HACK-O-LANTERN (aka Halloween Night, aka The Devil’s Mask) (1987)
directed by Jag Mundhra
written by Carla Robinson
starring Hy Pyke, Gregory Scott Cummins, Katina Garner, Jeanna Fine
Halloween is ripe with horror films – duh – and you can practically fill the month of October with Halloween-centric cinema. Halloween (and its numerous sequels and remakes), Night of the Demons (also with sequels and a remake), Trick ’R Treat (not to mention Trick Or Treat, or Trick-or-Treats, etc.)… the list goes on and on. One of the most delightfully batshit films on the “set on Halloween” playlist may very well be 1987’s Hack-O-Lantern, a kinda slasher, kinda occult, kinda rock ’n’ roll devil-worship horror flick that combines some of the best and worst cheese for which ’80’s indie horror is (in)famous.
Hy Pyke plays Grandpa, who, in the opening moments of the film, seems to be a kind and generous soul, delivering pumpkins to his grandson Tommy on Halloween morning. This kindly veneer takes a drastic left turn when it’s revealed that Grandpa is actually the high priest of a Satanic cult hellbent on sacrificing humans on Halloween night. Grandpa gives Tommy an amulet and a pumpkin, the latter of which, when discovered by Tommy’s mother, throws her into a fit of rage. Mom (Katina Garner), chastizes Tommy for speaking to Grandpa and smashes the pumpkin, unaware of the amulet in Tommy’s possession. Mom discusses this with her husband Bob (Tommy’s stepfather), who immediately leaves to confront Grandpa. Bob stumbles upon Grandpa in the middle of a Satanic ritual, and… well, all Hell breaks loose.
Hack-O-Lantern then flashes forward to many Halloweens later, where a now-adult Tommy (Gregory Scott Cummins) is his Grandfather’s right hand man (on the left hand side?) in the Satanic cult, and it is this All Hallow’s Eve that Tommy completes his initiation process in order to become the next High Priest of Satan. None of this sits well with Mom, and she implores her other children (police officer Roger and teenaged Vera) to focus on their home and family and help pull Tommy away from Grandpa’s dark clutches. In the midst of all of this is a devil-masked killer, slaughtering his way through those in Tommy’s orbit. Has the pressure of a Satanic cult cracked Tommy and turned him into a serial killer? Is Grandpa amassing a body count to appease his dark master? Or, is there a yet unknown killer, celebrating his own own, private, Halloween slaughter?
If this sounds in any way standard or by-the-numbers, it’s simply because words may very well be unable to express the complete insanity going on in Hack-O-Lantern. Accompanying the aforementioned slaughter, Satanism, and family drama, the film delves deep into 80’s metal, 80’s metal fashion, blood, boobs, butts, pentagrams-branded-on-butts, incest, terrible stand-up comedy, two different shock endings, and one of the best/worst metal fantasy performances since Black Roses or Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare. The actors all throw themselves fully into their roles, with Pyke and Cummins as the standouts, both turning in fervent, cranked-to-eleven performances as the creepy Satan grandpa and his metal-mad grandson. While the film’s climax and shock endings will probably be guessed by most viewers before the final credits roll, the film remains a blast; it’s very much a pizza-and-beers sort of film, but for those looking for a fun Halloween bloodbath, viewers could do a lot worse than Hack-O-Lantern.
Hack-O-Lantern is a fantastic example of the great, obscure, straight-to-VHS horror of the 80’s, and it would be remiss not to mention that it has been recently released on Blu-Ray and DVD (along with a special VHS edition) by the fine purveyors of filth at Massacre Video. Loving care has been heaped onto Hack-O-Lantern, probably much more than it deserves, and the 2k restoration from the original negative looks absolutely stunning. The release is also loaded with enough special features to satiate the most rabid of horror fans, and, quite frankly, shouldn’t be missed. Hail Satan!