Interview: Director Adam Green Talks Hatchet II

He's back ... Yes, it's your favorite hair-lipped, supernatural hillbilly hell-villain from the New Orleans swamp -- Victor Crowley. Hatchet II revs up right where Hatchet left off, with a blood-soaked heroine screaming at the top of her lungs. Horror icon Kane Hodder (aka hockey-masked psycho Jason) also returns as Crowley, and is joined by Halloween scream queen Danielle Harris.

Plus, Hatchet II has made cinematic history by getting permission for a wide theatrical release without a rating -- no PG-13, R, NC-17, nada. We had a chance to chat with director/writer Adam Green to find out how he pulled it off, and what the sequel has in store for fans.

Christine Champ: So Hatchet II will get a wide release but no rating?

Adam Green: Yeah, it's a big deal. It hasn't happened in, like, a quarter of a century. Basically the distributors, Dark Sky, really had our backs. With Hatchet we had this movie that was in festivals for maybe a year and a half before it came out. It was winning all these awards and getting all these great reviews, and everybody was talking about how fun and inventive the kill sequences were and how great the effects were (because they were the old-school type of effects and not CGI) and then we had to get a rating. ... In order to get an R rating they made us cut so much out of the movie that by the time it came out in theaters, it was just not the same movie. This time around we were really championing going straight to video so that we wouldn't have to go through that again and this movie really pushes it with the effects, trying to give people more of what they liked about the first one.

Dark Sky said, "Let's see what happens," and unfortunately with the ratings board we kept getting the kiss of death -- NC-17 for violence -- and eventually they just said, "Let's see what we can do" and we started talking to the theater chains, and they worked it out to put the movie out unrated. And especially with this, this isn't like an unrated release that's going to be controversial, or people are going to leave the movie disturbed by what they saw. It's all in good fun. I hope when people walk out they say, "Why couldn't that have gotten an R rating"? 'Cause it should have, but instead of caving and taking all of the punch lines out of the movie, we got to keep it intact. Hopefully the fans realize that this is an important moment in cinema and they support it, because if they do, more people will be able to start doing things like this.

CC: Why did you decide to make a Hatchet II?

AG: We had planned Hatchet II before we made the first one. It's a great sequel because it starts on the same frame the first one ended on, and then it keeps going. With the first one we held back on certain things with Victor Crowley's mythology, like what exactly is he, where does he come from, what's the connection between him and Marybeth -- even having Tony Todd play a character who merely answers the door in the first one. We already knew that [Todd's character] is behind a lot of this ... so he's gonna be the lead in the next movie. We sort of gambled and won in the fact that the first one became a big success and we got to make a second one and continue where we left off. If they do a Hatchet III right away I don't know if I'll be doing it. Maybe I'll pass the torch to somebody new, maybe I'll do it. ... I never base my decisions on the money. If I had, I would have done Hatchet II right away. I think when you're a director, it's hard to do something unless you're absolutely over the moon in love with it. The audience, they spend 90 minutes with it, but for you it's anywhere between a year and a half to three years of your life, every day, working on it. Especially with horror, if you're doing it for the money, it's very sad.

CC: You've said Hatchet II will have fewer laughs and be darker than the first. Why, and do you think that will disappoint some fans?

AG: Well there's still a sense of humor and it still has the same tone, but the trajectory of the story is such that it does go to some darker places, especially when we learn who Victor Crowley is and where he comes from -- there's really nothing to laugh about. I think one of the keys to having a good slasher film is having somebody who does have some shred of sympathy from the audience. You can't just have a killer for no apparent reason so that stuff is definitely darker ... but there are still plenty of funny moments, and of course the death scenes are still very over the top and very fun to watch.

CC: How do you come up with the ideas for the death scenes? I've heard Hatchet II features a giant chainsaw.

AG: I don't really know where that stuff comes from. As a fan, I try to think of things I haven't seen before, or things that would make for very cool effects, but also things that I can shoot practically and not have to rely on CGI or animation to pull it off. I feel like with these types of movies, when you start going into all these computerized blood splatter and CGI things, that there's nothing tangible about it anymore, and you sort of lose your audience a little bit. CGI definitely has its place in certain things like Lord of the Rings but ... if all of a sudden Victor Crowley was animated, I don't know how that would really work. When we were looking for things to put in Victor Crowley's shed in the first movie, I saw this 6-foot-long chainsaw that they got from the redwood forest. I had never seen one of those before, so I was like, "Make sure that we see this really well, because in the second one I think have a great idea for how we can put this through two people at once. Make sure it's in the shot behind Marybeth when she finds her brother and father, because it will be cool when people see the second one, that they can go back and watch the first one and see that it's already there." As a geek, those are just the fun things that we look for in these movies. There are so many call backs to the first one and my other films. I think everything that I do exists in the same universe, so there's even an epilogue from Frozen in Hatchet II.

CC: Why did you replace Tamara Feldman (Marybeth) with scream queen Danielle Harris?

AG: The simple answer is that it wasn't gonna work out. I think she was taking some bad advice in handling herself in a bad way with us. Towards the middle of making Frozen we started talking about moving in another direction with that role. It's a very hard thing to do when you replace an established character with a different actor, but we were faced with a problem. We planned Hatchet II before we did Hatchet. We had this whole storyline planned out and were going to start the movie on the same frame the other one ended on. We were like, "Do we change all of that because this pretty much unknown actress is being difficult right now"? So instead we thought "How do we go upwards and onwards and recast her with somebody the fans are going to be even more excited about?"

I'm happy to see how well that's worked because Danielle Harris actually auditioned for that role the first time around, but at that time I had already cast Hodder and Todd and so many horror icons in the movie that I felt like one more would make it all about that. So we went with an unknown. I'm happy to see that in all the reviews that have come out, everybody completely loves her and has embraced her and there hasn't even been mention that the part was recast.

CC: Where did Crowley come from?

AG: I was at summer camp and I was 8 eight years old. On the first day they said, "Don't go near this cabin, don't ever go knocking on the door or else Hatchet Face will get you," and for all the other kids, that was enough for them to be scared. But I had an older brother who had already shown me all these great slasher movies, so I was really excited about it. I'm like, "Why is he Hatchet Face, who is he, how is he going to get me, what's he going to do..." and I'm asking all these questions and they didn't have answers for any of them. All they had was a name, Hatchet Face, because that's where they did their drugs or whatever they did at night when they didn't want the kids knocking on the door.

So that night when we were going to sleep, the kids in my cabin were like, "Do you think Hatchet Face will get us?" and I just made up this very simple story about a deformed man who kept his face hidden in a cabin and one day people threw firecrackers at the door to try to scare him so they could see what he looked like, and the door caught on fire and his dad came home with a hatchet and chopped the door and hit him in the face and killed him by mistake, and now if you listen you can still hear him screaming for his father in the woods every night, and if you get too close he'll kill you. That's the magic of Hatchet. All it is, is a campfire tale, a very simple ghost story. I think that's why it resonates with people so much. All of the great slashers had very simple back stories. Like Freddy Krueger was a child killer who got burned alive by the parents, and now he's back to get the kids in their dreams. That's really the magic of it -- that an 8 year old came up with the story. I think that's the charm.

CC: Do you think Hatchet II is a sequel where you have to see the original to truly appreciate it?

AG: No. If you didn't see the first one, you'll be up to speed in a matter of minutes, but if you did see the first one it's just that much more fun because you recognize all the shout-outs to certain things.

CC: So what are your hopes for Hatchet II's debut in theaters?

AG: Hopefully people turn up. We're still only on 65 screens or something so you're not going to see Hatchet II place in the top ten at the box office the second weekend or make millions of dollars theatrically, but if we can score a high per-screen average and show the industry that there is an audience for original art or unrated art for fun horror, then we'll start seeing more stuff like this. So I'm very excited to see what happens next weekend and very cautious as well, because the horror fans don't often put their money where their mouths are. They love to complain, but they don't really like to do anything about it. So I'm hoping that they prove me wrong and they all turn up in droves and have a good time.