Friday, February 2, 2018

Return of the Bayou Butcher: Victor Crowley (2017)

Victor Crowley (2017) (AKA "Hatchet 4")
Rating: **1/2
Starring:  Parry Shen, Kane Hodder, Laura Ortiz

It all started in 2006 when director Adam Green introduced the world Hatchet, his very own love letter to 80s slasher flicks which showcased the ungodly demise of a tourist group stranded in a Louisiana swamp with deformed killer, local legend and supernatural swamp butcher Victor Crowley. With great gore and strong camp, this cinematic carnage brought upon a favorably fun cult fan base dubbed the Hatchet Army who, of course, demanded more.

And more they did get as two sequels follow Hatchet, one in 2010 and another in 2013, each taking place precisely the night after the last film, offering a little more insight to how and what makes Victor Crowley ticks, and, by all means, Crowley delivering the splashiest kills as possible. But last we saw him, Victor was melted away by his own father's ashes, a magic supernatural hooha that appears to work, before getting his remains blasted away by one angry Danielle Harris. Didn't this meant the end for ole' Hatchet Face?

Well, we're here again, aren't we?

Cold opening in 1964, we get a slight taste of what to expect for this entry as we watch two lovers on a row boat hilariously proposing their love for one another before being spooked by a ghostly howl. Reaching shore, they're jump scared by a random fisherman but before we get the typical "you kids shouldn't be here coz this swamp's cursed" spiel, a large figure that is none other than Victor Crowley decapitates the old man with a hatchet and sticks said weapon unto the boyfriend's face. After a brief chase, Crowley eventually catches the girl and gorily dismembers her with his trusted weapon, all with a growl and a thunderclap behind him. Good stuff, but I can see some issues right then and there. We'll get to that later...

After a brief recap of the Crowley legend and the killing spree he committed from the first three films, we now set ourselves to the present, ten years after the three-night Honey Island swamp massacre to be more exact. (turns out the entire first trilogy happened at 2007 despite the original film being released in 2006. I guess some continuity can be bent to follow the "divisible-by-five years later" cliche) Survivor and paramedic Andrew Yong (Parry Shen) milked the fact that he lived through the swamp man monster's last rampage and made himself look like the hero who defeated Crowley by writing a book about it. A few people praises him, a lot of people accuses him of being the Bayou Butcher, and he more or less humiliated himself by appearing on his ex-wife Sabrina’s (Krystal Joy Brown) talk show and gets verbally beaten down. Unfortunately, shit's about to get worse when Andrew reluctantly agrees to do an interview in the same swamp where all of the murders happened in exchange of a really large sum, only for the plane taking him and the interviewing crew there go crashing down from a freak turbulence that nearly killed all of them.

And by "nearly killed all of them", I meant most of them survived while two pilots get mangled, one guy gets sucked out of the falling plane and another gets torn in half.

Fortunately (or, maybe not), a trio of film students and their guide were visiting the swamp to do a B-grade slasher based on the Crowley murders and were having some difficulties reciting a supposed voodoo curse that created the swamp butcher when they notice the crash. As the kids split up to look for help and check for survivors from the dilapidated plane, they unknowingly left a Youtube playlist of the voodoo curse playing, thus bringing old Hatchet Face back from the dead, just as pissed off as ever.

Secretly filmed behind fans' backs, Victor Crowley was a surprise sequel that almost nobody knew coming and I, much like most Hatchet fans, was excited to see more of Crowley's eternal rampage around the slushy alligator-infested swamp he calls home, wondering what kind of crazy antics he will get into this time.

Well, the answer to that is a solid "eh". Basically, Victor Crowley is small part standalone film and many parts sequel, which I honestly find rather underwhelming despite finding the movie entertaining. The fact that it is called "Victor Crowley" and that it takes place in the present instead of another day following the last movie gave this franchise an opportunity to start fresh and have our beloved overpowered deformed freak do away a new set of dumb victims. To be fair, it kinda did that on the side, but most of the film had us following a running gag character's misadventure back in the same haunted swamp that he swore never to go back to again. It's fine and all as it still got me chuckling at a few jokes until some of them overstayed their welcome (PA System gag, I'm looking at you. Four was enough...) and I can tell this is a labor of love for the fans (Adam Green really loves his fans) but I can tell some newcomers to this franchise might need to catch up with the rest of the series first to get at least half of the gags and references made here.

I will, though, give Victor Crowley and Green their due as the premise and director were at least interesting. At some point, the movie tries its best to recapture the rightfully balanced gore-soaked campiness of the original Hatchet only with a more sly meta tone to it, not unlike how Wes Craven's Scream franchise eventually started poking fun at itself with the introduction of its fictional film with film franchise called Stab. In turn, a lot of the writing works here (probably more if you know the entire Hatchet series by heart), spending at least a good forty minutes or so building around the casts, what they think about the events that happened from the previous movies and the predicament they will soon find themselves in. It definitely has a stronger comedy approach but the direction shows that it mostly (Read, "mostly") knows when to drop the jokes and dwell into the horror in the right time.

From this, Parry Shen makes a pathetic yet understandable protagonist out of his character who was technically just a walking, talking wink-and-nod to the audience up until this point and I'm glad to say I wanted to see more of this role now as a solid character. The rest of the casts also did fairly well from Sleepaway Camp's Felissa Rose in a much more comical role as Yong's opportunistic agent who spatted out some pretty funny lines herself (and gets one of this franchise's most cartoonish deaths) to Scary Movie (2001)'s Dave Sheridan as a comic relief swamp guide with an aspiring dream to become an actor, a rather fitting creation to this film's campy tone. (Albeit a bit too cheesy at times for my liking) I do felt scream queen Tifanny Shepis' was a tad underused, though, as her character mostly spent in one place slowly succumbing to her possible demise. Anybody could replace her for her role and it kinda shows some of the more damaging flaws of this Victor Crowley movie.

Now, the Hatchet trilogy is well known among the horror community as that slasher series that puts the blood on "bloody" and the gore on "gory"! The imagination, the make-up, the splatter effects and the gallons and gallons of fake blood are where most of the money and focus fall in with the first set of Hatchet movies and it shows from one kill unto the next. In Victor Crowley, though, the kills were noticeably cheaper as the latex body parts look rubbery and the blood resembles more red paint than the classic corn syrup splatter, which doesn't add anything better to the fact that most of the "Crowley" action here takes place within the fallen place, making this movie less like your everyday run-and-hide slasher and more of a survival flick that can get a bit frustratingly repetitive. Still, I will give this movie for trying to maintain the level of "splatstick" mayhem it sets itself upon right at the beginning of the entire franchise, which is commendable for its dedication and somewhat impressive given the smaller budget it has to work with.

Victor Crowley is certainly the weakest movie in the Hatchet franchise for me but I can't say I completely dislike it for its flaws. It has its hits and misses, sure, but it is far from the worst thing to happen for a modern cinematic monster like Victor Crowley and I'm sure it will find an audience to love it more than I do. In fact, I believe it already does! Hatchet Army?! Raise your hatchers and hold on to your pieces! Coz Victor Crowley's back!

1 male decapitated with a hatchet
1 male gets a hatchet buried into his eye
1 female dismembered with a hatchet
1 male gets sucked out of a falling plane, lands burnt
1 male found mangled from plane crash, tree branch smashed through his face
1 male found mangled from plane crash, smashed face-first against control panels
1 male found torn in half
1 male had his face pulped, head pried off via hammer claw
1 male had his scalp sliced off with a hatchet
1 female skewered with her own torn off arm
1 female had her head stomped
1 female drowned
1 female decapitated with a hatchet
1 male shredded through a plane turbine
Total: 14

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