Studio: Dark Sky Films
Director: Adam Green
Writer: Adam Green
Producer: Sarah Elbert, Cory Neal, Greg Newman
Stars: Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, Dave Sheridan, Krystal Joy Brown, Felissa Rose, Brian Quinn, Tiffany Shepis, Chase Williamson, Katie Booth, Kelly Vrooman, Jonah Ray, Kane Hodder
Ten years after the Honey Island Swamp Massacre, a voodoo curse resurrects Victor Crowley for another brutal killing spree.
This kind of distinction can be important when discussing a franchise with faithful fans as well as casual ones, both of whom may wish to overlay their perspectives with a particular critic’s. So let me start by saying, if it matters to you, I’ve only seen the first two “Hatchet” movies, and not since they originally released. I remember enjoying both, though I don’t remember either well enough to qualify as an invested diehard or anything. Make of that what you will then, with regard to where I’m at going into “Victor Crowley,” the franchise’s fourth film.
Familiarity with the previous three “Hatchet” movies doesn’t need to run deep, or at all, to get into “Victor Crowley’s” groove. Essentials are explained in a montage recounting the titular terror’s origins as a disfigured boy burned by bullies and accidentally murdered by his father. Due to a voodoo curse on the Crowley family, Victor then rose from Louisiana swamp waters to become a supernatural serial killer.
Ten years have passed since the Honey Island Swamp Massacre (“Hatchet I-III” took place in the same time frame). Sole survivor Andrew is on a book tour promoting his ghostwritten memoir about the ordeal, but it isn’t going well. His careless agent books Andrew on a talk show hosted by his bitter ex-wife Sabrina. Others who still think Andrew committed the crimes continue calling him an O.J. Simpson of sorts, as authorities never found any evidence that Victor Crowley exists.
Things get worse when the promise of a payday compels Andrew to return to the crime scene for a televised interview. With a TV crew in tow, the private plane carrying Andrew suffers sudden engine failure, bringing everyone down into the bayou.
On the ground are a narcissistic tour guide and an amateur filmmaking trio. Plans to make a mock trailer for a Crowley-inspired horror flick turn sideways when Andrew’s plane crashes practically in front of them. Distracted by the sudden sight of a bloody corpse, someone forgets about the phone playing YouTube videos of people reciting the old Crowley curse. When the swamp hears those sounds, Victor Crowley rises once more to target a slew of new victims for slaying.
“Victor Crowley” makes some sense as a rebranding title since the film functions fine as a standalone story. Nevertheless, “Hatchet 4” might make more sense since Crowley features about as infrequently as anyone, even though the movie bears his name. Pre-title prologue aside, Crowley’s first appearance doesn’t come until almost 45 minutes in, and the breezy runtime only lasts about 75.
“Victor Crowley” remains a pretty simple affair throughout. The buildup teases a setup of quirky personalities with a unique bit of backstory behind each one. Most of this ends up being inconsequential, other than to inspire an “aw, not him/her!” reaction when a head gets severed. Yet the lighthearted drama and goofy bickering that introduces everyone makes for some of the better-developed red shirts seen in a slasher.
Then the film flips an accelerator switch as its final half-hour becomes a pure celebration of outrageously over-the-top kills and the splatter-filled practical FX that come with. Gory dismemberments with medically impossible blood geysers drench every other scene, which has always been a signature of the series. Also as always, a snarky tongue touches both cheeks as a reminder to not take copious carnage too seriously.
“Hatchet” has always had humor, though “Victor Crowley” seems sillier than what I remember. Comedic moments play more like sidebar skits than something strictly situational to onscreen action. One such overlong bit features writer/director Adam Green cameoing as a pilot who repeatedly drones “uhhh…” when making announcements. Sure, it’s his film and he should have fun. But non-sequitur scenes that appeal primarily to a small segment of viewers don’t serve broader interests of moving a story’s momentum.
Don’t get me wrong, I love that Jonah Ray’s character takes his name from Dark Delicacies proprietor Del Howison. But how many people outside of L.A. get the gag? Overall entertainment value doesn’t suffer from not being in the know. It’s just that there are a number of nods like this whose bonus layers can only be peeled back by a select few.
Green similarly packs in references to his episodic series “Holliston,” his dog Arwen, his industry friends, etc. There are probably plenty of other ArieScope in-jokes included that I’m not privy to, but should provide Adam Green devotees with a satisfying Easter egg hunt at any rate.
I realize that Green makes his movies expressly for his fans, which is a chief reason why they appreciate him so much. But he might be missing opportunities to expand his reach by making movies that look too odd to inadvertently alienated outsiders.
“Victor Crowley’s” comedy also fluctuates at inconsistent levels. For instance, actor Dave Sheridan tunes tour guide Dillon to a fully cartoonish frequency while Chase Williamson characteristically keeps jokey dialogue subdued inside his sleepy slacker sarcasm. I’m sure Adam Green intentionally directed everyone to let loose with the way they naturally behave best. Except the disparity in how everyone differently balances horror and humor creates a wobbly composition of the two.
An uncomplicated plot takes “Victor Crowley” down a straightforward path. At times, scope feels narrowed because slaughter remains contained to the crashed plane’s interior or its immediate vicinity. Personally, I prefer the hectic hullabaloo of screaming people running from cabin to cabin, room to room, set to set. Outcomes stay the same no matter what, yet there’s a flow to that kind of frenzy that can’t be captured when one cramped location confines the crux of the action.
Newcomers may make it to the sudden smash cut conclusion and merely think, “eh, I’ve seen better, but I’ve seen worse too.” Hatchet Army enlistees on the hand, will hungrily eat up the splatter and the silliness, and have an anxious appetite for another serving of Crowley on a future menu. Whatever side of the blade one uses to slice it, “Victor Crowley” still meets the standard for old-school slasher mayhem with a self-aware streak of black humor.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.
Review Score: 60