It is the dead of night out in the Louisiana swamps, and two alligator hunters (Robert Englund and Joshua Leonard) are sitting out in a boat waiting for sign of a huge reptile they wish to bring in. However, the younger man is getting impatient and cold, wishing to return to their home, and to make matters worse now he needs to relieve himself but feels weird doing so when there's someone there. He manages to get the older man to insult him to make him feel more comfortable, but just as he is finishing off the alligator leaps out of the water. It misses him, but there is something else out there which will be luckier...
Hatchet was written and directed by Adam Green as an homage to all those slasher movies of the late seventies and early eighties, and such was his conviction to that much-maligned genre that he opted not to use any computer generated effects, so what you see is pure makeup and actually filmed on camera, giving the movie a pleasing, old school appearance. What wasn't so authentic was his approach, which unlike the horrors he was influenced by was more of an outright comedy - not a spoof, though, as there was no doubt that the villain was a genuine threat.
Those horror icons we see at the start (well, one horror icon and one of the blokes from The Blair Witch Project) are not the stars, as they get killed off pretty swiftly. Not even Tony Todd is the star - he's in it for about a minute. No, the real stars are Joel Moore as Ben and Deon Richmond as Marcus, two buddies who end up on a tour of the swamp's ghost lights after a spell at the Mardi Gras does nothing to help Ben forget being recently dumped by his girlfriend. Hoping to match his gloomy mood at least, the tour turns out to be a disaster, but it does offer Green the opportunity to present us with some well drawn characters.
In fact, so engaging are this lot that it's a pity they have to be killed off, but such are the conventions of films like these. Along for the ride are some far better scripted personalities than you would ordinarily be offered in one of those original slashers, with for example the dumb blonde (Mercedes McNab) a wannabe starlet making a soft porn video along with her co-star and rival (Joleigh Fioreavanti) who she constantly bickers with, delivering some very funny lines in the process. Also present are their director, an older couple of tourists, and Marybeth (Tamara Feldman).
Ben tries to chat up Marybeth, but is knocked back because she is tetchily not interested in conversation, though it's obvious if you have seen any number of these things that this is our final girl, and what she really wants to do is track members of her family who have vanished in the swamps. After a while it's also obvious that the guide (Parry Shen) hasn't the faintest idea of what he's talking about, although he does highlight something that will soon become very important. That is the legend of Victor Crowley (former Jason Vorhees Kane Hodder), a deformed and crazed hermit who can occasionally be heard calling for his late father.
If there's a weak link in this, then it's the villain, a clichéd (in a bad way) unthinking force of violence who looks like a man slathered in prosthetics. From the backstory Marybeth gives us, we are supposed to pity him for being a victimised child, but then that turns around and we're supposed to fear him for ripping off the tourists' heads. Perhaps a big man in a mask would have been a better option, without the complications of motivation to mess up what is really pretty straightforward. The best laughs are in the first half hour, and other than its wit Hatchet won't be much the fans have not seen before, but it was made with affection for a style of film that many would regard as not worth the bother, and that is appreciated. For that reason it ends up being better than many of its inspirations. Music by Andy Garfield, which really should have been a cheapo synthesiser effort.