'Hatchet'

"Hatchet" is billed as "Old-School American Horror," and "school" would seem to be the operative word. It feels like a student film -- one that wouldn't make the grade.

The plot involves a confused bayou legend about a deformed kid whose bloodthirsty spirit seeks revenge for its tortured life. Visitors on a scare tour find themselves picked off by this angry Elephant Man look-alike, the only suspense being whose death will be the most ridiculous. There's no logic to the chase; the soon-to-be-victims just hang around waiting to die. This is one of those movies where the fodder, er, characters repeatedly incapacitate the monster but run away instead of trying to kill it.

One hesitates to hack such an obviously entry-level effort to bits, but this is a bad film. And it's not enjoyably bad; it offers little diversion for your admission money. It's not even writer-director Adam Green's first movie (that dubious honor goes to 2000's "Coffee & Donuts"), so that excuse doesn't apply.

Green seems to be trying for comedy with lame dialogue and exaggeratedly fake limb-rending but lacks the skill to pull it off, so to speak. The only laugh occurs when a victim receiving an impromptu splenectomy whines, "Aaah! It hurts!" -- and that over-the-top humor may have been unintentional.

The performances are charmless. Somnambulant lead Joel Moore ("Dodgeball") wakes only when impaled. Comic-relief sidekick Deon Richmond ("Van Wilder") tries hard but can't rise above the non-guffaw-inducing material.

The cast is dotted with other familiar faces such as Tony Todd ("Candyman") and Richard Riehle (more than 180 credits, among them "Office Space"), and includes the obligatory Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) cameo, so the film wasn't shot for $5 in someone's backyard; it just looks like it was.

Precious little brain power was expended in the making of this movie. It's more than halfway through the ordeal when we're finally told what the presumably scary story is. And why is the movie called "Hatchet"? Its only memorable implement of death looks like a belt sander. "Belt Sander" would have been as apt a title as any -- assuming "Boring Trudge Through Some Dude's Backyard" was deemed bad for marketing.

By "old school," they apparently mean the filmmakers aspire to the minuscule heights of '80s "Friday the 13th"-style yawningly-unkillable-slasher flicks. Because those are so very rare these days. Even after appropriately lowering expectations, it's kind to call this one a cut below.

"Hatchet." MPAA rating: R for strong bloody horror violence, sexual content, nudity and language. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. At Pacific's ArcLight, 6360 W. Sunset Blvd. (at Ivar Avenue), Hollywood, (323) 464-4226.

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