The Bootleg Files: Hatter

BOOTLEG FILES 807: “Hatter” (2022 fan film short inspired by the Batman franchise).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A fan film that borrows copyright protected characters.


Fan films are a hit or miss affair – they’re mostly miss, IMHO – but sometimes the genre produces a genuine surprise. In this case, there is a very happy surprise coming from a pair of creative artists who’ve turned up before in The Bootleg Files series.

Aaron Lambert and Jake Navatka were previously featured in this column as the stars of the fan film “Abbott and Costello Meets Superman,” playing the bumbling comedy duo in an unlikely run-in with the Man of Steel. For their latest effort, “Hatter,” they consider the Jervis Tetch / Mad Hatter character from the Batman franchise, with Navatka (so wonderful as the zany Costello in the earlier film) as the headgear-focused sociopath and Lambert (the gruff Abbott in the previous film) in a very different role here (no spoilers) while doing double-duty as writer/director.

“Hatter” is a belated follow-up to another Lambert-Navatka collaboration, the three-part YouTube offering “The Batman Chronicles” where Natvatka played the Jervis Tetch character. I did not see that earlier production, and I am glad for it because the absence of recalling it made this experience left me wonderfully unprepared for this film’s shock.

“Hatter” opens 13 years after Jervis Tetch’s former secretary, Alice Hart, was rescued by Batman from her deranged employer. (Note to self: when the human resources department is no help, call Batman.) Alice, dressed in an outfit similar to the dress worn by the eponymous heroine John Tenniel’s illustrations from the original Lewis Carroll book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” is hosting a tea party for Jervis, who is both grateful and bitter for being reunited with Alice (played by Shauna Mills).

The film is mostly a conversation between Jervis and Alice in a private tea party meant to mirror Carroll’s classic text, although I will be a bit snotty in pointing out that Carroll never envisioned a supermarket-purchased carrot cake as the central pastry attraction. In this very intimate gathering, Jervis speaks in a strangely calm manner about what transpired while Alice grows increasingly agitated when Jervis begins to plumb their past relationship. Jervis expresses displeasure with Alice’s relationship with Billy (played by Lambert), who is a romantic rival – and I cannot mention more about Billy’s role in this melodrama without dropping major spoilers.

The brilliance in “Hatter” comes in the visceral relationship between Jervis and Alice – and the more that Alice becomes uncomfortable in picking at the scabs of her relationship with Jervis, the more Jervis becomes a tranquilizing personality who tries to numb Alice of her fears. As the film progresses, it becomes a battle of wits between Jervis’ too-calm vibe and Alice’s neurotic ride off the rails.

Where does this bizarre little private party go? To reveal what occurs would be a spoiler of biblical proportions, but I will say it is a triumph to Mills’ majesty as an actress, Navatka’s ability to spark horror through a seemingly anodyne persona and Lambert’s skill as a writer/director to gut-punch the audience in a manner they could not have seen coming.

After watching “Hatter,” I revisited “The Batman Chronicles” that inspired this new short and I have to admit the talent involved in these productions have strengthened over time. Don’t get me wrong – “The Batman Chronicles” is fun, but “Hatter” is such a great surprise that it is thrilling to see the maturity of talent that only time can give.

But enough of my prattling – watch “Hatter” on the YouTube video link below, and then go back to see “The Batman Chronicles” and, then, watch “Hatter” again.

The year 2022 is roughly half over, but I think I can go out on that proverbial limb and say it is the best short of the year. Kudos to Lambert, Navatka, Mills and the other talented people who made this happen. And if you don’t believe me, see it for yourself here (and the links to the earlier “The Batman Chronicles” are in the YouTube page).

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

Listen to Phil Hall’s award-winning podcast “The Online Movie Show with Phil Hall” on SoundCloud and his radio show “Nutmeg Chatter” on WAPJ-FM in Torrington, Connecticut, every Sunday. Phil Hall’s new book “Jesus Christ Movie Star” is now available from BearManor Media.