Hack-O-Lantern (1988)

Hack-O-Lantern

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AKA: Halloween Night

Young Tommy is particularly close to his grandfather, who dotes on him more than his other two siblings. But Tommy’s parents don’t like how fixated he is on their oldest son, and on Halloween night, after one too many unwanted visits, Tommy’s father decides to drive to his father in law’s farm and finally confront him. Only — Surprise! — it turns out that his creepy obsessive father in law is actually the leader of a satanic cult, and poor Bill Drindle walked in just when they were looking for a festive human sacrifice.

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Whoopsie.

Thirteen years later, and now with no one to stop him, grandpa has turned Tommy into a Satan worshiping punk-rock wannabe with a bad attitude who’s pushing everyone else who loves him away. Tommy’s mother, still distraught over her husband’s death, is desperate to keep the family together, but doesn’t know what to do. She turns to her other children, Vera and Roger, for help, but they’ve mostly given up on their older brother, and are more concerned with the upcoming Halloween dance. But they’re about to become concerned for just about everyone in town, because the unholy sabbath is approaching, and the local cult is out looking for it’s newest victim.

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Kinda dorky, but I guess he’ll do.

As Halloween approacheth, I figured I’d dive right into the more Halloween themed fare, and found this little straight-to-video oddity amongst all the clutter. I don’t think I could have picked a more appropriate slasher film, theme-wise. The entire movie is centered around events happening on not just one, but two separate Halloween nights, there’s a satanic cult, mysticism, oddball villains, pumpkins, costumes, blood, and for those interested in such things, an abundance of scantily clad ladies. It’s basically Halloween Slasher In a Can. That said though, it’s not what I’d call a very GOOD film, but the movie still provides a good dose of fun, cheesy entertainment, so I can forgive most of its flaws.

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Except this guy. This guy I will not forgive.

Slasher fans will likely get a kick out of the film thanks to a couple of gory deaths involving various gardening equipment. The film is fairly low budget, but they managed to scrounge together some pretty impressive effects. They even made a surprisingly good choice in the mask department, in the red monkey, demon-like face often seen on the various movie covers and promotional material. It may look a little cheesy, but it’s oddly effective. Yet at the same time, the gore fans will probably be disappointed in the suspicious lack of kills. For a movie with “Hack” in the name one would expect a lot of death and a lot more hacking, but the body count is surprisingly low, topping out at only six if you include the killer.

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Peek-a-boo~

Instead, the movie’s focus seems to be centered on the cheaper form of slasher entertainment: the nudity. I’m pretty sure almost all the female leads, save for one, show some skin. Beyond just the skimpy costumes, two of the leads get fully naked, one of the cult members strips for her initiation and, if that wasn’t enough, a stripper shows up to do an awkward dance at the Halloween party. Hell, even the mom shows some minimal skin. Naturally, most of it feels painfully awkward and horribly forced, but if you want to relive your horny teenage “look what my older brother managed to snag from the local video store” days, then this film is gonna take you back. Though honestly, I thought the most surprising thing about the level of skin on display was that only one of our naked lady friends ended up actually dying without a stitch of clothing on. But then again, she did literally open the door for the killer and strip in front of them, so I guess that’s to be expected.

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Wow, I thought I was gonna have to break in and shit, but you’re making this surprisingly easy for me.

The rest of the film falls into the familiar category of cheesy, we just did this for a quick buck, slasher goodness. The acting is, quite predictably, pretty terrible. Hy Pyke, who is inexplicably described as “kindly” in the official IMDB summary despite clearly being a Grade A sleazebag, plays the Satan loving grandfather. Pyke was in his fair share of low-budget horror films in the 70s and 80s, like Spawn of Slithis and Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural, but also had a role in Bladerunner. In this film, however, he is hilariously over-the-top and chews more scenery than an unchecked colony of termites. He’s supposed to be some sort of evil fiend, but instead his entire affect comes across as some devil-worshiping drag queen, but without all the wit, style or fun. The other notable lead is Gregory Scott Cummings as Tommy, who may be most recognizable today as Detective Moore from the TV series, Bosch. Hack-O-Lantern was one of Cummings’ first roles, and all I could think about when watching it was, “thank goodness he improved”, because emo Tommy is just awkward as hell. His go-to method for conveying emotion seemed to have been an exaggerated bug-eyed stare and a perpetual snarl. Which judging by the rest of the script, may have very well been what he was asked to do, but that doesn’t make him look any less ridiculous. Everyone else in the film ranges from decent to highly awkward, but on the bright side, at least it looked like everyone was having fun with the goofiness.

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Really his look says ‘Emo Thirty-something’ more than it does “I worship the Devil!”

The dialogue doesn’t do the film any favors either. I don’t think I’ve heard this many deliberate, cheesy puns in a movie that wasn’t directly labeled a comedy. I guessing director Jag Mundhra was trying for a Bollywood vibe that just didn’t pan out. Which would explain the inclusion of what amounts to a damn music video going on in Tommy’s head about a quarter-way through that, while stylized, feels woefully out of place, even if it does feature real-life metal band D.C. La Croix making a very questionable career choice.

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They went on a 20 hiatus after the film was released. Coincidence?!?!….. Yeah, probably.

Then there’s the plot which manages to include some truly entertaining, yet baffling oddities, yet at the same time remain horribly predictable. The film tries for a “twist” ending, but you’ll easily be able to see it coming, thanks to the movie telegraphing it about half-way through, despite the viewer knowing that the outcome doesn’t really make a lick of sense. But it’s the many random moments leading up to this that end up being truly baffling. There’s an “evil” cult in town that makes a habit of killing people one night a year, yet the small town seems blissfully oblivious to their dwindling numbers. Tommy’s idea of being a hardcore Satanist seems to be horror movie posters, candles, and decoratively lighted glass jars. Grandpa is constantly driving around like the lunatic that he is with pumpkins that must be glued in the back of his truck, because they never fall out, no matter how crazy he drives. When not killing people, our Satanic friends seem to delight in some light barn dancing and matching their tasteful flannel shirts with their devil robes. The movie literally breaks out into a metal music video, complete with laser beams and a woman writhing around with a couple of snakes. A girl goes into her friend’s bathroom to freak her out with a plastic spider on the bathtub while her friend is fully nude and actually in the tub, as if that’s a completely normal thing friends do. A stripper shows up at the Halloween party to everyone’s inexplicable delight. Which was actually preferable, because just outside the party we’re forced to listen to some random guy subject an unfortunate crowd to his stand-up routine. But the real clincher is probably the film’s opening, because the entire plot of the movie could have likely been avoided if Tommy’s mother had just told her husband, “Hey, don’t go over to my father’s farm tonight, because he’s an evil cult leader and they’re probably looking for a sacrifice” and instead just let him wander unknowingly right into death’s door. She clearly knew what was going on and hated her father, so why keep it a secret? It kinda pulls into question her whole grieving widow shtick.

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Sorry I didn’t warn you of your possible murder, honey. My bad.

So, Hack-O-Lantern ends up being cheesy, low-budget slasher fun. The dialogue and acting leave much to be desired, and it’s got a few pacing issues where the action seems to crawl along on life support. But it’s got all the blood, gore, and nudity that slasher fans crave, and is filled with more than its fair share of oddball plot elements. It’s a good example of a ‘so bad, it’s good’ 80s horror outing. If you’re a slasher enthusiast, or just a fan of hokey horror, then you’ll probably find something to enjoy here, even if that enjoyment is just mocking what’s happening on screen. But if you’re looking for a more serious Halloween outing then you’ll want to look elsewhere. I guarantee you won’t make it past the first lame pun joke.

Hack-O-Lantern is available on a variety of streaming services, including free on Tubi TV.

It is also available on DVD and Bluray.

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Michi

2 thoughts on “Hack-O-Lantern (1988)

    1. Oh, it’s super fun. Stupid. But fun. I started laughing when they pulled out the lasers for the music video. Like, thanks for adding the extra layer of cheesy-ness to it, movie. I really appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

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