Given that things are utterly bananas in the world right now, I think we’re all looking for places where we can get some comfort food, both of the literal and figurative variety. And when I think of comforting experiences in the horror genre, I think Caroline Williams. Ever since I first saw her play Vanita “Stretch” Brock in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, I’ve noticed that even her screams seem to have an element of laidback southern charm as all manner of gore and mayhem play out around her. She’s been a prolific presence on both the big and small screens since the ’80s, but she always manages to find her way back to the horror fold with turns in Stepfather II, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, Leprechaun 3, and Verotika. So for this month’s movie, I’m going to combine her comforting screen presence with a film that I consider one of the comfiest gorefest slashers, 2013’s Hatchet III. [Spoiler warning if you haven't seen the first three Hatchet films.]

Now, those familiar with the Hatchet series know that giving a plot synopsis for these movies is kind of besides the point, so I’ll try to be quick. We open the film with Marybeth Dunston (Danielle Harris, who had taken over the role from Tamara Feldman starting with Hatchet II), who believes she’s finally killed rampaging revenge-ghost Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) after she blows his head off with a shotgun and splits him in half on a chainsaw. Local Sheriff Fowler (Zach Galligan) isn’t too keen to believe Marybeth when she claims Crowley is why she’s barged into his office covered in blood, but he’s convinced when a revived Crowley starts tearing into the first responders trying to clean up the carnage Crowley caused in the first two films. Enter Amanda (Williams), local journalist and Victor Crowley expert, who claims that Crowley is a repeater: a ghost forced to relive the night he died in a fire until he’s reunited with his father’s ashes.

What I appreciate about the Hatchet series is that creator Adam Green understands that ultimately the plot of these films is really just a means to set up a new batch of Crowley fodder to undergo all means of creative death and disfigurement. We’re not really looking for much in the way of symbolism or character development, but that doesn’t mean the script needs to utterly insult us, either.

Since Hatchet III was what we thought at the time was the final film of a trilogy (who knew we’d get a surprise Victor Crowley four years later) it serves as the culmination of a rare series where the same person was guiding the ship for the duration. Yes, Green stepped down as director for this entry, but he handed the reins over to BJ McDonnell, who had served as camera operator on the first two entries.

Plus, Green still wrote the script and maintained creative control, which means there’s plenty of stylistic themes and callbacks connecting to the first two films. The most obvious of these is the return of poor Parry Shen, who as Shawn (in Hatchet) and brother Justin (Hatchet II) just cannot seem to make it to the end credits intact. This time around he plays paramedic Andrew, who’s not related to his earlier alter egos and dismisses assertions that he looks like them as racist stereotypes. Other than Hodder, Shen’s really the anchor for the series given that even main protagonist Marybeth was performed by two different people, so I was tickled to see him finally survive that usually doomed third act by making smart, if sometimes a bit selfish, decisions.

Which brings me to another key component of the Hatchet films: 99% percent of Green’s characters are varying shades of asshole. While that tends to be an irritating choice for most movies, Green adds a level of awareness and fun casting that makes it more playful here. SWAT leader Tyler Hawes (Derek Mears), for instance, has an alpha male shtick foiled by the fact that terrified local deputy Schneiderman (Cody Blue Snider) continually calls him out on it. And when Amanda takes Marybeth to get Crowley’s father’s ashes from Crowley’s racist redneck of a cousin, the whole experience is a hell of a lot more enjoyable considering said cousin is played by the great Sid Haig.

And then, of course, there’s Williams’ turn as Amanda, whose character is a bit of a tightrope in some ways, such as being willing to throw Marybeth under the bus should she not agree to return to the swamp to give Crowley his father’s ashes (Marybeth’s family, after all, is partially responsible for Crowley’s death). But you also get a sense that desperation motivates her tactics, as she genuinely believes this is the only way to finally put Crowley down. I like that Williams is willing to lean into both sides of the character, making the audience question if she’s one of the heroes or just more grist for the Crowley mill.

Admittedly, hero or no, 99% of the faces you see on screen likely won’t be attached to their bodies by the end. It’s not so much a question of whether or not someone’s going to eat it, but rather how messy it’s going to be when it happens. Hodder’s Crowley is in fine form in this entry, both in terms of his look (Hodder gets a chance to actually emote while still looking entirely unrecognizable), and in terms of the carnage he causes. And while we don’t get anything terribly new in the splatter department, it’s still a rollicking good time of torn limbs, eviscerations, and blood geysers as far as the eye can see.

But what I love most about the gore in this film is in how it’s used for callbacks to previous movies. Remember the testicles that make an appearance in Hatchet II as Crowley splits a couple of dudes with a chainsaw from the crotch up? Well, they’re back! Deputy Schneiderman has an extended scene pointing them out as they dangle from a tree, reminding the group that they really shouldn’t be screwing around that section of the swamp. In fact, the testicles get more screen time than a returning Ben (Joel David Moore) the original film’s protagonist who we last saw bleeding out from his dismembered arm in a canoe. Here he turns up alive and not-so-well just long enough for a flying hatchet to put him out of his misery.

Look, if you’ve been reading about me gushing over Hatchet III and you’re thinking, “Dude, calm down, it’s not that great,” I hear you. The Exorcist this is not, and even Green understands that. After all, in the county jail when the sheriff marvels at the stupidity of the decisions made by characters in previous films, a drunk prisoner who looks an awful lot like Green takes offense. So, yes, Hatchet III is a silly movie in a series of silly movies that rely on juvenile humor and gallons of blood. But it’s just what I need to turn off the existential dread that most of us are feeling right now, so in this moment, it’s perfect!

  • Bryan Christopher
    About the Author - Bryan Christopher

    Horror movies have been a part of Bryan’s life as far back as he can remember. While families were watching E.T. and going to Disneyland, Bryan and his mom were watching Nightmare on Elm Street and he was dragging his dad to go to the local haunted hayride.

    He loves everything about the horror community, particularly his fellow fans. He’s just as happy listening to someone talk about their favorite horror flick as he is watching his own, which include Hellraiser, Phantasm, Stir of Echoes, and just about every Friday the 13th movie ever made, which the exception of part VIII because that movie is terrible.