Hack-o-Lantern (1988)


The problem with being a horror and exploitation fan is that most bad movies, regardless of budget, lack any sort of entertainment value.  They may have a concept - take werewolves on motorcycles, which is an actual film - and, no matter what the quality of the rest of the movie, if the concept was used effectively it would at least memorable.  Instead, there is usual something good at the beginning, maybe something good at the end, and a middle that one needs to slog through, usually of unnecessary personal drama or long shots of people going places.  It is a crapshoot on whether the audience will ever get to see a werewolf on a motorcycle.

Then, occasionally, something delivers.  It's never intentional, and it certainly isn't with Hack-o-Lantern, which began life as a Halloween ripoff called Halloween Night.  Producer Raj Mehrotra, an Indian immigrant to the U.S. who decided to go into making movies, hired Dave Eisenstark and Carla Robinson to throw together a quickie script and gave it to Jag Mundhra, who had made some acclaimed Bollywood films, to direct.  Problem is Mundhra had spent little time in the United States at that point and had almost no knowledge of Halloween as a holiday.  He also wanted to make it more like an Indian film, and his ideas were complicated by the fact that he spoke little English, making it difficult to get through to his crew what exactly he wanted.  Thus, we get a well-shot mess of a movie that, despite everything, at least works as cheap entertainment.

When Tommy's (Bryson Gerard) grandfather (Hy Pyke) stops off to deliver a pumpkin for Halloween, his mother (Katina Garner) is not happy about the contact with her father.  Tommy's dad confronts his grandfather in the middle of a Satanic rite and is killed for his interference.  Years later an adult Tommy (Gregory Scott Cummins) is preparing to be initiated into his grandfather's cult on Halloween night.  Meanwhile, his sister Vera (Carla Baron) is looking forward to the upcoming Halloween party as well as a liaison with her boyfriend Brian (Larry Coven).  Figuring her younger brother Roger (Jeff Brown), who is now a police officer, could use some companionship, she hooks him up with her best friend Beth (Patricia Christie).

Tommy has become isolated from the rest of his family due to his grandfather's influence, and there is already concern in the town about recent desecration of graves that Roger believes his brother and grandfather may be responsible for.  As the time for Tommy's ascendence approaches a mysterious figure, dressed in the robes and devil mask of the cult, begins murdering those associated with Tommy and his family, leading everyone to believe he has finally snapped. 

This has everything that an entertaining bad movie should have: a great beginning, scenes that cross moral boundaries, characters and situations that seem to have no grounding in reality, other scenes that have little to nothing to do with the movie but are the most memorable and, most importantly, a good ending.  A plot that makes sense is secondary, but to my surprise Hack-o-Lantern, when the killer is revealed, did.  The thing to remember is that Jag Mundhra knew how to make movies, and knew how to make good movies.  The problem is, he knew how to make good Indian films.  He had no idea what to do on an American production and spent a good part of the film laid up after stumbling into an open grave while filming in the cemetery. 

Character actor Hy Pyke, who has a voice that is a cross between Tom Waits and David Johansen and was obviously not given any direction on how to play Grandpa, ends up carrying the film even though it is obvious he is winging it throughout.  Katina Garner isn't far behind as the family's distraught mother.  Gregory Scott Cummins isn't bad, but he's largely there to fill in his acting resum√©, while a good portion of the middle of the movie focuses on Vera and Beth.  This is where it falls into the usual trap, not knowing what to do with itself until the killings get properly rolling. 

Along the way we have Tommy dreaming he is in a video with Seattle hair metal band D.C. Lacroix, where they perform the entirety of their song "Devil's Son".  Later, at the Halloween party, there is a stripper that goes full frontal with Roger, who is supposed to be keeping an eye on things and enforcing laws which I would also assume include public decency, looking on as if that's normal for a Halloween party.  There is also a snake dancer that shows up, an Indian guy in drag dancing in the corner by himself and just every type of strange idea about Halloween filtered through the eyes of someone who never celebrated it.  

There is also the matter that Tommy is supposed to possibly be 18 or early 20s (Cummins was 31 at the time of the movie), while Vera is supposed to be 18 and Roger probably around 20 or 21.  I bring this up because their father's headstone says he died in 1968, the movie is supposed take place no later than 1987 and Tommy is at least 10 years old and his sister slightly behind him at the time the opening of the film happens.  Tommy's parentage is explained (although what happens is on the day of the mother's wedding), but the dates come out to dad dying before the other children ever existed.  

In the end it doesn't matter.  Pyke chews the scenery, weird stuff happens, Vera and Beth appear to have a weird relationship on where they get off vicariously on each other's sexual conquests in a not-quite-lesbian fashion and the end, despite everything, ties together the proceedings quite nicely.  If this was a better film it would be a boring film, and the last thing anyone in 1988 would have wanted was another slasher.  This is one of those times where I'm glad some effort was put into dragging one of these obscure direct-to-video oddities back into the light. 

Hack-o-Lantern (1988)
Time: 87 minutes
Starring: Hy Pyke, Gregory Scott Cummins, Carla Baron, Katina Garner, Jeff Brown, Patricia Christie
Director: Jag Mundhra

 

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