Mosquitoes bite. Gators tear. But only Victor Crowley strangles a man with his own intestines until his head explodes. Adam Green’s follow-up to the 2007 cult hit returns to the swamp where a hunting party shoots to see if the backwoods killer is man or ghost. Adam Green’s inventively gruesome slasher is the widest unrated release in 25 years. (”Your parents must be so disappointed in you,” an MPAA board member allegedly scolded Green.) Sure, the kills are surprising, but equally so is Green’s craft in sketching the human chum, a dozen distinct characters with their own personalities, motivations and secrets. Genre fans will love it; the question is will they buy enough tickets to spook the ratings board?
Hatchet II picks up right where the original ended. Crowley, an overalls-wearing bayou boy with a face like a gouged potato, slaughters everyone who dares enter his corner of the marsh. After a swamp tour gone wrong, Marybeth (Danielle Harris of the Halloween reboot) stuns Crowley (Kane Hodder) long enough to escape back to “civilization” (the nearest city is New Orleans) which Green introduces with a close-up of vomit. There, she enlists her Uncle Bob (Child’s Play director Tom Holland) and Reverend Zombie (Candyman star Tony Todd, swiveling like a charmed snake) and a pack of in-over-their-head hustlers to return to the muck to reclaim the bodies of her murdered dad and brother.
Can they take out Crowley, too? If audiences agree to believe their villains can be taken down but never defeated, fright franchises are giddy to reincarnate their killers. Director Green faces cliché head-on, transforming the question of Crowley’s immortality into a plot point, and concocting several competing theories about plausible means of death (including human sacrifice). He’s also given poor Crowley a back story that seeks to elevate him from man to myth, though he, like most horror directors, likes his death bringers to be strong, simple types, not wise-cracking Kruegers.
There are jokes here, but they’re all made by (or at the expense of) these pigs brought to the slaughter. Comedian Colton Dunn gets in some good laughs as a broke charmer who sings songs about chicken and biscuits, and scored nearly as many chuckles when he and another victim were sawed in half by a chainsaw built for two. When the hatchets start swinging, there’s a death every four minutes. But casually–and dare I say, elegantly–Green has laced the swamp with betrayals and lies so that each character realizes another has done them wrong before Crowley stomps in for the final insult. His fanciful fatalities will get the hoots, but Green’s craft cuts deep–he’s a smart, brutal puppet master who knows the power in his strings.