In what I thought would be my final feature for the Class of 88 series, I sang the praises of Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers as the kind of trashy goodness that’s quite separate from movies we watch just so that we can rag on them for being so terrible. As luck would have it, earlier this month I stumbled on a movie very much on the opposite side of the equation, Jag Mundhra’s schlockfest Hack-O-Lantern. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to at least briefly talk about one of the most entertainingly terrible movies I’ve seen in recent memory.
To provide some context, I’d never even heard of Hack-O-Lantern until I saw it being advertised at the Mahoning Drive-In, a bastion of genre cinema nestled in the Pocono Mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Hack-O-Lantern was the first billed movie for their second annual Drive-In VHS-Fest, a weekend devoted to those who miss the days of adjusting the tracking and rewinding their tapes after watching them. It just so happened that my dear mother, who is responsible for getting me into horror in the first place, was visiting that weekend, so I thought this would be a perfect evening for a couple of genre junkies.
This may make me sound like an idiot given that the title of the event was VHS-Fest, but I was actually surprised to discover that the movie was in fact being shown via videotape that they projected onto the big screen. On one hand, I was overcome with a wave of nostalgia with memories of late weekend nights spent eating junk food and watching junk movies. On the other hand, I found myself squinting to see the resolution of a film that was not only being shown on VHS, but was clearly shot on video.
Fortunately, this isn’t the type of movie where you need to worry about missing key details. Satanic cult leader Grandpa… *checks notes*... yep, he just goes by Grandpa (Hy Pyke) has been grooming his grandson, Tommy (Gregory Scott Cummins), to become the Antichrist when he’s not making passes on his own daughter, Amanda (Katina Garner). As Halloween approaches and Grandpa’s cult makes preparations for Tommy’s ascension (I think?), a masked killer in the same garb as Grandpa’s cult starts picking off citizens in the town. It’s up to Tommy’s sister, Vera (Carla Baron) and brother, Roger (Jeff Brown), to figure out what’s going on and, if they have time, save Tommy from the clutches of Grandpa’s cult.
Now, according to IMDb, this movie had a $5.5 million budget. Part of me naively wants to think that director Jag Mundhra was secretly using that money to fund a local non-profit. Either way, I have no idea how that money wound up on screen. I can’t imagine Hy Pyke, who with bit parts in Blade Runner and Vamp, appears to be the biggest name in the film, was able to demand a seven-figure paycheck. And the money certainly wasn’t spent crafting a coherent story, either, as this is a movie based primarily on non sequiturs.
Early in the first act, Tommy takes a time out from being awful to people in order to rage-listen to some of the heavy metal music supplied by Grandpa. Soon, the scene transitions into a full five-minute music video that was completely shot in one room with no background scenery. I suppose one could argue that the scene at least provides some hair metal version of satanic atmosphere.
But then, about halfway through the movie in a scene where people are waiting in line for a party, a random extra pops out of the line and does at least two to three minutes of stand-up comedy. This isn’t hyperbole. Maybe the editor owed him a favor and agreed to slip the scene in as a guerilla demo tape.
Finally, there’s the ending, which seemingly negates the need for everything that came before it. I really don’t want to give anything away, but suffice to say that I found myself wondering why the hell Grandpa bothered prepping Tommy for 10-plus years given how the twist in the final frame plays out.
There are only two facets of this movie where Mundhra really seems to have focused his attention. First, he makes sure that 90% of the women in this movie disrobe to some degree. I suppose this shouldn’t be too surprising, considering his other work includes such titles as L.A. Goddess, Tropical Heat, and Improper Conduct, all films that I assume one would find on Cinemax at 2:00 a.m. on a Saturday.
The second and less problematic focus is the gore, which really surprised me because I fully expected this to be the type of movie where the height of special effects would be throwing some red paint on a wall. There aren’t a lot of gags, but the ones we do get are pretty well done, including a knife twisting in someone’s back, a garden rake to the side of the face, and my personal favorite, a spade shovel used to split someone’s skull.
I’ll be honest, had I been watching this movie alone at home, I don’t think I could have made it past the first five minutes. But seeing it at the drive-in turned it into a communal experience, where even if I couldn’t hear other people from their cars, I knew we were all rolling our eyes and chuckling our way through this ridiculous film. My mom and I got more than a few good laughs reminiscing about it on the ride home, and odds are this film will stay in my mind long after other, much better films have faded away. After all, sometimes a good memory is better than a good movie.
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