- Emma: Man... my whole life, my one goal was to avoid dying in Hatchetfield. But... here we are.
Paul: Hey, could be worse. You could be dying in Clivesdale.
Hatchetfield is a Shared Universe of Horror Comedy stories created by the Lang Brothers, set in the small fictional town of Hatchetfield, Michigan, a Town with a Dark Secret haunted, in many different realities, by all sorts of paranormal, extraterrestrial, and interdimensional phenomena. Written by the Lang brothers with music by Jeff Blim, the Hatchetfield saga has been the main focus of Team StarKid ever since they moved their operation from Chicago to Los Angeles in 2018.
The saga consists of the following works:
The originally planned third installment of the series was meant to be the stage musical Nerdy Prudes Must Die, but that was put on hold due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and replaced with Nightmare Time, a series of Hatchetfield mini-stories told via Zoomcast. With the three-episode, six-story series of Nightmare Time having been revealed near the end of its run to in fact be Nightmare Time season 1, and Nick Lang having established that Nerdy Prudes Must Die is not, as many have assumed, the third installment of a trilogy, it is clear that many more Hatchetfield stories are planned for the future.
Please do not spoil material not yet available to the public! Nightmare Time 2 will be released on YouTube at a future date. Those who have obtained digital tickets, please refrain from troping them until such a time as all StarKid fans have been able to see it.
Tropes present across the entire Hatchetfield saga:
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Words and names beginning with the letter "W" are bizarrely common in relation to the paranormal phenomena throughout the series: the Big Bad Wiggly, his nemesis Webby, and his servant Wiley; the Witchwood Forest, the amusement park Watcher World, the evil Witch in the Web, and the ape-man Wooly-Foot.
- Anyone Can Die: Oh, yeah. But if your favorite character bites it, don't fret — The Multiverse means you have a chance at seeing them again.
- Anthology: With the release of Nightmare Time it's safe to call the Hatchetfield series an anthology series — the same stable of actors rotate through a changing cast of characters to tell a number of stories in the same setting that only loosely fit into one overarching continuity.
- Cerebus Syndrome: Although Starkid addressing real-world issues in their shows is in fact Older Than They Think, the Hatchetfield series is nevertheless a major shift toward Darker and Edgier storytelling that directly addresses unfunny issues like PTSD, Domestic Abuse, the decay of relationships under the pressures of late capitalism, etc.
- This has happened over the course of the Hatchetfield series itself, with The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals originally seeming to only use Hatchetfield as a convenient backdrop for its one long meta joke about a Zombie Apocalypse based on a diegetic Musical World Hypothesis, only for Black Friday to bring the town back and start expanding the lore around it.
- Cerebus Rollercoaster: The signature tone of the Hatchetfield stories is one of very rapid Mood Whiplash between the two poles of the Horror Comedy genre.
- Continuity Cameo: Several characters appear in multiple installments of the series, if not always at the same level of prominence they had originally.
- Continuity Porn: Even though every Hatchetfield story is set in a timeline where none of the previous story's paranormal events happened, everything else that happens clearly carries over from one story to another, as each story is loaded with references to past jokes, past events, and all sorts of background lore about the more mundane aspects of the town.
- Cosmic Horror Story: The Myth Arc of Hatchetfield is a classic one involving Eldritch Abominations seeking to destroy the world. Nightmare Time shifts the balance toward Personal Horror, although Word of God is that the Lang Brothers believe all horror must be Personal Horror for the main character to really strike home (as per Sam Raimi's "rules of horror").
- Darker and Edgier: The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals was a major shift for a Starkid show, being the first show that took character's deaths seriously and that left the audience with a Downer Ending that was as disturbing as it was funny. It's only gotten Darker and Edgier since.
- Deconstruction: Hatchetfield in general is one of the Town with a Dark Secret, and seems to be an answer to Welcome to Nightvale. The latter podcast talks about the unnatural oddities as normal, with radio host Cecil Baldwin reassuring listeners that everyone can handle the horror, along with their mundane lives, if they know what they're facing. As we see in Black Friday, regular people acknowledge that these horrors shouldn't be happening; far from Conditioned to Accept Horror, the protagonists have a Logical Latecomer response to finding out they're trapped with an Eldritch Abomination in the form of a Creepy Cute doll. Case in point, Lex is worried about getting her little sister to safety, as The Cassandra Hannah is in a Troubled Fetal Position and crying after watching Ethan die, while Becky and Tom hide out from the cultists in the movie theater and wonder how their lives led to such pointless violence. They acknowledge at the end of the show that none of them signed up for being survivors of a horror scenario.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Done deliberately with The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals, which was a much more meta and standalone idea for a Horror Comedy show than any of their others — the Lang Brothers' Batman Gambit was hoping to see if TGWDLM would be a success, and if it was to try to draw viewers into the somewhat different idea of the Hatchetfield series as a whole via intentional Cerebus Syndrome.
- Eldritch Location: Hatchetfield, Michigan is a seemingly normal, small Midwestern town that attracts every supernatural horror imaginable.
- Everytown, America: Hatchetfield was initially designed to be this stereotype in ''The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals, although even then it had a few traits peculiar to it, like being an island community to enable the Closed Circle of the plot. There's been more stuff since then fleshing out the specific kind of community Hatchetfield is, mostly revolving around Hatchetfield being a resort community with a lot of tourist traffic.
- Excellent Judge of Character: Alice would never admit it, but Bill's assessment of her choice of girlfriend is absolutely correct. He says that Deb is not worth Alice's time and that she could do better. He's fine with her being queer, but he wants her to date someone who will treat her well. Considering that Alice stayed in Hatchetfield rather than go to Clivesdale to spend an extra day with Deb, that gets her killed, she might have listened to her father. The Nightmare Time timeline has Alice worrying that Deb will hook up with someone else behind her back, and is heartbroken to see that her worries were true after checking Instagram.
- Flyover Country: Among other things, Hatchetfield is a love letter from the Lang Brothers to the State of Michigan, where they grew up, and where Team Starkid first came together as a group of theatre students at the University of Michigan. Hatchetfield comes in for a lot of typical Flyover Country jokes about being in "the middle of nowhere" and people wanting to flee to New York or LA (or, in Emma's case, all the way to Guatemala), and we get a few Michigan-specific references like older people in Hatchetfield still being fiercely loyal to American-made classic cars from Detroit in its heyday, running the gamut from Tom Houston's Ford Fox-body Mustang to Bill Woodward's AMC Pacer.
- Genre Roulette: As of Nightmare Time Nick Lang has admitted he and Matt are throwing in everything including the kitchen sink in terms of story ideas into Hatchetfield, resulting in some entertaining Mood Whiplash; Episode Two of Nightmare Time is using ideas that were clearly originally in the Science Fiction genre adapted to fit a Horror Comedy franchise. The fact that the series runs on multiple Alternate Timelines means that if there's an element that doesn't seem to fit in the over Hatchetfield mythos, it can easily be said to only exist in that one timeline.
- Genre Shift: Starkid underwent a major one with this series, going from purely farcical comedies, usually directly parodying some other pop culture franchise, to an original Horror Comedy series meant both to be Darker and Edgier and more grounded in the real world.
- Grand Finale: Nick Lang gave a fan interview in 2021 where he spilled a lot of details about future plans for Hatchetfield, including that in an ideal world he has an eventual plan for a fully-produced feature film that will serve to wrap up Hatchetfield's Myth Arc.
- Hero of Another Story: The Multiverse allows characters who were in the background in one world-ending apocalyptic crisis to take center stage in another.
- Horror Comedy: The genre of the series as a whole. StarKid's signature crass humor, heartwarming relationships, and excellent music remain ever-present, but now exist underneath a constant atmosphere of unease and suspense. The paranormal threats appearing in each story run heavily on Bathos, as they're largely ridiculous concepts which nonetheless manage to be genuinely scary in their presentation.
- Informed Small Town: A typical example of this trope. The text repeatedly refers to "the tiny town of Hatchetfield" and says that Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here, but each story has added institutions and establishments to Hatchetfield for plot convenience that, if all of them were canon, would make Hatchetfield quite a large city. This is a Franchise Original Sin, since The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals itself gave Hatchetfield its own TV station, its own broadsheet newspaper, its own community college, two school districts supporting two rival high schools, and a historic theatre space that's big and established enough to be a destination on Mamma Mia!'s national tour. (Realistically, for a national tour of any Broadway show to arrive at Hatchetfield it must by definition be a regionally dominant city.) Note that Hatchetfield is supposed to be a community on an island in the Great Lakes, and the largest such island in Real Life Michigan is Grosse Ile, which has a population of about 10,000 and, although highly affluent, isn't nearly large enough to have any of the above.
- Black Friday added to this, with Hatchetfield having a large shopping mall (the Lakeside Mall) within its city limits, with an independent toy store (Toy Zone) that's important enough to receive a direct shipment of Tickle-Me Wiggly toys at the height of their popularity on Black Friday. Of course, in this case we're directly told this is intentionally arranged by Wiggly because Hatchetfield is an Eldritch Location.
- Black Friday also reveals Hatchetfield has enough of a population of wealthy millionaires to support its own boating society, although this much is Truth in Television — boating is Serious Business in the island communities of the Great Lakes and Grosse Ile has multiple boating/yachting clubs.
- Nightmare Time Episode 1 gives us what may be a Retcon that Hatchetfield is in fact a well-known tourist destination — to the point where the island is served by its own small airport — and is the kind of "tiny town" that's only "tiny" because the permanent population is greatly outnumbered by transients. (We hear the pejorative word "townies" for permanent residents of such a town used a couple of times for Hatchetfielders later in the series.) "The Hatchetfield Ape-Man" reveals that the Duchess of Stockworth's family used to travel all the way from the UK to take their holidays in Hatchetfield for the beaches and the wildlife, and "Watcher World" reveals that Hatchetfield Island is home to the eponymous Amusement Park of Doom, which seems to be a major regional attraction akin to Cedar Point (with "the tallest rollercoaster in the Midwest"). This is Truth in Television for a Michigan island community — Mackinac Island in Lake Huron is known as the most popular tourist destination in the state, where the Michigan Governor's official summer residence is located — but most of these towns are way too small to be a Real Life version of Hatchetfield. (Mackinac Island has a permanent population of less than 500.)
- Nightmare Time Episode 2 expands Hatchetfield a little more, giving it a Natural History Museum suitable as a non-denominational wedding venue (yet another feature that would in Real Life probably only be found in a fairly large city). It also gives some context to CCRP's presence in Hatchetfield — CCRP is indeed only a branch office of a massive multinational evil conglomerate that probably wouldn't have any interest in a "tiny town" in Michigan in Real Life... but CCRP is also part of an Ancient Conspiracy dabbling in Magitek and is likely aware of Hatchetfield's nature as an Eldritch Location and exploiting it.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: The series' characters are well into the dozens.
- Loads and Loads of Roles:
- Said dozens of characters have been portrayed by a mere fourteen actors — sixteen if you count Nick Lang, who has served as a stand-in for both Emma and Wiggly and plays The Narrator of Nightmare Time (which included, on two occasions, taking over for certain minor characters when the assigned actor's mic was off), and Matt Dahan, who "portrays" the leader of the Hatchetfield High School band. This is especially impressive in The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals; being the first StarKid production after they left Chicago, they only managed to get eight actors; they nevertheless managed to populate Hatchetfield via constant costume changes.
- Six more actors debuted in Black Friday. Nightmare Time, as of its first season, has introduced a handful of characters to the cast without introducing any new actors. As of Black Friday, Dylan Saunders was the only actor in the series to have only one character, and the first season of Nightmare Time left him still the only one to have played only one major character.
- Nightmare Time 2, in addition to adding Jae Hughes and Bryce Charles to the StarKid family, finally gave Saunders more major characters, and also featured Nick Lang as a prominent actor for the first time in the series, as he had to quickly take over all the roles assigned to Robert Manion, who was asked to temporarily step away from StarKid following a controversy mere weeks before the season premiered.
- Lovecraft Lite: Hatchetfield dips into various different genres of horror, but the overarching Myth Arc is very much inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos. Qualifies as "Lite" because we're clearly shown beacons of hope: while the eldritch horrors are immensely powerful, it's possible to trick them, to foil their plans, and to throw off their control with The Power of Love.
- The Multiverse: Established early on in the second installment, Black Friday, which takes place a month after the events of The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals, but in a world where the paranormal events of TGWDLM didn't happen, e.g., Paul and Emma met, since that happened before the meteor hit, but then the meteor didn't arrive and the Zombie Apocalypse never happened. All of Nightmare Time's stories take place a year later and, similarly, every story takes place after the previous one but ignores all previous stories' paranormal events, which is clear since said events tend to result in a lot of character deaths, of characters who pop back up in later stories none the worse for wear. Despite this, Word of God from Nick Lang has stated unambiguously that all Hatchetfield stories are canon, but refuses to elaborate on how that's possible. The implication throughout a few stories, particularly Black Friday, is that the Black and White, the extradimensional home of the Lords in Black, is connected to all possible versions of reality. The rule seems to be that paranormal events don't carry over from one story to another, but everything else does, allowing relationships such as Paul/Emma and Tom/Becky to develop as the series goes on.
- Musical World Hypothesis: Each work in the series utilizes its songs in a unique way:
- The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals combines several of the hypotheses. It's mostly Diegetic; all of the musical numbers are actually being performed in-universe, either by the Assimilated or by people (some assimilated, some not) who wrote, choreographed, and rehearsed the songs beforehand. The background music falls under the All In Their Heads hypothesis; the Assimilated can hear it but the non-assimilated can't, which is why the non-assimilated find the musical numbers so unsettling. Finally, the Assimilated fall under a paranormal version of the All-Maestro Cast hypothesis; being a Hive Mind, they can come up with lyrics and choreography on the fly and all of them can learn it at once. Nick Lang has gone so far as to say that TGWDLM isn't a musical at all, merely a play about people who act like they're in a musical.
- Black Friday falls firmly under the Adaptation hypothesis; the songs are a dramatic reconstruction of the characters' thoughts, speeches being made, or events such as a riot.
- Nightmare Time generally does not employ songs in its storytelling at all, instead merely giving every story a Theme Tune or two. The only story in the series to have musical numbers within it is Watcher World, whose songs are performed diegetically by the Sniggles, but with music videos for the audience's benefit.
- Myth Arc: The Hatchetfield stories seem to be a mix between "standalone" horror stories and stories advancing the overall story of the "Lords in Black" and their Evil Plan to eventually devour all of Hatchetfield's timelines. Word of God is that the Hatchetfield Myth Arc has been plotted out in Broad Strokes and the creators know what the eventual Grand Finale of the series will be.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: While no one in-universe seems to think much of it, seeing it as a normal and boring town, as time goes on, the name Hatchetfield seems more and more appropriate as a place where horror stories happen. Nightmare Time escalates this, letting us know that the uninhabited northern half of Hatchetfield Island is known as "the Witchwood Forest" or just "the Witchwood", and that they are very much the kind of woods you don't go into. It also implies that Hatchetfield was founded by an Ancient Conspiracy called the Hatchetmen, so named because they first cut down the Witchwood to build the town, then replanted half of the forest by chopping down people with their hatchets, people with magical gifts, and imprisoned each of their souls inside a tree to form a web protecting the town from evil.
- Negative Continuity: See The Multiverse — Anyone Can Die in any given Hatchetfield story and then show up alive and well in a different one, and even though the overall backstory of the town of Hatchetfield and its recurring characters seems stable, some relatively major details have unexpectedly shifted with each new "reboot".
- Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: As usual in the horror genre, most Hatchetfield residents have this opinion only for it to turn out to be disastrously incorrect if they have the bad luck to be the protagonist of a Hatchetfield story, thanks to Hatchetfield being a Town with a Dark Secret most of them aren't privy to.
- Official Couple: Paul and Emma from The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals are unequivocally this for the Hatchetfield universe — not only are they the main canon ship of the show they're in, they've been strongly favored by fans as an OTP since the show came out, with the Official Couples from Black Friday (Tom/Becky and Lex/Ethan) vying for second place. The fact that TGWDLM puts them through some major Official Couple Ordeal Syndrome (their one chance at a first kiss is interrupted before the show comes to an end) only intensifies this, which is why Nightmare Time announcing "Forever & Always" would be a story about their wedding was such a massive crowd-pleasing moment.
- Personal Horror: This started as a joke in the Hatchetfield series (with Paul Matthews' Personal Horror being his hatred of musical theatre only to wake up and find himself the protagonist of a musical), but even in The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals it became a surprisingly serious theme once you thought about the implications. We got a lot more of it in Black Friday, particularly in the tragic life and times of Tom Houston, and exploring Personal Horror is more or less the mission statement of Nightmare Time. (See Trauma Conga Line on the "rules of horror".)
- Real Life Writes the Plot: The third stage show in the Hatchetfield trilogy, Nerdy Prudes Must Die!, was put on indefinite hiatus by the COVID-19 Pandemic, as was the production of Workin' Boys or any other planned conventional short films and Web Videos. The Zoom-based script-reading show Nightmare Time was conceived as a replacement, both with new stories being written for it and older ideas being recycled into Nightmare Time scripts. Nick Lang has brought up that this may lead to Nerdy Prudes Must Die! being scrapped, both because bits and pieces of it are being cannibalized for Nightmare Time and because of timeline issues — thanks to Dawson Casting being averted for Hannah Foster, who's played by Kendall Nicole, an actual teenager, Hannah is aging in real time along with Kendall, meaning there's a "time limit" on telling Hatchetfield stories. As the Chosen One whose Coming-of-Age Story is deeply tied to the Hatchetfield Myth Arc, Hannah's age in each story is very important for the Hatchetfield timeline — and Nick Lang has said that if "time runs out" and Hannah catches up and overtakes the age of the high school characters of Nerdy Prudes Must Die! then it might be necessary to scrap the show completely. (He hasn't given details of exactly why this is necessary, but it can be inferred that the plot of NPMD probably has to take place before the Hatchetfield Grand Finale, and that the teenage characters of NPMD are tied to existing characters in such a way that they have to be older than Hannah— and interact with Hannah — when NPMD happens.)
- There have been issues in the past that affected the writing of the shows, like Angela Giarratana being added to the "Starkid family" when Mariah Rose Faith bowed out of Black Friday when she was cast on the Mean Girls national tour — followed by the COVID-19 Pandemic cutting said tour short, meaning Mariah and Angela could appear together in the cast of Nightmare Time (leading to characters being written for both, like Alice and Snigglette being Foils for each other in "Watcher World").
- Nick Lang has also generally alluded to the idea that if NPMD does go up as the final Hatchetfield stage show, it will probably be toned-down in scale from Black Friday, because Black Friday was an intensely Troubled Production due to illness among the cast thanks to the strain the show put on their stamina and the small dressing rooms for such a big cast helping infection easily spread. Nick has said that the COVID-19 Pandemic was a "wakeup call" to Team Starkid — and, hopefully, to the performing arts industry in general — to take actors' physical needs and safety more seriously.
- Significant Double Casting: Like most previous StarKid works, the series has far more characters than it has actors to play them. Hatchetfield likes to play with the audience's expectations, as Narrowed It Down to the Guy I Recognize is so seldom a valid tactic, that it's genuinely a complete shock whenever it's revealed that two characters played by the same actor are actually the same person. An early example is the reveal in The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals that a helicopter pilot played by Mariah Rose Faith is actually Zoey; notably, two different Nightmare Time stories have revealed that a character played by Joey Richter was in fact Ted Spankoffski all along.
- Significant Green-Eyed Redhead: Ever since Kim Whalen joined the Hatchetfield cast with Black Friday people have pointed out her characters in particular tend to be Love Interests, with this trope possibly playing into why.
- Small Town Rivalry: A Running Gag throughout the series is the town of Hatchetfield having a fierce rivalry with the town of Clivesdale, the neighboring town just across the bridge on the mainland. Hatchetfield's unofficial town motto seems to be "Fuck Clivesdale!"
- Spiritual Successor: Despite the massive difference in tone and style, the Hatchetfield series has been said to be one for The Trail to Oregon! — the Lang Brothers describe the decision to do The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals as driven by the desire to reunite the same Production Posse who did TTO in 2014, saying it was the most fun and the easiest experience they'd had doing a show in the past and wanted to keep this same team going in the future. The Hatchetfield series has the same songwriter as The Trail to Oregon, Jeff Blim, and a similar Mood Whiplash-based comedic sensibility. There's even a explicit Call-Back to a concept from TTO with Blinky's title "The Watcher with a Thousand Eyes", referencing the "horror" sequence in TTO leading into the song "Dysentery World".
- Town with a Dark Secret: What the secret is depends on the story, but all is clearly not what it seems in Hatchetfield.
- Trauma Conga Line: According to creator Nick Lang, Hatchetfield's stories all attempt to follow Sam Raimi's "rules of horror" as told to Stephen King: The innocent must be tested, the guilty must be punished, and you must taste blood to be a man. Downer Endings are more common for someone with the misfortune to find themselves a Hatchetfield protagonist than Happy Endings, and any happy endings that do happen are well and truly earned.
- Where the Hell Is Springfield?: We know a lot more about Hatchetfield's location than most other examples of Everytown, America — it's an island in the Great Lakes that's part of the State of Michigan — but Nick Lang has been asked where specifically Hatchetfield is, since there's a huge range of locations this could describe, and he's refused to pin it down. The geography of Michigan, the state with the second longest coastline in the US, means it has jurisdiction over islands in four out of five of the Great Lakes, which creates a pretty wide range of climate, culture and economic status Hatchetfield could have. (The only island in Michigan that comes close to having enough population to be a Real Life version of Hatchetfield is Grosse Ile, which is technically not in one of the Great Lakes but in the Detroit River, which along with Lake St. Clair connects Lake Huron and Lake Erie. Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron is significantly physically larger and is an even better fit, but is part of the Canadian province of Ontario.)