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FIRST LOOK: HATCHET (May. 06) by Adam Barnick.

You can’t help but start director Adam Green and his new film HATCHET off with some points when his poster states NOT A SEQUEL, NOT A REMAKE, NOT BASED ON A JAPANESE ONE at the top, and OLD SCHOOL AMERICAN HORROR at the bottom. Thankfully, they put their money where their mouth is. It’s a brutal slasher that manages to balance over-the-top jaw dropping gore and humor, tailor-made for its core audience.

And that is NOT people who thought Boogeyman and The Fog remake constituted masterful modern cinema.

World Premiered at Tribeca last night (Thur. 4/27/06), HATCHET concerns lovelorn and recently dumped Ben (Joel David Moore), doing his best to get through Mardi Gras with his best buddy Marcus (Deon Richmond) and their pals. When the endless parade of vomiting drunks and Girls Gone Wild does nothing to ease his funk, they embark on a haunted swamp boating tour, a low-rent venture run by con man Shawn (Parry Shen, faking a hilarious Louisiana accent and regional history till he’s pointed out.)

On the tour, they come across Shapiro, (Joel Murray) a pseudo-producer of T+A pics and his wannabe starlets Misty and Jenna (Mercedes Mcnab and Joleigh Fiorevanti), the middle-aged couple the Permetteos (Richard Riehle and Patrika Darbo), and the sullen, concerned Marybeth (Tamara Feldman), whom Ben immediately tries and fails to bond with. It’s one of the more enjoyable casts you’ll see in a slasher. The cast is game and likeable, and, if not generating a ton of sympathy, is never boring to watch. Everyone gets his or her share of (intentionally) hilarious line readings, while Ben remains an enjoyable straight man.

Naturally, storms hit, the boat sinks, you know the drill... and they manage to be near the requisite spooky house of one legendary Victor Crowley, deformed child who passed away tragically several years ago. MaryBeth has hopped the tour to get close to this place, actually, as her brother and father have recently gone missing. She knows how dangerous the area can be... and before they can hotfoot it out of there, a very angry Victor comes front and center

Wholeheartedly embracing some, if not all, of the genre clichés and story tropes we know and love, Hatchet’s a blast. If you took the clever dialogue and horror/humor balance of SLITHER and put it in a Friday the 13th installment you’ll have an idea of how it proceeds. There’s not a ton of surprises, but it’s done well and is so much fun you won’t mind.

The film’s fall-out-of-your-chair-hilarious at times, frankly, but I wouldn’t call it a “thrill-comedy” or any such focus group nonsense. Stop worrying though. Clever humor actually comes out of the characters and situation and never feels shoehorned in. It’s a very wet slasher picture. It’s not silly or desperately hip or ironic. Victor doesn’t rap in a scene or tell jokes. It’s balls out violent and serious when it needs to be. When it’s horrific, it stays that way.

Reason to celebrate: no CGI in the film. If there is any, it is not in the makeup effects. Confirmed by the director himself- one of the deaths I have no idea how they pulled off, it’s so elaborate- you’ll think ‘where could the actor have gone?’ and have no idea. It’s refreshing to actually have some wonder back in the FX in this age of assumptions that computers did everything. The grue comes courtesy of John Beuchler, who gets a nice budget to do some bodily renderings we haven’t seen before. They’re more technically impressive than terrifying, though one of them is quite tough to watch (you’ll know it).

If the audience wasn’t wincing at the effects, they were cheering at them!

Another reason to grin: Kane Hodder as the villain. KANE HODDER AS… you heard it. Kane gets to own another hulking monster role. The villain, Victor Crowley, is interesting… it’s a return to the hulking, unstoppable force-of-nature villain of old-school horrors... who better to get than Kane himself?

He comes with an interesting backstory (which we see in the film when the mythology of ‘who haunts this swamp’ is revealed), and Kane, out of makeup, portrays Victor’s father in a melancholy flashback. Far from the clichéd abusive father archetype, Crowley’s father is tender and doesn’t forgive himself for a fatal mistake in his life. After seeing it, I’d love to see Kane in more parts acting out of makeup, people forget he’s more than just someone who can handle walking through fire and glass. Here’s a reminder.

Victor seems visually a cross between The Elephant Man and the skeletal Jason makeup from Friday the 13 th VII. It’s impressive to look at... just what he is is barely addressed. Did he survive his supposed death? Is he a ghost? Not sure, but he keeps coming at you and has a fetish for pulling parts off people like wings off butterflies.

There are other welcome genre cameos laced in, Robert Englund and Joshua (Blair Witch) Leonard open the film as MaryBeth’s doomed family, and Tony Todd steals his one scene in what’s essentially a monologue with a great punchline. In some ways this film feels like a Scooby Doo mystery laced with the gore buckets from Hellraiser, but with no WB teeners in sight. You’ll know what’s coming, but Adam Green does it WELL. Entertaining from start to finish, HATCHET’s got its heart in the right place, even if that’s ripped screaming from its chest. Kudos to the cast and crew (love those pre-Katrina New Orleans locale shots)…

Looking forward to what they pull off on their upcoming film SPIRAL, said to be a psychological thriller, a portrait of an artist and his obsessions. Can’t wait.

- Adam Barnick.

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