Hack-O-Lantern 1988 Review
aka The Damning aka Halloween Night
Directed by: Jag Mundhra
Starring: Hy Pyke, Gregory Scott Cummins, Carla Baron
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Despite boasting the largest film industry in the world in terms of ticket sales, India was one of the last nations to give us an inclusion to the slasher cycle. When you consider the fact that Ssshhh and Kucch To Hai provided such an enjoyable slant on the traditional format, it has to be said that it’s a disappointment that they didn’t start sooner. But whilst the country itself may have been somewhat belated in offering an entry to the ever-growing legion of titles, Indian born director Jag Mundhra certainly was not. After relocating to America during the early eighties, Mundhra became the first of his countrymen to grace the genre with not just one, but two consecutive titles. His first, Open House, was a labored tale, which pitched a radio talk-show host against a maniacal psychopath that was killing off Estate Agents. Its poor reception meant that the film sank without trace, but a few months later he was in the hot-seat again for the wonderfully titled Hack-O-Lantern…
In the opening, we are introduced to a red-neck family in Southern America, whose chirpy exterior conceals some shocking secrets. It seems old grandpa is a part-time Satanist and this Halloween will be a special day for him and his cult, because his nephew Tommy (who is arguably his illegitimate son) will be initiated in to the psychopathic group. Tommy’s kindly mother is aware of her father’s evil plans and pleads with Tommy to avoid the malevolent worshippers. Meanwhile a devil masked maniac is butchering the townsfolk with a trident and leaving corpses scattered around the area. Are the two events related? The family will uncover the truth on this dark Halloween Night.
Hack-O-Lantern boasts a unique plot that mixes the in vogue slasher clichés with the satanic sheen of titles such as Rosemary’s Baby, Allison’s Birthday and Invitation to Hell. Admittedly on paper this looked to be an intriguing combination, because category crossbreeds are surprisingly rare and when we do get one, they’re usually quite bad. The synopsis is indeed far-fetched, but workable; and Mundhra’s previous experience on Open House meant that he should’ve been aware of the downfalls that could befall the project. With a group of ambitious hopefuls amongst the cast and a big enough budget to invest in some decent effects, surely the ingredients were all in place for a decent slasher hit?
Unfortunately however, Mundhra’s second attempt at slasher recognition proved to be as outrageously daft as his first. I do say that with a smirk on my face. The main problem lies in the director’s inability to define a mood from scene to scene. Hack-O-Lantern is a feature that reminds me of one of those lazy Friday afternoons at work. You know the ones: – you’ve already hit your monthly targets and your boss has gone for a meeting in the city, so you and your colleagues converse about weekend plans and relax in the knowledge that the beauty of a longer morning in bed is in sight. Instead of updating those annoying spreadsheets, you check how many pokes you’ve had on Facebook and cunningly call your friend who’s on holiday in the Bahamas on the company’s phone bill. Mundhra’s effort seems content to remain in first gear throughout the feature and in terms of generating enthusiasm, it falls astronomically short. Not only does this lacklustre approach conceal any signs of credibility that could have been evident, but it also leaves us on the borders of falling to sleep.
Hy Pyke is star-billed here like Al Pacino, with his name gloriously placed above the title as if its inclusion would bring audiences flocking from the furthest of fields. His biggest acting achievement prior to Hack-O-Lantern had been a brief and unmemorable turn in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Here he delivers a cringe-worthy portrayal, which lacks even the slightest acknowledgement of dramatic awareness. It’s perhaps unfair to blame the cast for their failures though, because Mundhra doesn’t look to have offered them any dramatic guidance at all. This is indeed strange, because he got a great performance from Adrienne Barbeau and a couple of others in his last stalk and slash effort. Here however, scenes that are included to provide pathos or tension are staged so poorly that they give the film an almost comedic edge. Also, whilst I can admit that the masked killer’s identity is smartly concealed, the motive makes little sense and leaves huge question marks over the psycho’s choice of victims.
On the plus side, the movie is probably one of the campiest entries of the cycle and has literally mounds of unintentional comedy. There’s also the space for a few slasher trademarks that were essential upon the genre’s launch, but had generally been overlooked as late in the cycle as 1988. For example there’s a fancy dress scene and an awful rock group that struggle through a couple of cheesy tracks. You can also have some real fun with the awful performances, especially Hy Pyke’s ghastly ‘HA-HA-HA’ cackle, which he probably practiced in front of a mirror and thought was terrifying, but it actually made him look like a complete tool. Oh and watch out for the girl who strips for the maniac thinking he was someone else and then lays on the sofa and says something like, ‘Surprise me Tommy!’. She must have had the surprise of her soon to be terminated life when he rammed a pitchfork straight through her.
Hack-O-Lantern is immensely daft, good fun and fairly interesting in a low brow kind of way. I think the main problem with the feature is that it didn’t take the Killer Party route and go for the party vibe. The film seems to be for aiming for a serious stab at a satanic, dark slasher flick, but it’s so cheesy and Hy Pyke is so hilarious in his hammy attempts at serious acting that it totally fails in its intention to play it even slightly straight. Mundhra moved to US in the early eighties, but you’d never tell. You’d think he was born there, because this movie has practically everything that was popular at the time, including a heavy metal band, nudity, gore, mullets and a masked killer. If you like them cheesy, give it a spin.
Final Girl √
Posted on October 30, 2011, in Slasher and tagged 1987, cheesy wotsit, Hack-O-Lantern, Halloween Night, Jag Mundhra, masked killer, Slasher, The Damning, USA, Whodunit?. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.