Hack-O-Lantern (1988) Blu-ray Review: Every Night is Halloween

Massacre Video brings us a High-Def release of this cult Satanic Panic '80s horror oddity.
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Only a short time ago, finding a copy of Jag Mundhra's low-budget '80s horror flick Hack-O-Lantern on VHS was similar to discovering the source of The Nile. Granted, said copy would usually be a well-worn one, as the direct-to-video film ‒ which also once bore the title Death Mask before seeing later distribution on home video under the title Halloween Night ‒ was certainly not the sort of moving picture to have made rounds on the retail videocassette market. Rather, Hack-O-Lantern was the sort of schlocky cheesy tripe which could have only hailed from the glorious days of rental pricing; when video distributors seized every chance to charge everyone from big chains to mom-and-pop stores upwards of $90 for a VHS.

In fact, until recently, anyone who happened across of Hack-O-Lantern (or the retitled Halloween Night) on VHS could have made close to ‒ if not exceed ‒ that very same Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price from back in the day. Thankfully for people who are more concerned with things such as quality and value, Jag Mundhra's Hack-O-Lantern has returned to Blu-ray once more thanks to Massacre Video, following on the heels of their 30th Anniversary Limited Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo (and limited VHS release!) from the middle of 2017. This time 'round, Massacre Video only offers us a single BD, but don't you worry, kids: it's the same great goodies-laden Blu-ray from the previous Limited Edition release.

Having only ever seen the film in fuzzy murky analog form, laying eyes on Massacre Video's 2K restoration from the original camera negative was very much like seeing an entirely different movie. It's still a bad movie, sure, but with so much more to see now, it does (slightly) change one's perspective. For those of you unfamiliar with this one (and I imagine there are an awful lot of you out there who fall under that category), Hack-O-Lantern is one of many rock-and-roll, Satanic-themed horror movies from the days of the Reagan Administration, usually referred to as the "Satanic Panic" era. Unlike most of the other flicks made around the same time, however, Mundhra's little project never made it to theaters, and only saw a limited video release.

Here, the never subtle Hy Pyke ‒ the stout, balding, gravelly-voiced character actor best known for his appearances in such cult classics as Blade Runner, Dolemite, Vamp, and The First Nudie Musical ‒ is freed from his chain to chew on every piece of scenery available as a character known solely as Grandpa. While Grandpa appears to be a pretty average oddball backwoods yokel, he is actually the head of a secret Satanic cult ‒ and has been spending the last ten years of his evil life grooming his innocent grandson Tommy to become the next leader of the pact. Grandpa even murders Tommy's father in the opening flashback sequence (nice toup, by the way, Hy) in order to ensure no one interferes with his plans.

But even after Tommy grows up (now played by big-haired Gregory Scott Cummins) to be "that kid" ‒ you know, the one who dresses in black, listens to a lot of metal, and carries around a pentagram pendant, all to the sigh-worthy chagrin of his mother (Katina Garner) ‒ he begins to doubt his place in the whole mess. Especially once he has an epic "rock-and-roll nightmare" (those of you well-versed in low-budget horror movies from this era probably just experienced a spasm) where he is somehow decapitated by a pitchfork. Meanwhile, as Grandpa prepares for a grand ceremony (in the makeshift Satanic temple he has in his barn) to induct Tommy, Tommy's innocent sister (Carla Brown) and do-good sheriff brother (Jeff Brown) each stumble upon their own fresh hells.

Sporting its fair share of overacting (thank you, Mr. Pyke), bad acting, nudity, and the perfunctory number of sometimes wild killings, Hack-O-Lantern makes for some unintentionally hilarious thrills throughout its brisk 88-minute runtime. While it is unfortunate the film never saw a theatrical release (or even some fairly wide video distribution, for that matter), its place in cult horror movie history has nevertheless been established over the years, thanks ‒ ironically enough ‒ that very same once-elusive status. Needless to say, this Massacre Video offering is an evil godsend to fans of the film, era, and genre alike, and the 2K 1.78:1 MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer is jaw-droppingly impressive considering the movie's low budget origins.

Accompanying the feature film are Dolby Digital 2.0 and Mono Stereo options and English (SDH) Subtitles (which could have stood with a little more proofreading). Additional aural goodies include a commentary with producer Raj Mehrotra and an isolated score. A new featurette (in HD) entitled The Power is in the Blood interviews Gregory Scott Cummins (who has some particularly amusing anecdotes to share, including claims that Hy Pyke was a real Satanist!) and Katina Garner, the latter of whom is also featured in a vintage Public Access TV interview from the '80s along with actress Mayra Grant and the late Jag Mundhra. Lastly, there's a behind-the-scenes gallery and trailers for other Massacre Video titles.

A true "cult" classic from the illustrious Satanic Panic era of the 1980s, Hack-O-Lantern is a campy low-budget horror movie lover's dream (or nightmare) come true. It stays true to its formula throughout, providing viewers with highly enjoyable, very silly good time; an experience which is only heightened by several bad '80s rock/metal tunes mixed into it. Break out the booze, make some stupid devil's horns with your hands, and rock out to this guilty pleasure from the other down under.


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