Adam Green’s 2006 slasher film Hatchet boldly branded itself a return to “old-school American horror” – and rightly so. The story of supernatural killer Victor Crowley (played by Kane Hodder) slaughtering a boat full of tourists who dare to enter the Louisiana swamp he haunts was unremittingly bloody, winning over fans at horror festivals and conventions but also earning the ire of the MPAA, with whom Green battled vigorously when it bestowed Hatchet with the commercial kiss of death: an NC17.
Even more cartoonish and bloody, Hatchet II, which Green released without a rating, caused a stir last fall when it was yanked from theatres just days into its limited run. It was another blow for Green – who had earned critical praise earlier in 2010 with the chiller Frozen – but Canadian audiences will be able to revel in the film’s unrated delights when eOne Entertainment releases it on February 15. (American horror fans – old school or not – get to bask in its bloody delights earlier, as Dark Sky Films is putting it out tomorrow, February 1st.)
Rue Morgue spoke to Green recently about the fun of killing people onscreen, the appeal of Victor Crowley, and why haters who criticize the Hatchet films can suck it.
I know that you had planned to do Hatchet II before you even made the first film, but at what point did you realize that there was a market for a Hatchet sequel?
Not until the first one hit DVD did we realize how big it was getting. Because when we were doing festivals we were always the movie that was being talked about at festivals and the reviews were so good and the awards and all that stuff was great, but you see that all the time and that doesn’t always translate into the mainstream.
So then when the movie came out in theatres we had 80 screens with no marketing. It did just a little bit of business but again got really good reviews and good reaction, and we said, ‘Well, that will probably be it.’ And then when it came to DVD, after the first two weeks of sales, all of a sudden everyone’s talking about a sequel and it was overwhelming. It was really exciting.
And over the past… for me it’s been five years since I made the first one. We’ve been at conventions and [done] appearances and see people coming through dressed as Victor Crowley, with Victor Crowley tattooed on their arm, with the Hatchet Army logo tattooed on their skin. It’s so much bigger than you realize. A lot of times you’re trained to just look at the box office reports and be like, ‘okay, this movie made $800 billion at the box office. That’s a success.’ And you don’t realize what else is going on with real people. So it was an honour to get to come back, and I’m just so grateful that we waited and that we did it the right way and we got everybody back who wanted to be there. And the same crew shot the second one as shot the first one. You don’t normally get that on a sequel. Normally it’s a lot of new people stepping in. And all these people really, really loved it and really take a lot of pride and ownership with what we accomplished with the first one, and to have that camaraderie and family back was really special.
Obviously the mayhem is amped up considerably with Hatchet II. How much fun is it to sit down and script ways to kill people?
It’s fun and it’s terrifying. When you’re writing you just write what you come up with and what you would want to see and what you think would actually be cool, and you’re always thinking of how the audience is going to react. As much as I’d say 95% of the audience of Hatchet II is not going to get to see it in a theatre with an audience, we still are worried about that 5% that is.
And then you get into pre-production and start talking to FX and makeup and you see the look of terror in everybody’s face of like ‘how the fuck do you do this?’ and then that’s sort of the fun of it. It’s like your create this impossible challenge and then you all work together to figure out how to do it.
And the biggest catch with me is the rule of no CGI anywhere in the movie. So all the actual makeup and gore effects is all the old-school way of latex and silicone and just fake blood in the camera. And when you’re going to chop two people in half in the air on a chainsaw the easy way to do that is to use CGI, but… I’m not anti-CGI at all but not in these movies. This is the way it was supposed to be originally. I’m sure there’s a new generation of people who are growing up who like the cartoony animated thing or whatever, but this is what I like so it’s just sort of what I’m doing. I’m lucky that so many people around the world agree.
Why do you think fans took to Victor Crowley so much and how much credit do you give to Kane Hodder for portraying that character?
Kane portrayed the character perfectly, and I think it was just the perfect storm of timing. I came up with Victor Crowley when I was 8-years-old. So my whole life I’ve been drawing pictures of him and telling my friends the story of him, and it was always ‘yeah, that’s nice. That’s never gonna happen’ type thing. And then when the day came that we were actually getting production offices and making this thing and me and John Buechler make the first appliances for it and Kane trying it on. Still to this day every time we’re on set and Kane walks in in that stuff, it’s like ‘holy shit! That’s my monster!’
But I think at the time that Hatchet came out there wasn’t much like it. There were the remakes, but there hadn’t been any villain in a long time, and I think maybe Jigsaw is probably the only one, like a true villain associated with a horror movie. Otherwise it was always just kind of like bad people or bad situations, and that’s really where Hatchet was born from was what happens to the villain and where did the makeup effects go and why is there no more slashing in slasher movies? Why are they PG-13?
So that’s really where it all came from, and I think with Kane, just two years before that, he had lost the role of Jason [in Freddy vs. Jason]. So for him it came at the right time. I think at first he was a little apprehensive. He’s like ‘you know, I’ve already played a character like this, and I don’t know.’ Then he read it and realized this isn’t just like a robotic killing machine. He’s going to get to play Mr. Crowley and show real emotion and have makeup appliances that he can really act through. Which is one of the improvements with Hatchet II. We didn’t change what Victor Crowley looked like, but we changed the way the appliances are put on him. So now he has full range of motion in his face and can really project through it, where in the first movie I think the right side of his face the latex was so thick that he couldn’t move and it started to look like a guy in a mask a lot of the time. So with the second one he was really able to have more fun with that.
Many of the great film monsters – like Frankenstein’s Monster or The Mummy – we empathize with to a certain extent. To what extent do you empathize with Victor Crowley?
I completely empathize with him, and that’s a really great question that nobody has brought up yet. Frankenstein is the greatest monster because you do sympathize with him, and it’s not his fault. And I think Victor Crowley that’s a big thing. It’s not his fault. He wasn’t necessarily a bad person. In the sequel you get to really see the whole story of who he is and even more importantly what exactly he is, and it is a very sad story.
And one of the way that is translated is doing appearances at conventions and public speaking things. I can’t even tell you the amount of fans who come through to meet me who are deformed or are burn victims or live a lifestyle the average person couldn’t comprehend or understand and how they have identified with that character. Not because they want to kill people or anything like that. It’s more like they sympathize and they understand.
One guy who came through the line at ComicCon last year, he couldn’t really speak. He was really massively deformed, and all he wanted to do was come behind the cable and hug me, and all he said before he left was ‘you understand.’ And it’s just like nothing can ever take that away. Some of the experiences I’ve got from the fans – it sounds so cliché – but you can’t put it into words how much it means to you when you hear from these people and to know that it’s touching people, and when you have someone try to cut you down with a review it’s like take your best fucking shot. You have no idea what this really is here. And it’s great to know that people do see him as a sympathetic character.
To what extent in making both Hatchet films were you concerned with balancing back story and character development with simply letting Kane kill as many people as possible?
It’s really hard because no matter what, you can’t please everybody because there are people that every time he’s not killing people, they’re tapping their legs, they’re bored, they’re not paying attention. They’re just like ‘oh God, these guys are talking again.’ I can’t worry about them. They’re going to get what they came for. I know the gore is going to deliver, but in the meantime let me make an actual movie.
And I was surprised that out of all the stuff that I’ve done so far Hatchet II has been critically the most successful and it was supposed to be the worst. I was so ready to just be torn apart. Like A) it’s a sequel, B) I have four movies that have all been praised so you know, especially the online community is waiting to cut me down, and this was such an easy target to do that with. But then Variety and the New York Times, everybody respected Hatchet II. At first I was a little offended. I’m like ‘really? This one? Out of all the shit I’ve done this is the one that you all agree on?’ But, yeah, you do have to make a good movie in there somewhere because it’s got to exist forever and it’s not just about the gags. The gags will be in there, he’s going to kill people, it’s going to happen but try to fit everything else into it as well.
There was a cut of the movie that was about two minutes longer and it was two minutes of just dialogue and exposition that I cut down. But one of the tricky things with this is you’ve got a lot of people with secrets in the story, Tony Todd’s character especially. So because of that the same thing has to end up being explained and other people have to learn it several times on your pages. So trying to figure out the most entertaining way of doing that without people having to learn the same information again, that’s definitely hard to do.
The movie hits DVD and Blu-ray soon. Do you feel that’s the ideal format for unrated horror, as opposed to theatres, especially given your own struggles with that topic?
The reality of it is that that’s where 95% of the audience today sees all their movies. I never want to sound ungrateful for the fact that all of my films have got some kind of theatrical component, but it’s never really been about that. Because unless you have a fully-supported marketed giant release, it doesn’t matter. It’s like you get it on as many screens as you can and you hope that people are going to know that it’s there, but you can’t really expect too much because people don’t know.
And one of the things that I learned how to like how to judge is when a movie’s in theatres like that week or the next week, I’ll get a ton of fan mail. Then when the movie hits On Demand I get like ten times that amount of fan mail. Then when the DVD comes out, it’s like hundreds and thousands of letters. And then when it hits cable, when it’s free on like Showtime or Starz, that’s when everybody actually sees it. And the average audience member does not care to go into a movie theatre. It’s too expensive for them, they don’t like the other people there, they can’t be bothered. So most people do watch it at home now.
There was a time, even just ten years ago, where if a movie went straight to video, it was this negative thing, like ‘oh man, there’s something wrong with it.’ Now it’s so saturated, there’s so much product, and sadly the paying theatrical audience is really primarily focused on remakes. Every remake does really, really well, and the original struggled on a couple of screens and they’re gone.
Hatchet II is a sequel but it’s based on an original concept. To what extent do horror fans bear some responsibility for supporting original horror by voting with their wallets?
It’s a tough one to answer because ultimately the responsibility lies on the actual filmmakers and the studio themselves to make a good movie and let people know what it is and how to get it. You can’t sit and blame the horror fans for not trying out for something that they had no idea was there.
There’s people, like people who read Rue Morgue, they know. They’re hearing about these things months in advance and they know to have their eye out for it, but the average person knows the commercials that they saw on NBC or during the football game and the billboards that they saw and that’s it, they don’t know.
My only thing where I think responsibility does lie in the fans is that, like, put your money where your mouth is. So many people love to complain about the remakes, and they love to complain about all this stuff and the Internet… That’s really what it’s become. It’s a soundboard for people to flame people, like angry shit but then they don’t know anything about it.
When I did events like Texas or Dallas at FearFest a couple of years ago I came up and did a panel and it was this whole crowd of people, and I said, “What do you guys think of all the remakes?” And everyone booed. And then I asked, “How many people have seen The Hills Have Eyes 2? And everybody raised their hand. And then I asked, “How many people have seen Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon?” Not one hand. And it was playing in four theatres within a 10-mile radius of that convention! Not one of them had seen it. And I asked, “Who do you guys blame for this?” and they all just started laughing and were like ‘I get your point.’
And I’m not anti-remake at all. Some of my favourite movies are remakes. I have no problem with it. My problem, though, is that Hollywood as a business model has become that the studio execs do not want to take a chance on an original genre property; it’s very infrequent that they come out. And, like, Drag Me To Hell, I was like ‘finally, this is going to show everybody that we do want original stuff, and it’s Sam Raimi coming back to the genre’ and where was everybody? That part gets a little bit frustrating. But at the end of the day there’s nobody to really blame. It’s just the way it is and you figure out the way to navigate it.