OK, first things first. I am home sick today, and when I am sick I tend to get super grouchy. I’ve been sniping at random nonsense on the Internet for too long, so I have decided it would be best for everyone if I insted wrote an barely coherent review of this fundamentally incoherent movie. I’ve been wanting to write a review for this one for going on three years now, and there’s no time like the time where the room spins slowly around me without any chemical or alcoholic aids.
If you have seen this movie before you must be saying something like “oh, he’s rated it five pumpkins because he’s feverish and hallucinating.” If that’s the case I would like to direct you to my monograph about the futility of ratings. Hack-O-Lantern is terrible. But! It is terrible in ways that are entertaining. Except for the scene in the middle where a stand-up comic attempts a comedy routine but never gets near a punch line. That’s … well, just skip that.
Hack-O-Lantern is the sensitive story about a family torn apart by the grandfather’s Satanism. Grandpa Drindle, a pumpkin farmer, has his eye on his grandson Tommy Drindle to be his successor in this sleepy rural town’s local coven. Tommy, you see, is not just Grandpa Drindle’s grandson. Tommy is also his son, which explains why Grandpa showers Tommy with pumpkins and amulets but ignores brother Roger and sister Vera.
Under Grandpa’s evil influence, the young Tommy grows up to be a glowering hulk of a man, who spends his time lifting weights and listening very angrily to his walkman in a walk-down basement apartment in his mother Amanda’s house. Amanda keeps trying to “reach” Tommy, largely by whining at him any time he gets in range. This is the same strategy she uses on her adult children Vera and Roger. Roger is a sheriff’s deputy, something that rankles the eldest Drindle. “I can’t sit around and jaw with the law,” he sneers at Rodger, in a southern drawl Boss Hogg would think overdone.
Grandpa Drindle is played so over-the-top by character actor Hy Pyke that he ends up well behind German lines. It is an absolute delight to watch him deliver great lines like “the power is the blood!” and “you have intruded upon the ceremony of blood, and now you must pay the price for your sacrilege!” Pike pronounces “blood” like “blud,” and is fond of using an elaborate pentagram gesture as a mic drop.
Pyke was in quite a few movies. For example, you have probably seen him as Snake Pit owner Taffey Lewis in Blade Runner. But he was also in Dolemite and Bad Manners. And who can forget his turn as Sancho Panza in The Erotic Adventures of Don Quixote? (I have not actually seen this myself, but… I may need to.)
Tommy is played by Gregory Scott Cummins, who has since had a pretty good career in minor roles in movies and guest star turns on television. For example, he’s “Acrobat Thug One” in Batman Returns, and the Devil in Snoop Dogg’s Murder Was the Case: The Movie. Tommy takes all of his acting cues from Hy Pyke, and can do angry bug-eyes well enough to rival Hulk Hogan.
We know he’s a Satanist because he has Killian’s Red, Elvira, and Motocross posters on his bedroom wall. Also I have never seen someone put a tape in a walkman with such authority. If there was an academy award for stomping and glowering, he totally deserved it.
Layered on top of all of this is a weird guy in a devil’s mask and Manos-esque cloak who is going around murdering people with various garden implements. Is this weirdo Grandpa Drindle? It seems like it ought to be, but Grandpa is kinda short. This guy is more … Tommy-sized. 🤔
For this all I can say is: it’s best if you treat this like a low-quality giallo. The clues don’t really matter.
Here is the part where I say “screw the segue and talk about Vera.” Vera is Roger and Tommy’s sister. I think she’s supposed to be a high school student but she comes off more like the hot English teacher. Vera has a relatively relaxed attitude towards clothing. We are introduced to adult Vera in a bubble bath, which she is taking with the bathroom door open, allowing her best friend Vera to come in and hold a conversation with her. This seems very strange, but it does give us the opportunity to watch her get out of a bubble bath, covered in soap, and put on a bathrobe. It is a measure of how old I am that my main thought here is not “ooh, hot naked girl” but “she is ruining that robe and her skin.”
Vera is trying to hook Beth up with her sane brother Roger, the Sheriff’s deputy. This goes beyond a simple introduction and well into super creepy incest territory, because Vera is very invested in Roger and Beth having sex. “So, tell me,” she asks Beth, “where did you guys do it?”
We were introduced to Hack-O-Lantern by Joe Bob Briggs on The Last Drive-In, but it’s also been riffed by the folks at Rifftrax. I ordered a copy before Briggs was even done talking about it, and it’s become a Halloween-season tradition for us. The acting and the script is … unique … but the production values are pretty solid because the movie had a $5.5 million budget and was not director Jag Mundhra’s first rodeo. Although it might have been his first time hearing about Halloween.
Folks, this movie just has so much. There’s a lady that dances with a snake. There’s a Halloween party that seems pretty tame except for the stripper. There’s a video with a rock band with a Lita Ford look-alike — “you paid your price to live in hell and you’re trying to take me down” — and a New Wave band with very dramatic hair. There’s a woman who goes for a swim wearing a shirt, then gets out and takes it off, which is backwards, dammit.
You have got to see this one.