Hatchet II (2010)

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There’s no need to fret if you haven’t seen the first installment in writer-director Adam Green’s Hatchet opus. The burgeoning schlockmeister is generous enough to replay the origin of the “Bayou Butcher” Victor Crowley, a monstrous swamp-dwelling child cursed by his own mother who dies while giving birth. (Hey Ma, this is what happens when you opt for home delivery—and your home is in a goddamn swamp!) The deformed kid is raised by his father, dies (I guess), accidentally killed by a blow from papa’s axe, and now it’s his alarmingly corporeal ghost that runs amok in the Louisiana bayou, artfully dismembering intruders. Was all of this backstory really necessary?

Marybeth (Danielle Harris) is the lone survivor from the first Hatchet movie, and for some reason, she wants to return to the swamp to retrieve the mutilated corpses of her family members that got chopped into kindling last time around. Really? That’s the best motivation she can come up with? Enlisting the aid of voodoo charlatan Reverend Zombie (the reliably nefarious Tony Todd) she puts a greasy white-trash posse together to salvage the remains and hopefully dispatch Crowley (Kane Hodder) into the afterlife on a more permanent basis.

Adam Green is a filmmaker of limited abilities and funds, so he wisely concentrates on the gruesome details in Hatchet II. A hunter gets his jaw torn off leaving his tongue lolling ludicrously. Another victim is bifurcated and while still alive, gets rudely yanked out of his skin by the spinal column. This is why we we’re here. There’s no story, no character development, no life lessons; just plenty of splatter. Crowley, a fairly rote creation, is a Southern-fried Jason Vorhees sans mask, dressed for an audition on Hee-Haw. Is he a vengeful ghost? Is he an unkillable thing? Don’t worry about it. Just savor the carnage. Green sends sufficient cannon fodder to foolishly confront the beast and the body count is more than respectable, while old pro Tony Todd chews the scenery with relish. Reason enough, I say.

Shadow (2009)

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You’ll have to roll with some changes in this Italian horror import, but ultimately, I think it’s worth it to do so. Shadow begins as a fairly standard-issue case of strangers run afoul of rural ruffians (fine, if you want to call them “hillbillies,” I won’t squawk), before shifting gears about halfway through into a nasty bit of torture porn, and finally revealing itself in a Twilight Zone-meets-Dalton Trumbo finale.

David (Jake Muxworthy), an American soldier recently returned from the front lines of Afghanistan, decides a bicycle trip through a remote patch of Eastern Europe will help him unwind. He meets a pretty fellow cyclist (Karin Testa) who invites him in to share her tent, and soon both are on the run from a pair of bloodthirsty poachers. (Ottaviano Blitch and Chris Coppola). But wait! There’s more! After a few skirmishes, David and the poachers find themselves the unwilling guests of the evil Mortis (Nuot Arquint), a bony, bald albino with a penchant for inflicting pain—which he does. And then there’s a twist ending that actually works for me.

What Shadow has going for it is devilishly effective tension escalation. Circumstances get increasingly grim without deteriorating into a pointless bloody mess, and Mortis has to be one of the creepiest kooks to come along in a long time. Some of you will not care for the conclusion, but I appreciated the “one last surprise” card being played. Rather than a rip-off, I consider it a rather creative solution. See for yourself. I doubt you’ll be disappointed, because this trip is a trip.