Hatchet III

3 out of 5

Directed by: B.J. McDonnell

Whether it’s the (as far as I can tell) slightly larger budget over Hatchet II, or the shift to series cameraman B.J. McDonnell for direction, the third entry in the franchise is… not a bad movie! I say that with exclamation because the first two were bad by my take, with only some elements of gore or humor making them salvageable. But everything takes a tick up in III: it’s back to the bleaker, more menacing look of the original, but with significantly better lighting, and a better sensibility of framing than either movie; Kane Hodder’s Victor Crowley killer isn’t quite the wacko he was in the first flick, but he’s also not the Jason of II, striking a good, menacing balance between them that’s really effective. And the plot calls itself out at a good pace without seeming too self-serving about it, even getting a laugh from me on its now-repeated “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me” quote. Excepting some churn past the midway point – creator Adam Green’s script seems to think a Sid Haig cameo as an over-the-top racist is a lot funnier than it is, and there’s nothing much for Crowley to do after he’s slaughtered everyone, so we waste time with people just being panicked in rooms, or Danielle Harris in cuffs and dropping f-bombs – Hatchet III is really the only Hatchet we might’ve needed, featuring good ultra-gore, and working with the series’ loosey-goosey mythology in fun ways.

The structure is much the same as the previous sequel – start right after the end of Hatchet II, then find a reason for people to head back to the swamp – but as part of the ante-upping, a group of hunters has been superseded by the cops and SWAT storming Crowley’s swamp when Harris’ character shows up at the local precinct, covered in blood, and ranting about bodies. McDonnell and Green smartly get right to it, and slaughter this whole crew in quick, bloody edits; they also do a good balance of characters who believe the lore (locals) and who really just want to get the hell outta there, versus the out-of-towners that figure this local myth can be put down with enough ordinance; Hatchet III is then not sentimental with its kills in the slightest, not hesitating to off anyone – cameo or main-ish characters – who get in Crowley’s way. It’s peppy, it’s a good blend of camp and horror seriousness, and has the benefit of being able to juggle the action and story as dual plotlines, with the authority figures in the swamp, and Harris and Crowley-researcher Amanda Fowler (Caroline Williams) driving around town, trying to figure out a way to stop him.

As mentioned, this does run out of steam at a certain point, and it becomes hard to sustain my more positive sentiments when the movie really does feel like it’s just waiting out the clock for a relatively long while, and it doesn’t necessarily do anything with some of its extra pieces – such as bringing back Parry Shen as (possibly) another brother. But on the whole, Hatchet III zeroed in on the aspects I liked from the previous two, and got rid of much of Green’s indulgences. Smoothing out the pacing or figuring out how to sustain an approach for an entire 90 minutes will be the next goalpost for part 4.