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 deliver 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 something of a disappointment that they didn’t start earlier. But whilst the country itself may have been somewhat belated in its offering of 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 somewhat laboured tale, which put a radio talk-show host up against a maniacal psychopath that held an unhealthy hobby of murdering promiscuous Estate Agents. Its poor reception meant that the film sank without trace, but studios noticed enough credibility in the filmmaker’s work to allow him a second shot at slasher success and so we were offered 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, as 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 confrontation with 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.
It’s plain to see what Mundhra had in mind during the meetings prior to the film’s commencement. Hack-O-Lantern boasts a 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 remarkably uncommon. The synopsis is indeed far-fetched, but workable; and Mundhra’s previous experience meant that he was already aware of the downfalls that could befall a low budget project. With an experienced actor on board, plus a group of ambitious hopefuls 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. The main problems lie 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 morning in bed is nearly 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 phone bill. Mundhra’s effort seems content to remain in first gear and in terms of generating enthusiasm, it falls astronomically short. Not only does this lackluster approach conceal any signs of credibility that could have been evident, but it also leaves a runtime that more often than not slips into snooze-inducing tedium.
Hy Pyke is star-billed as if he were 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. He is not aided by a supporting group of actors that lack experience, talent, emotional attentiveness and most importantly, good agents. It’s perhaps unfair to blame only the cast for their failures though, because Mundhra is a director bereft of any kind of theatrical delivery management. Scenes that are included to provide pathos or tension are staged so poorly that they give the film an almost comedic edge. Even if the plot incorporates enough authenticity to allow for expressive creativity, the whodunit aspect suffers from an illogical conclusion and the possibilities remain hopelessly unexplored. It’s true that the masked killer’s identity is smartly concealed, but post-theatre reflection leaves unanswered questions as to 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. It feels like the script of a thirteen year-old and makes no effort to even approach realism, which does raise the humour levels. There’s also the space for a few slasher trademarks that were essential upon the genre’s launch, but had disappeared by this point. For example there’s a fancy dress scene and an awful rock group-video that’s been included for absolutely *no* reason. You can also have some real fun with the performances, like 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 lies 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!
There is a director hiding somewhere deep inside Jag Mundhra, but throughout Hack-O-Lantern, he failed to reveal himself again. In fact after I originally wrote this review, he went on to cause controversy by releasing the film, Shot on Sight on the anniversary of the London 7/7 bombings. His fictional synopsis centered on an innocent Muslim that was murdered by Police in the aftermath of the aforementioned tragedy. I thought it was in especially bad taste to exploit that date and the movie wasn’t very good anyway (felt like a TV drama), but I hate it when filmmakers use such controversial topics to make some money. Truly a disgusting thing to do, even it the script was admirably even-handed and unbiased.
This slasher however started as an engaging synopsis and ended up becoming a nonsensical mishap, and the lack of any originality or flair for the macabre quite rightly sent the movie to the ever growing video graveyard. With only one decent gore scene worth mentioning, Hack-O-Lantern fails to succeed on any level as a slasher movie and deserves to be seen only by those with a hunger for cheese.
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, Whodunit?. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.