If it's been said once, it's been said a thousand times -- don't go into Honey Island Swamp in Louisiana unless you want to die horribly. Victor Crowley will either take you apart or make you wish he had. He will. It's simply gonna happen. A group of misled tourists didn't stand a chance against him in Hatchet. A hunting party and voodoo priest couldn't stop him in Hatchet II. A S.W.A.T. team hardly phased him in Hatchet III. He's been scouring the area around his home for over 50 years now, despite being shot, impaled, blown up, chainsawed in half lengthwise, burned, had his head blown off with a shotgun, and face bashed in over 17 hits with his own hatchet. Just when Marybeth Dunstan thinks she's put Victor down for good, along come some would-be filmmakers to accidentally bring him back. So begins Victor Crowley.
If you're new to the franchise, go back and watch the first three movies. At around an hour and 23 minutes apiece, it's not a huge time commitment, but if you're a fan of '80s slasher films, you'll find plenty to like, including scores of entirely practical special effects, countless cameos by horror staples like Robert Englund, Tony Todd, Sid Haig, Zach Galligan, Derek Mears, not to mention Kane Hodder as Victor throughout. If you don't catch up on the three-day mass murder event that spans the original trilogy, Victor Crowley does a decent job of catching you up in a general sense -- Victor's basic backstory sans a few details is laid out at the beginning and references to the events of the massacre are made throughout -- so you won't be completely out of the loop, but it's still worth it to see the others.
If you've seen the previous films, you may notice that this fourth in the series takes a bit of a tonal shift. Less time is spent in the swamp, it has more of a defensive panic-room style setup, and more of the focus is on developing every one of the characters. The sharp wit and humor is better than ever, with several laugh-out-loud moments throughout -- the snarky barbs the characters level at each other are almost as savage as the wounds inflicted by Victor himself. At its core, the movie revolves around Andrew Yong (Parry Shen), the lone survivor of the original massacre, even though other characters played by Shen did not make it out alive (he plays a significant character in literally every movie in the franchise, despite them being different, and only a couple of them related to each other). It's been 10 years since the events of the first trilogy, and Andrew is trying to sell a book about his survival story. He does the talk show circuit, book signings, and gets accused of being the actual murderer at every turn since Victor Crowley continues to only be perceived as a myth by the general public.
In pursuit of fame and fortune despite being mostly a loser down on his luck, Andrew reluctantly accepts an invite to return to the swamp to appear in a filmed retrospective and happens to cross paths with an amateur film crew made up of Chloe (Katie Booth), Rose (Laura Ortiz), and Alex (Chase Williamson). Andrew's ex-wife and talk-show host Sabrina (Krystal Joy Brown) is along for the ride and to make him miserable the entire time. Wanna-be actor Dillon (Dave Sheridan) adds goofy cringe at every turn as well. These and a handful of others wind up together, holed up inside a downed plane on the edge of the swamp, with water seeping in and Victor waiting outside. Do they drown, or get risk getting hacked to death to try to save one another?
The dialogue is great and the scenes move quickly. The barrier between Victor and his prey forces him to find ways to lure them out before finishing them off. The body count is back on par with the original film, somewhat surprisingly, with only 16 confirmed kills, 10 of them by Victor himself. At its peak in Hatchet III, there were 31 kills with 22 at the hands of Crowley, followed by a 20/15 split in Hatchet II. The rampant nudity from the original film has also tapered off to there being none at all in part three and this newest entry, almost as if there were an effort to "class up" the splatter flick trappings. Stick around during the credits, too, as what appears to be the initial ending happens rather abruptly, and there's a fair bit more to be revealed.
It seemed like both the world and the cast of characters overall was smaller this time around, perhaps in part because it was set so far apart from the events of the first three films, which had several references, Easter eggs, and running gags from one to the next. There are fewer cameos (I spied Tony Todd in a video playing on someone's smartphone), and virtually no throwaway victims. Everybody here mattered, which I think helps the viewer attach to them a bit more than some of the nameless cardboard dummies Victor hacked up in past movies. None of these things are bad, just different. This notably was my first exposure to Laura Ortiz, who was previously in Holliston, The Hills Have Eyes (2006), and Nerdist's Real Housewives of Horror series. I'll definitely have to check those out. Her "I have a dick," "She be fierce," and numerous other one-liners in Victor are so well delivered that I can't help but lose it every time I hear them.
One thing that's a little unclear to me is why they opted to rebrand the franchise as Victor Crowley for this entry instead of continuing with the familiar Hatchet title. There are a number of indicators that this might be the beginning of a second trilogy, but this film in particular does far less to establish Victor's backstory than Hatchet I and II did, and the story is largely about Andrew, not Victor. The movie was kept secret for the last couple of years leading up to a surprise release, but hiding the movie under the name of the very-recognizable sole antagonist hardly gives it anonymity. Maybe the reason for the rebrand will become clearer in future films, assuming they make them. Here's hoping a Predator accidentally lands in the swamp in the next outing.
The effects in the movie are as good as ever, and are best viewed in HD for every gory detail. I still have a hard time not getting goosebumps when hearing Victor calling out for his father in the distant woods, a moment that routinely serves as kick-off for slaughterama. The kills themselves follow the tonal shift in a way. Some are still as gruesome as in the flicks of olde, but others carry a bit more weight, as the protagonists have to simply let some of the others die despite being right by their side, helpless to stop it.
Special features on the disc include cast commentary with writer/director Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan; technical commentary with Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft; an interview with Adam Green; behind the scenes; and a trailer/teaser.
If I had to pick a favorite from the series, it would be really tough. The apparent emphasis on character development and funny dialogue makes this newest entry a joy to watch, in the same vein as Broken Lizard's Club Dread, but if you're more into massive body counts, the middle of the series is probably more your speed. The original still feels fresh, some 12 years later, and rewatching it to refresh my memory on various details for this review was like putting on a comfy, familiar old pair of shoes. Many franchises -- including the ones that inspired this one -- had largely petered out by their fourth outing, yet Victor Crowley manages to keep things entertaining and surprising despite the repetition of setting and theme. If you love '80s horror or any of the previous Hatchet movies, you owe it to yourself to give Victor Crowley a shot.