Filmmaker Adam Green has amassed a loyal cult following for his budget horror pictures over the years, though there’s never been much to celebrate. A schlockmeister with an appetite for broad displays of gore, Green likes to make a mess of matters, but rarely does he engage an enthralling cinematic spirit. “Hatchet II” covers muddy old ground for the writer/director, picking up mere seconds after the lifeless first installment of this series. A hoped for blast of renewed vigor does not ensue. Instead, it’s the same bland blood-spraying business -- 75 long minutes of questionable filmmaking effort.
Escaping the deadly wrath of Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), Marybeth (Danielle Harris, taking over for Tamera Feldman) has limped back into New Orleans, looking for answers from Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd), the sham voodoo priest who sent her into the hellish swamp to begin with. Sensing an opportunity to smash the Crowley curse, Zombie organizes a hunting party to track down and kill the monster, demanding Marybeth bring along her Uncle Bob (“Child’s Play” director Tom Holland) for purposes not immediately known. As this group of hicks and brutes enters Crowley’s dark domain, the demon quickly springs into action, slaughtering the gun-totin’ boobs one by one.
Part of my trouble with “Hatchet” was its wheezy sense of humor, dispersed to lessen the nightmarish impact of the grisly kills, allowing unfunny actors to remind audiences of their unfunny ways. It was a lousy horror-comedy, straining hard to carry a tone of jovial brutality, with Green hoping to build himself up as a horror icon, using jagged fragments of formula that have become disturbingly commonplace in the DTV era.
Though it brandishes a potential for “Aliens” style swampland warfare, “Hatchet II” is more content warming up fetid leftovers, returning to virtually the same plot in the same location, with little in the way of sequel-sustained invention. It’s a disappointment to see the follow-up crumble so quickly, merely hauling new threadbare characters in for the kill instead of opening up the Crowley myth and the dangers of the swamp to create something electrifying. It’s all rigidly formulaic, with the beast taking down rubes one at a time, while Reverend Zombie feverishly prattles on about a Crowley curse, a plot even Green doesn’t seem invested in. He’s just here to slap around some juicy innards.
The ick factor is strong with “Hatchet II,” with gore blessedly taking time away from the excruciating dialogue: most exchanges devoted to the “douchebag” nature of the name Chad, the value of cookies at a gathering of hunters, or the braggadocio of the redneck army. Green is having a ball assembling this brown-toothed, heavily bearded group of hunters, but doesn’t have the raggedy wit to bring the gang to life, handing the limited cast flat dialogue that’s much too reliant on exposition. Matters improve steadily once Crowley commences his killing hour, with the foul ghoul going all Bob Vila on everyone’s ass, dispatching morons with an extended chainsaw, belt sanders, his trusty hatchet, and when all else fails, the victim’s own intestine. The make-up effects are splendid for a low-budget creature feature. I only wish Green had the sense to cling tighter to the visceral elements rather than engage a funny bone he’s ill-equipped to find.
Fans of “Hatchet” will likely locate the same cheap thrills in the sequel, along with a host of genre references to keep the faithful on the hunt. There’s also merriment to be found in Tony Todd’s performance, which is loopy enough to provide some energy to Green’s often static frame. Missing a shot to raise hell in a sequel nobody asked for, Adam Green once again proves he’s a superduper horror fan with little to offer the genre.