celebrating its triumphs. Others have shot their own takes on the slasher film. Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof is a cross between a slasher and a car race movie. Wes Craven's Scream cleverly deconstructed the genre. Man Bites Dog and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon are two slasher mockumentaries.

Hatchet takes the genre a bit more seriously, but still has a fair amount of humor to it. The film is hawked thusly: "It's not a remake. It's not a sequel. And it's not based on a Japanese one." I suppose this is poking fun at the unoriginality of recent horror films. But then we're told that this is "Old school American horror". Never mind the fact that the slasher films often stole from Italian Giallos and more often were actually Canadian films. What's confusing here is that the film is apparently not a remake but a rehash? And that's the pitch?
The film details a group of teenagers lost in the Louisiana bayou getting picked off by a deformed mutant named Victor Crowley who looks exactly like Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part II, and who is played by Kane Hodder, the stuntman who played Jason in a few of the Friday the 13th movies. We also have cameos from the actors who played Candyman and Freddy Kreuger as well as other genre notables. From the start it is clear that this is a movie for the fans, and the filmmakers dish out heaping servings of practical gore FX and female nudity, as well as some fairly decent gags. This is a film to watch with friends, pizza, and a lot of booze.
The problem, which should be obvious by now, is that the movie is extremely stupid. Logically, very little of it makes sense. Some of the jokes are actually cringe worthy, such as when the wacky black guy climbs a tree in fear. And the gore is so excessive as to be physically impossible. I'd imagine that pulling someone by the legs would drag their whole body along the ground- not tear them in half. It all plays like the sort of script that a horror fan might write at age 12.
There is little excuse for just how closely the film follows formula. The characters all die in exactly the order that one would expect with any knowledge of the genre. The old couple goes first, the two bimbos follow soon after, then the wacky black guy gets it... etc. etc. It almost seems like a spoof of slasher films because it's so by-the-numbers, joke-filled, and the gore is so cartoonish. It's definitely a fun movie. But it's not remotely scary and it carries no real surprises.

No comments: