Director Adam Green does his best to atone for all of those obnoxious MPAA cuts that made countless '80s slasher films play like a new record with a bad skip in Hatchet II, a sequel that ups the ante for onscreen slaughter by showcasing some of the most impressive practical makeup effects since, well, the 1980s. In an approach that hasn't been tried since that golden era of American horror, Hatchet II hits the big screen completely uncut and unrated -- which is sure to delight horror fans unaccustomed to the joys of watching uncensored horror with an appreciative crowd.
Yes, horror fans, Victor Crowley is back, and he's clinging to his treasured status as one of the few true remaining icons of fright with a supernaturally powered grip that could turn your skull to jelly.
Picking up at the exact moment where Hatchet left off, we find Marybeth (veteran scream queen Danielle Harris stepping in for original actress Tamara Feldman) fighting for her life against Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) in a moonlit Louisiana swamp. Miraculously breaking free, she seeks shelter in a shack owned by a reclusive hunter, who hastily sends her to Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd) to learn the truth about her inexorable family ties to Crowley's brutal legend. But the facts do little to satisfy Marybeth's hunger for revenge against the man who killed her brother and father, and before long the pair is heading back to the bayou with a team of hardened hunters who never let an urban legend get in the way of a quick payday. With 5,000 dollars going to anyone who can deliver Crowley's head on a platter, it's no surprise that things quickly get bloody. However, as day turns to night and Marybeth once again comes face to hatchet face with Crowley, her plan to put him in the ground for good hits an unexpected hitch thanks to the double-dealing Reverend Zombie, who has been operating on a hidden agenda all along, and just waiting for the perfect moment to reveal it.
Any slasher film that opens with a close-up shot of a screaming, deformed maniac drenched in blood is bound to win the hearts of horror hounds pretty fast, and Green does his best to maintain our goodwill by delivering a bravura opening kill that proves he takes his splatter seriously. That might be the only thing that he takes seriously, though; forget the buckets of blood, Hatchet II is soaked to the bone with the kind of corny, groan-inducing jokes that serve as a prime example of why many filmmakers are reluctant to try and balance giggles with guttings. Thankfully, Green's gore gags go a long way to compensate for quips that fall flat as a lead pancake. As displayed in the first film, he knows well that the success of a slasher movie correlates directly with the inventiveness of the kills, and each time Crowley comes charging out of the darkness, Green and company have a nasty new trick up their sleeves. Though humor takes precedence over the action as Reverend Zombie assembles his roughneck task force, once we're back in the wetlands things get gruesome pretty fast, and never let up. The only problem once that happens is that the cinematography is at times so dark and muddied that it's virtually impossible to keep track of the action. Of course the swamp is going to be dark at night, but a little lighting can go a long way in making movie magic, and it's doubtful anyone would have faulted Green for erring on the brighter side of the lighting spectrum.
Hatchet II never soars to the deliriously absurd heights of Piranha 3D, though it does feel more genuine, in that it plays more like an actual product of the 1980s, as opposed to Alexandre Aja's CG-heavy semi-parody. Given his horror pedigree, it's nice to see Todd get substantially more screen time in this sequel, and though genre veteran Harris delivers her lines with a nasal whine that travels through the cochlea with the grace of broken glass, it's impossible not to cheer her on once she goes back to war in the wetlands. For a guy who's spent a good portion of his film career smothered in layers of latex, Hodder gets a decent amount of face time in a sequence that cleverly builds on Crowley's legend by revealing some facts that flow seamlessly with the original myth, and eagle-eyed horror geeks will have a gruesome good time spotting all of the cameos by some genuine genre legends.
If you're a hardcore horror fan in the vicinity of an AMC theater, be sure to get out there opening weekend and support their decision to release Hatchet II unrated. Not only will you walk out of the theater feeling like you've gotten a bloody good run for your money, but you'll also be sending the MPAA a clear message: keep your scissors to yourselves, and leave the decision of what audiences should see exactly where it belongs -- in the hands of paying moviegoers.