31 Days of Hell: Hack-o-Lantern (1988) - Reviewed

Heavy Metal horror movies are an unmistakable staple of the 1980s, arguably beginning with Heavy Metal and its colorful smorgasbord of science fiction animation and horror before the likes of Demons, Trick or Treat, Black Roses and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare made long-haired head banging terror into a subgenre all its own.  The straight-to-video Halloween horror vehicle Hack-o-Lantern, released on a remastered blu-ray courtesy of Massacre Video, is another such entry in the hair-past-shoulders length 80s demon horror fest involving a Satanic cult which isn’t quite as wild as Ernest Borgnine’s cult in The Devil’s Rain but still has enough scenery chewing and over-the-top deaths of its own to make it worth your while.

Set in October around the time of Halloween Night, we happen upon a small family whose Devil worshipping grandfather (Hy Pyke) is trying to indoctrinate young son Tommy (Gregory Scott Cummins) into his Satanic cult.  Efforts are thwarted by Tommy’s mother (Katina Garner), but not before the cult murders his father, leaving the evil granddad free reign to groom Tommy into his right hand man in the ways of Beelzebub including but not limited to growing out his hair, wearing heavy metal rocker attire and fashioning his own bedroom shrine to the Lord of Darkness himself.  Only his younger cop brother Roger (Jeff Brown) and little sister Vera (Carla Baron) stand a chance at rescuing Tommy from his grandfather’s plans to transform the man into a vessel for Lucifer in the flesh.

Much like the Golan-Globus production The Last American Virgin, Hack-o-Lantern is characterized by Indian director Jag Mundhra’s cultural disconnect from the all-American material he’s tasked with directing.  Featuring a high-school Halloween party that happens to include a fully nude stripper everyone takes in stride, sex in a cemetery atop a recently buried dead body, more full blown T&A than most skin flicks and a heavy metal nightmare involving a long haired exotic dancer with a pitchfork, this is a hair-past-shoulders length movie from a guy who has never seen one before.  Though director Mundhra would go on to make several movies in the horror genre including The Jigsaw Murders and Eyewitness to Murder, the resulting Hack-o-Lantern in Mundhra’s hands takes on the feel of gonzo filmmaking at times. 

That’s not to say this isn’t a lot of fun or isn’t easy to follow, but being a straightforward occult slasher film set on Halloween night replete with pumpkins and a costumed party, this is loaded with random eyebrow raising asides including bare behind pentagram branding, a stand-up “comedian” who comes out of nowhere and disappears never to be seen again, and an openly incestuous Satanic cult no one seems to consider being remotely dangerous.  Hack-o-Lantern is not necessarily a solid horror movie by definition but has enough of the familiar tropes mashed together that you’ll come away entertained if not a little confused.  It can be a lot of fun, though be sure to check your brain at the door before entering this Halloween party.

--Andrew Kotwicki