A fan-service series that trades only in tongue-in-cheek winks to its hardcore target audience, Adam Green’s Hatchet films are anything but frightening. That remains true of Hatchet III, which is scripted by Green but helmed by long-time cameraman BJ McDonnell. McDonnell brings slightly more aesthetic competence, but no more scares, to the ongoing saga of Victor Crowley, a slashed-face Elephant Man mutant who haunts a New Orleans swamp and wields the titular weapon, as well as, occasionally, a belt sander (because why shouldn’t an undead serial killer have two signature tools of destruction?). Crowley is played by Kane Hodder, of Jason Voorhees/Friday The 13th fame, whose presence here continues the franchise’s tradition of old-school shout-outs. Other cast members include Danielle Harris (Halloween 4 and 5) as the heroine tasked with stopping Crowley, and genre favorites Zach Galligan (Gremlins), Caroline Williams (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Derek Mears (the 2009 Friday The 13th remake), and Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects). All are featured only because of their past roles, which is in keeping with a film that plays like a long, tedious inside joke for fanboys.
Hatchet III’s plotting is similarly pandering. Having turned herself in to the police after supposedly killing Crowley at the end of part two, Harris is again called into demon-fighting duty when local authorities are attacked by the still-alive fiend. Hearing Harris recount the prior two films’ narratives, Galligan’s cop remarks, “That has to be the stupidest story and some of the most idiotic and contrived decision-making I’ve ever heard.” It’s a winking admission to the franchise’s inanity that mainly resonates as the film’s desperate attempt to excuse itself for being so devoid of terror. Green and McDonnell want to pay homage to classic slasher sagas, but the abundance of gore on display—decapitations, hacked faces, torn limbs, crushed skulls—seems less reverential than simply juvenile, an impression furthered by the incessant profanity that the script mistakes as hilarious. Without suspense or surprise, the action’s meta gestures prove to be tedious time-fillers before the inevitable showdown, in which Harris must again confront her family’s responsibility in creating Crowley. As in the earlier installments, the climax comes across as merely one last cliché designed to please gore aficionados who’ve been schooled on past, superior horror efforts.