[review by Amanda Reyes]
One word: Grandpa.
OK, here are two more: Totally awesome.
By the late 1980s, most slasher films were already living in the "been there, done that" territory ad nauseum (not always a bad thing though, to be sure). Whenever a film tried to throw something original into the mix, it was likely to be met with either eager reception from those longing for something unique (i.e. me), or lots of shoulder shrugging, depending on the viewer's threshold for plausibility (i.e. sometimes everybody else). Therefore, this era became an interesting time of direct to video oddities.
|A whole new meaning to giving head!
And, "odd" is good way to describe 1988's HACK-O-LANTERN (aka HALLOWEEN NIGHT), because it's loopy and dopey but it is also a film made with a lot of heart. And, it works in some strange way as a proper introduction to Jag Mundhra, who would move on to erotic thriller territory after this and his other oddly watchable slasher OPEN HOUSE (1987).
But, let's get back to Grandpa, shall we? As I wrote, many slasher films from the late 80s struggled to make their films stand out from the highly treaded grain. And although I'm sure I haven't seen every slasher film yet (but hopefully will at some point), HACK-O-LANTERN may be the only film in the genre to feature a Satan worshiping grandfather who moonlights as a pumpkin salesman! Played by Hy Pyke, Grandpa is one of the most humorous aspects of this (hopefully knowingly) lighthearted stalk and slash entry.
So here's the story: Grandpa has three grandkids, but he has taken a real liking to Tommy, and has decided that this innocent child is the final component needed to resurrect ol' Beelzebub. Flash-forward some odd years, and an early 20s Tommy (Gregory Scott Cummins, gorgeous for sure, but looking more like 30 than 22) has grown up to become the family outcast, a stereotypical heavy metal lover and someone who seems pretty keen on helping Grandpa fulfill his wishes. So, on the night of the big Halloween party, it's time to raise some hell - literally!
|A mere flesh wound ...
Through the film, a cloaked and masked marauder stalks his way through a myriad of subplots that include a romance between Tommy's brother Roger (Jeff Brown) and his sister's slutty friend Beth (Patricia Christie), and Grandpa's daughter, Amanda (Katina Garner) and her struggle to keep her very adult children at home and under her thumb (not to mention a weird plot point that suggests Tommy's grandfather is actually his dad!). There's just as much melodrama as there is splatter, and even though it's more soap opera than horror there's enough energy to keep it entertaining.
Shot through what looks like a Vaseline covered lens, and featuring a decent bit of T&A, Mundhra's future signature style is already on display in HACK-O-LANTERN. The easy, breezy fashion recalls some of Mundhra's lighter erotica like L.A. GODDESS (1993), but his interest in family dysfunction foreshadows some of his more dramatic thrillers such as WILD CACTUS (1993) and THE OTHER MAN (1994). Mundhra would find fame early on with the sexy theatrical feature NIGHT EYES (1990), but the bulk of his output exists as lower tier direct to video eye candy, where the scripts are always a bit too convoluted for their own good, but still manage to be a decent time waster despite the issues. HACK-O-LANTERN falls very much into this territory, but it is not just watchable, it's rewatchable, and almost joyous in what some might consider its flaws, but I see as its awesome.
Oh, and Grandpa! Oh Grandpa! His eyebrow-raising-southern-drawl-over-the-top dialog delivery is sublime. Pyke seemed to gravitate towards comedy, but he was no stranger to the horror genre, making his film debut in the cult classic LEMORA: A CHILD'S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL (1973). He would appear in a wide range of horror films including NIGHTMARE IN BLOOD (1977), SLITHIS (1978) and VAMP (1986). HACK-O-LANTERN took full advantage of Pyke's unique charms and the film is better for it.
Satanic cults are not unique to the genre, and HACK-O-LANTERN is just one of the late entry titles attempting to bring a little stone-washed-scrunched-socked hell to video stores. All I can say is that when the films are as fun as this, I doubt Satan, or the audience, is complaining.
female:4 / male:4
1) Male: Hammer claw to the back
2) Male: Decapitation (dream sequence)
3) Female: Three pronged rake to the side of the head
4) Male: Shovel bludgeoning
5) Female: Corset tightening, and knife to the back (yikes!)
6) Female: Strangulation
7) Male: Three pronged rake to gut, followed by a short fall from the top of the stairs
8) Female: Gunshot wound