Hack-O-Lantern (1988)

For those of us who grew up with Satanist grandfathers, Hack-O-Lantern really brings back memories. The fights with our square Christian parents, the assorted homicides, the ceremonies where hot babes were branded on their asses with our awesome logo, the sexing in the graveyard right on top of dead dudes and of course the strippers at the town Halloween party.

It was such a shame that mom had to kill our evil buzz by murdering gramps, but little did she know that he just went and transferred his dark soul to another grandson! That’s what you get for spending your time at the cemetery whining at your husband’s grave who we had to kill with a hammer instead of focusing on your Satanic studies, Mom!

Hack-O-Lantern is exhausting in its relentless terribleness, almost as if the film itself is the Devil’s revenge against humanity for being booted out of heaven. But that’s not to say that there aren’t moments of random lunacy scattered throughout that make you wonder if all involved sold their souls to some demon that simply had no idea how to make a movie.

There can’t really be any other explanation for why when junior Satanist Tommy puts on his headphones and cranks up his cheesy hair metal to block out his overbearing mom and suddenly finds himself in a cheesy hair metal music video with apparently real life cheesy hair metal band D.C. Lacroix!

Blasting out a decidedly deep cut from their Crack of Doom LP, “The Devil’s Son”, the band ends up getting zapped into oblivion by a dancing woman with supernatural powers while Tommy finds himself being stabbed in the neck repeatedly by her with a pitchfork! Damn, that’s going to make a cool story at the next branding get together at Grandpa’s barn!

Like any practiced child predator, Grandpa starts grooming Tommy for Satanic glory from an early age, appearing on Halloween to give him a pumpkin as well as a medallion. It is following this episode that Tommy’s dad stupidly confronts his father-in-law in the middle of one of his club meetings and meets the business end of a claw hammer for his efforts.

Years later, Tommy is now a grown man and living in his mom’s basement where he jams to no name metal bands, lifts weights and does pull-ups shirtless (Satan despises fatties!) and shows off his closet shrine to Lucifer for his goody goody brother, Deputy Roger!

Halloween is again approaching and Grandpa reminds Tommy that this is the big night when he gets initiated into full status in his cult. While I think we are supposed to dislike Tommy with his sullen, creepy explosive personality and devotion to the Dark Lord, he’s probably the most sympathetic character in the movie. Raised in an environment with his insane grandfather, dead dad, mother who is obsessed with keeping her kids with her, despite them being a grown up boy-crazy sister and nauseatingly nice guy blonde Deputy Roger, what’s a budding satanist to do?

You get the feeling he’s just going along with his grandfather because he’s bored and doesn’t see many other options for himself. In fact, once he is ordered to murder his sister, he acts completely normal, refuses and saves her from the cult. Plus how do you not like and root for a guy who wears a headband while working out?

The other thing you will root for is that movie will hurry up and end. Painful scenes of awful dialogue served up by performers who are only all too equal to the task of making sure nothing of its awfulness is lost in the translation from the toilet paper the script was likely written on to the screen are diabolically complimented by scenes that are frequently boring, often cringe-inducing and occasionally jaw dropping.

Watching the mother wailing about her crappy family situation only to have it give way to flashbacks of her dad screwing her in her wedding dress leave the viewer momentarily thinking that he or she just watched the worst the film surely had to offer. Until the appearance of the stand up comic at the Halloween party!

What at first seemed to be merely a bit player uttering a throwaway lone outside the party about the presence of a stripper there turned into something only Beelzebub himself could have orchestrated! Without warning, this guy not only keeps talking, but launches into a bit that sees him doing impressions of centerfolds and the positions they assume in magazines while the assembled party goers stood in a circle gawking.

Watching him bent over with his head between his legs and laying on the ground with his legs spread, just made Grandpa and his Devil worshiping friends seem like a horrific afterthought. And this was before the “comedian” launched into his Thanksgiving joke that saw him doing an impression of a turkey getting shot.

Such out of place nonsense though doesn’t really come as a surprise in a movie like Hack-O-Lantern where the story goes nowhere and needs scenes to pad out its running time. It was never explained why the devil cult was a threat to anyone or why we should care if Tommy gets initiated. The murder of the father struck me more as a family dispute and the other murders were apparently committed by someone not even in the cult for different reasons.

Hy Pyke as Grandpa is certainly creepy but not in a menacing way, but in a way that you just don’t want him to visit for the holidays and his exaggerated evil guy mannerisms quickly grow tiresome. No one else in the cast distinguishes themselves from any other group of low budget amateur actors you would find in similar efforts.

The film, perhaps recognizing its devilishly bad story, attempts to maintain interest with a liberal dose of skin, but is a stripper going bottomless at the town Halloween party and tossing her g-string to a party goer anything other than unsanitary? Scary and funny for all the wrong reasons, Hack-O-Lantern, will likely leave Lucifer contemplating a libel suit.

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