Review: VICTOR CROWLEY
Due to catalyst caused by social unrest and tragedy, the cinema will always have a response when the world feels enveloped by despair. As the Reichstag burned and Nazism came into power in the early ‘30s, we saw cinema embrace morality by doing away with the pre-code of ethics the industry had established. Then, not long after Vietnam, when we brought the horrors of war home and PTSD became a household word, soldiers-turned-cinematic artists needed to use cinema as therapy to cope with the grisly images of combat. When we went to war in Iraq, and the truths behind detention camps like Guantanamo Bay came to light, cinema once again punched back to cope with new terrors by wearing the brutality on its sleeve by the rise of viscerally raw violence, from the films of Eli Roth to boundary-pushing French Extremism of the mid-2000s.
Now we come to today, a year that history will forever link to the 2016 Election, but with this new, rocky normal that is being birthed, what will cinema do? Granted, the limits were pushed so strongly in the last cycle, what statement is left to be made with our genre artists of 2017? Between the attacks on 9/11 and the 2016 Presidential Election we have had films like The Human Centipede and A Serbian Film that have shattered our conception of where the boundaries of horror lie. But is it these extreme examples that, like a rubber band being released, is making the genre snapback? Whether he knows it or not, with Adam Green’s newest picture, Victor Crowley, he may have struck the right chord that will resonate with audiences in this “new world.” Striking a fine balance between bloody, gruesome affair after affair with a level of comforting solace in familiarity, the film feels less like a fright film meant to scare audiences, but rather a warm hug from a fellow fallout victim.
Victor Crowley starts off with a flashback that does less to set the scene, and more to establish the mood. In the 1960s, a hapless young man (Jonah Ray) is attempting a wedding proposal to his girlfriend (the amazing sport, Kelly Vrooman), and as romantic blunders ensue, the distant cry of Victor Crowley can be heard. Any fan of the slasher genre can expect what happens next. The lovers go to investigate, which leads to delightful carnage, before being thrust into the present day where we discover that not only has Andrew (Parry Shen) from Hatchet III survived, but he’s written a tell-all book about his experience; the hilariously titled: “I, Survivor”. With this we’re introduced to an expanding ensemble of characters: a young trio of filmmakers trying to shoot a movie about The Bayou Butcher and the production crew for a Wendy Williams-esque daytime talk show returning to the site of the murders for one final interview with Andrew, who has only agreed to the stunt on the word of his manager (a hysterical Felissa Rose) of a $1 million pay out. But of course, things don’t go as planned.
The ambition of Victor Crowley is evident even outside of the miracle that Adam Green was able to get this made secretly in 2017, when information and rumors (true and false) spread like wildfire on the internet. But to get to the heart of this film it needs to be compared, however unfairly, to Adam Green’s original Hatchet.
The excitement for Hatchet was palpable in the community in 2006. That year the highest grossing horror films were both sequels, one being to a remake of a Japanese franchise. Out of the remaining ten films, only The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Skeleton Key, and of all things, Boogeyman were the only original properties to be produced to have a high grossing box office. The rest are a mix of old remakes, some working (House of Wax, y’all. HOUSE. OF. WAX. Y’ALL.) more than others (I see you The Fog), sequels (Saw II, Land of the Dead), and even one video game adaptation (Doom). By 2006, horror fans were starved. The torture porn train was starting to run hot, it was a good half a decade before Paranormal Activity and found footage would change the landscape once again, and yet, out of the depths of Massachusetts, rose this little film.
I was happy to see a return to a subgenre that I loved and had yet to see much newer works being produced for my generation. It also tapped into a nostalgia for a time that I wasn’t raised in and yet I still inherently had been. I was the last generation to cruise through the shelves of Blockbuster, renting Re-Animator on VHS from Hollywood Video, staring at the box art for Dreamscape and Tremors at the local mom and pop store in West, Texas. My childhood movies were still the films of the 1980s, despite being born in 1988, because that’s what my parents had video recorded from the TV. Until I moved here four years ago, New York City was still the same one from the opening of Gremlins 2 and the closing of Jason Takes Manhattan. And while I may not have been old enough to fully comprehend who Freddy, Chucky, and Jason were...the cardboard cut out in the video store of them was specifically made to terrify someone as young as me. Hatchet transported you back to the times you stayed up late (or in my case woke up way early) to watch these films with either sugary cereal or greasy pizza and howl with laughter as you hop yourself up on Coca Cola and candy. It’s a love letter. And it just so happens to be the best Hatchet film yet.
In the three previous films, fueled primarily by the initial marketing push for Victor Crowley as an icon, the films weren’t serving a story but the idea of a character. No one knew who Jason or Freddy were in those original movies, yet audiences came in primed for Victor Crowley in Hatchet. But the double-edged sword of making this iconic creation is we see him a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Which is fine, but, after too many close ups of Victor the terror that we are supposed to share with the lead characters drains as we just see a wrecking ball crash through a swamp. Which is the other problem that Crowley in the original trilogy has: his inherent indestructibility. As horror audiences, we know that the killer will never really be dead, but there was rare opportunity in Hatchet to even be tricked slightly. Victor Crowley gets burned? Nah, he’s good. Stabbed through the torso? Nah, bro. A rocket shot at him? GTFO with that nonsense, it’s Victor!
But finally Adam Green reminds us that he is the same director of Frozen and can be a master of tension if he sets his mind to it. And he builds this tension through casting Crowley in shadows, hiding him in the darkness rather than being front and center. And while the blood-letting is still off the charts, Green holds the reigns with perfect precision to give us the beautiful cascading shimmers of blood in the moonlight, yet leaves us wanting more.
I’d be remiss to also not point out something daring that I feel will sadly fly under the radar for most but deserves to be celebrated, especially in a genre that can feel overtly crowded by white male faces. This bonkers slasher throwback, a subgenre that lights up your mind with blue eyes and dirty blonde hair, stars Chinese-American and Colombian actors in leads roles that don’t require race to be a crutch for their characters development. And what makes this so fantastic, especially in this caustic time? Because Green easily could have cast to the Hollywood standard of young and caucasian, but he didn’t. He decided to follow one of his Asian American characters, who had until that point been relegated to supporting cast. Laura Ortiz, a Green stalwart from her time as part of the main cast of Holliston, shines as Green gives her more emotional depth than what audiences may be accustomed to with the Bogota-born actress. And this should be applauded, in and outside of the genre. As representation is still unevenly balanced in the industry, it’s heartening to look at the horror genre and say, “Thank you for being part of the fight.”
Adam Green knows how to treat his fans. From a myriad of in jokes (Team Arwen, USS Grace) that ArieScope fans will lock into instantly, to cameos on cameos on cameos, to low down and dirty sticky blood and guts, there is something for every slasher fan in Victor Crowley. And that’s what you have to be to like these slapstick movies that have more in common with Looney Tunes than Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. They’re silly, they’re funny, but most importantly, they are inherently innocent. And in that innocence there is a sweetness that these films give you. Like raising a glass to a group of close friends that you admire, I raise a glass to you Adam Green for giving us a little levity in these crazy moments of darkness. And here’s to four more.