Gore and slasher fans can rejoice as seemingly the last standing, unstoppable axe wielding maniac makes his way back to the big screen for the third time in Hatchet III. The latest in the saga of the constantly reborn, hulking, and bloodthirsty backwoods mangler Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) and his ongoing campaign of terror in the Honey Island Swamp area is definitely a step down from the first two previous entries, but genre nuts should greet this one with a considerable amount of good will and glee.
Picking up immediately after the second controversial Grand Guginol entry left off, heroine Marybeth (Danielle Harris) makes her way bloodied and beaten to a local sheriff’s office with a shotgun in one hand and Crowley’s scalp in the other. Put into custody by the local law (Zach Galligan), the investigation begins at the swamp into why there just so happens to be 20 or so faceless and limbless bodies just kicking around. Naturally, Crowley – who despite being completely filleted by Marybeth is doomed by voodoo magic to constantly repeat the night of his death while searching for his dead father – comes to collect his pound of flesh anew on all the unlucky first responders and SWAT personnel. Meanwhile, Marybeth gets sprung from prison by a Crowley expert and blogger (Caroline Williams) to go retrieve the ashes of Crowley’s pappy and put a stop to the massacre once and for all.
Series creator Adam Green contributes the screenplay, but steps away from directorial duties, letting cinematographer BJ McDonnell take the reigns. For what it’s worth, McDonnell is definitely trying to breathe some new life into a franchise that could have easily gotten stale by this point – especially after such a “go for broke” project as Hatchet II ended up being. Visually, Hatchet III might be the cheapest looking entry to date and a step slightly down from the outlandish gore of its predecessor, but it’s also quite accomplished given what McDonnell has to work with.
Not that anyone goes into something like Hatchet III looking for a story, but Green might be the one who has kind of shot himself in the foot with this one. Whereas the first two films were unabashed throwbacks to drive-in chillers with nothing but a high body count on their mind, they at least had narrative hooks to them. Here, Galligan and Harris’ storylines are too disconnected from one another to really add up to a cohesive whole. Either one could have and probably should have been its own movie since one ends up short-changing the other, and by about 40 minutes in Green’s script gives up almost entirely to just let the effects team pad out the second half of the film. While the work of the technicians is something special, everything ends up getting somewhat exhausting to watch when the main leads aren’t on screen.
The cast certainly brings a ton of appeal. Harris has always made for a great, strong final girl in these films, and she attacks the standoffish Marybeth with foul mouthed glee underneath her sullen exterior. It’s nice to see fellow horror movie vet Williams’ also get a great role kicked her way, even if one wishes she had a lot more to do with the actual A-story of the film. Hodder hasn’t lost a step in the hulking behemoth department, and Sid Haig and Derek Mears pop up for smaller bits of comedic relief.
But the real stand out here is former Gremlins star Galligan, who has aged surprisingly well and hasn’t lost one bit of his sly, comedic charm. He conveys both authority and exasperation at his situation perfectly. Even if Victor Crowley doesn’t rise up from the grave again after this, I sincerely hope Galligan gets a lot more high profile work as a result of this. He’s so good you almost want to watch something else with him in it immediately afterwards even though the rest of the movie is really just okay at best.