Hack-O-Lantern Review: Satanic Mess!
Updated: Apr 17
Dir: Jag Mundhra
Release Date: 1988
“Tommy’s Grandfather turns out to be the leader of a Satanic Cult who plan to sacrifice someone on Halloween. Meanwhile, a masked killer is on the loose in their small town”
A splendid example of a Horror movie which tries to be great and just ends up being a great laugh. Perfect for a friends over and beers night, this films makes no sense, has massive amount of overacting, some unnecessary nudity, at least 2 musical interludes, a painfully unfunny impromptu stand-up comedy routine and a masked killer offing the locals.
I’m not sure I’d even heard of this film before finding it on Shudder as a recommendation – they know me so well.
There is so much to laugh at in this film so this is gonna be a long one, so grab a drink (Bloody Mary if you like) and we’ll get started…..
There is a great opening sequence with organ music and some quality Horror font credits. We immediately get to meet Hy Pyke as Grandpa (described as ‘kindly’ on IMDB synopsis but he’s clearly a raving lunatic) who is driving his truck like a madman without spilling a single pumpkin he has in the back.
Hy Pyke is one of the most consistently enthusiastic over-actors I have ever witnessed. Not once in this film does he waver in his outrageous scenery chewing escapades and the film would not be nearly as much fun without him.
Grandpa is off to see Tommy to deliver a pumpkin and a toy skeleton. Grandpa has garish rings on every finger, throws the horns at his grandson (this is a hand gesture if you aren’t sure, he is not actually throwing horns at people.
Seems to be more of Superfly Jimmy Snuka style symbol than the Ronnie James Dio version and, if you were to play a drinking game for every time someone did it, you’d never finish the movie) and drives off. Straight through the flower patch! Crazy old bastard. He didn’t even say hello to any of the rest of his family.
Tommy sits and cores his pumpkin while throwing the innards at his little sister who shouts to their Mum to tell him off. She obliges and tells Tommy to be careful only for the little idiot to immediately cut himself with the knife and suck the wound. His Mum tells him off again for him to reply he likes the taste of blood and Grandpa says it’s good for you.
“You saw Grandpa?!”, she exclaims like he had said it today for some reason. She then smashes up little Tommy’s pumpkin.
The mother, by the way, is called Amanda and played by Katina Garner, she is attractive and looks like she’s from the 19th century or something, classic headscarf and really long and thick blonde hair. Her husband has no sympathy for anyone and blames his wife for her father coming over but does question why he has singled out little Tommy. Regardless of why, he is off to confront Grandpa and tell him to keep away.
“Just let it go, Bill, it’s Halloween”, he ignores and says he won’t be long.
Off to Grandpa’s barn with Bill and he finds an incredibly shit looking cult in there all wearing hooded capes and standing in a circle with candles. Grandpa finds him and, after being told to stay away, tells him, in a stupid accent, that Tommy belongs to more than he can imagine. A big guy behind Bill smacks him with a hammer and drags him away. Bill is then simply burned in his car while Grandpa laughs far too much for any human person to bother with.
Tommy, meanwhile, is swinging a pendant/medallion in a kind of hypnotist manner which triggers a time-passage transition to later when he’s all grown up. Somehow, during this short out of focus time, Tommy has turned from a little blonde boy to a black haired 30+yr old man played by Gregory Scott Cummins (recently found in Prime’s cop series Bosch). He still has that pendant covered in Satanic emblems, his Grandpa is still hanging around after taking his wig off from the earlier scenes and his Mom, Amanda somehow still looks exactly the same. Tommy wears black and, as his t-shirt is sleeveless, he conforms to the 80s-90s code of this telling us he is bad news. After some more of his crazy Satanic bullshit telling Tommy that tonight is the ceremony for him to prove himself to the Master, Grandpa throws some more horns around, gives us some crazy hand movements like the sign of the cross and leaves. Tommy at this point, gets a close up as he turns slowly, removes his sunglasses and stares straight at us down the camera with some big, starey eyes. An odd moment.
Grandpa drives like a lunatic once again until Amanda now somehow appears in front of him in the woods even though she was in the house when he was outside with Tommy. She must have run there like Superman to suddenly be ahead of him and tells him to leave Tommy alone. Apparently, it is 13 years since her husband got burned in his car which would put Tommy in his 20s (Cummins was 32 in 1988) but that pales into insignificance as Grandpa gives us a flashback to when he was wearing a shit wig and molested Amanda on her wedding day to the point of one of her tits falling out of her wedding dress (kindly old Grandpa, IMDB?). After more ridiculous hand gestures and cackling laughter, he gets back in his truck and drives off, leaving Amanda crying in the road.
We now meet Beth who lets herself in the back gate to find Amanda has teleported back to her own home and is doing some gardening work. Beth is the best friend of Vera, Tommy’s sister, and she also just wanders freely into the house and even into the bathroom where she seems fine with Vera taking a bath. Beth swaps a sponge for a totally shit looking fake spider on the side of the bath and laughs when Vera picks it up, puts it to her face and then screams when she sees what it is. Rather than yelling at Beth to get the fuck out of the bathroom, Vera just shakes her head and stands up to get out of the bath while Beth helps her into a bathrobe.
Are these the normal actions of young girls?
Is it just boys who would potentially not want to look at their friends in the bath and then totally naked? I’m unsure but it seemed a bit odd to me.
Vera says she is a bit worried about her Mum and, since Dad died on Halloween, it’s just not the same.
Still, never mind that, there’s a party on later! Hooray!
Rest in peace, Bill.
There’s a rookie cop, working in his hometown and he gets to chaperone the party after he goes to check out the cemetery as some graves have been ‘overturned’. This rookie cop is Roger, and he is the young brother of Tommy and Vera and youngest son of Amanda. Speaking of Amanda, she’s banging on Tommy’s door while he ignores her.
“You can’t live like this!”, she shouts which makes Tommy grab his Walkman, pop the wire headphones on, declares, “I can’t hear anything anymore”, which is presumably why he then presses ‘Play’.
What happens next is an absolute treat to behold.
We get a full-length rock music video to the song, ‘Devil’s Son’ by D.C. La Croix which has a riff very similar to ‘Shout at the Devil’ by Motley Crüe and Tommy is now pretending to play the guitar which is actually quite a cringe worthy display that makes it appear he has never even seen one before. Some kind of Voodoo Princess is doing a sexy dance in and around the band while they pretend she isn’t there until she gets glowing eyes and lasers them off screen one by one until it’s just her and Tommy rocking out. She pins him to the floor and lasers his guitar into an impossibly shiny trident, picks it up and stabs him in the throat which somehow severs his head. He wakes up and that total nonsense is done with. None of that scene is ever brought up again (the song is played again over the closing credits) and it has literally nothing to do with anything.
Roger the rookie (this is not a police initiation rite of passage) goes to visit his mother where she moans again about her kids becoming more distant and the family splitting up which doesn’t seem to be true in the slightest apart from the moody Tommy and even he still lives with her.
In fact, it’s only Roger who moved out and he is still based in town and is right there at her house now.
She bemoans the kind of people Tommy hangs around with which segue ways neatly into introducing us to ‘Nora Benningham’ (played by Jeanna Fine but credited as Angel Rush) who has a short Brigitte Nielsen bleach blonde cut and a pentagram ‘tattoo’ on her ass.
She is buying $40 worth of alcohol in the store, pays with a single note and somehow receives $15 change which suggests either witchcraft is in play here or the cashier is an idiot.
We never find out which it is.
Tommy is outside waiting for her and looks to be gearing up for a good night until Grandpa turns up and tells Tommy to go home and preserve himself which he does for some reason. Seems a shame and a massive waste but hey, I guess he’s got to prove himself to the Master.
Back at home, Vera and Beth are still talking about this party like they are 12yr old schoolgirls, Beth starts flirting with Roger while Tommy is in his room doing weights and wearing a Rambo style headband.
Roger goes to speak to him and they have some brotherly push and shoving. A closet door is opened and there is a full-on Satanic altar inside with skulls and candles (of course they are lit) and various pentagram, inverted crucifix paraphernalia.
“Now I know why Mom’s worried about you spending time with Grandpa”, says Roger and we cut straight to Grandpa leaving his house with yet more pumpkins. Amanda has gone to Bill’s grave so she can have a flashback to her wedding night where he is asleep and she is awake with big starey eyes.
No hanging around as we cut back to a woodland walk and Beth asking Vera if Roger looks as good out of his uniform which is a perfectly reasonable question for a sister to answer about her brother. They mention something about being x-rated or illegal and we get a stalker POV jump scare but it turns out to be Amanda again who says Vera should pay her respects to her dead father.
Speaking of which, I would now like to pay my respects to the director who throws in some gratuitous nudity from Nora Benningham who is swimming in a see-through shirt and tiny bikini bottoms.
Not enough? We also get her stripping full nude for a shower. This is rudely interrupted by a mask and robe wearing peeper and by the time we get back inside, she’s out of the shower, wearing a tiny towel and blow drying her hair. She hears a noise, goes to check and thinks it’s Tommy. Nobody is there only for a stupid mask to be peering through the window again.
She thinks it is Tommy so she opens the door, goes off to get a drink (a Bloody Mary which is somehow already made) and strips off full nude again and lies on the sofa.
Devil Mask pulls out a long-handled garden cultivator (three prongs of course) and slams it into the side of Nora’s face and neck. She has just enough time to spit out some fake blood before we lose her from the film.
She had a lovely house as well. Kabuki masks on the wall and everything.
Oh well, moving on to the big Halloween party and Grandpa turns up and creeps out Vera and her geekish boyfriend Brian. Roger is milling about, chats to Vera about Beth and then seems to be her boyfriend a minute later, even saying she can accompany him on official police business before the party.
We cut back to Tommy now heading into his Mom’s house and he hears some hanky panky.
It’s Brian getting his geek on with Vera.
Tommy is having none of that and beats him up and throws him out of the house.
2nd unnecessary tit shot from Vera by the way.
Brian leaves and Tommy for some reason goes and gets the same mask as Nora’s killer and a knife from his room.
It was at this point where I was 100% sure that Tommy was not going to be the killer at the end.
As shit as it is, there is no way the film would be so obvious. I mean, it is still pretty obvious but they were clearly deluded enough to think it would be a surprise reveal.
Anyway, Brian is walking through the graveyard muttering to himself how he’ll get Tommy for this when he fake kicks a gravestone and hurts his foot. We get a POV from the trees and someone is watching Brian. A noise is heard and Brian starts to run. We see a flash of robes, a shovel, Brian falls into a grave which appears to be occupied and he gets a shovel stabbed into his head in what actually looked pretty decent.
Vera and Roger are chatting shit on the phone about Tommy and Beth when their mother arrives with some shit on her face (says she’s been working) and she starts whining to Vera about her family splitting up and how her kids are bastards again.
Seriously Amanda, give it fucking rest will you?
An amazingly realistic and terrifying Satanic ritual is what we don’t get next as we head to Grandpa’s barn again where 6 people in these robes are messing about talking rubbish and some blond with ridiculous tan lines strips totally naked for ‘initiation’ which consists solely of having a pentagram branded on her ass. This looked similar to the ‘tattoo’ Nora had drawn on her ass (same left cheek job as well) but this is never mentioned so no idea if she was supposed to be part of the cult or if they just wanted to show us another ass. It really should be mentioned that Grandpa can clearly be seen wearing his red and black flannel shirt underneath his robes and we move on again….
Roger has taken Beth to the cemetery to check on the graves which, as 1st dates go, is a sure-fire winner.
They see some figures at a grave which turn out to be a group of bad acting children picking up some candy they’d dropped as they took a shortcut to more houses. They say “Trick or Treat” for some reason and Beth tells them to get outta there before Roger shoots them. It would have been better if he did shoot one of them just so they know he ain’t fooling around, but he doesn’t and they all just wander off.
Really slowly while staring at Beth and Roger.
Well, with the kids out of the way, Beth decides to, ‘make it on a grave’ with an on-duty police officer which I’m pretty sure is wrong on all kinds of levels, saying the ridiculous line of, “Dead or alive, they all rise to my command” which hints at necrophilia and is surely medically false.
They get to it and Beth holds hands with a corpse and thinks it’s Roger’s. They then appear to throw every item of clothing they have over a gravestone and we are spared a sex scene before Roger drops Beth off at his house so she can get dressed up in a shit costume with Vera and go to the party.
Mother is watching of course.
Thankfully, we are now into the final set piece of the movie but, man, this is a jumbled bag of all kinds of shit all mixed into one.
The Halloween party has a live band, of course, where the amount of hairspray used alone would probably constitute a fire risk (Band name is Mercenaries if there’s any fans out there).
It also has some shit dancing from some extras who must be just friends or relatives or actual locals to the shooting location and we pan to Roger who is sitting on the stairs, on duty as chaperone.
We quickly find out that he is quite relaxed in this role as a woman slowly walks into the middle of the dancefloor and strips totally naked in front of everyone. From the tan lines, it is quite clearly the same woman who was branded in the barn but her buttocks are unmarked (Your Honour) and she has nothing to do with the story.
I’d barely got over that when some random dick walks out of the party and, for some reason, indulges in a close to 2 minute stand up comedy routine which made me want to track him down and punch his stupid face even 30+ years after the event.
He is credited as Bill Tucker playing ‘Party Comedian’, which in no way could have made him a living.
The girls still haven’t got to the party but first Beth wants to show Vera the grave where she just had sex with her brother.
Vera sees the hand and pulls on it, suspecting a prank but revealing the body of her own boyfriend, Brian!
Instantly blaming Tommy, they head to Grandpa’s barn to have it out with him while we are inexplicably ‘treated’ to an old guy busting a move at the party.
At the barn, the ritual, such as it is, is still going on when Vera bursts in and is instantly grabbed and tied up by some cloak wearing idiots while Grandpa overacts to the max. He hands Tommy a ceremonial dagger and demands he kill Vera for her sacrilege. He seems hesitant and when she reminds him that she is his sister, Tommy cuts her ropes and they escape.
What a waste of time.
Yet more inexplicable bullshit at the party now as they also appear to have a snake charmer dance going on from a middle-aged woman belly dancing her way about the place. Roger is still sitting on the stairs with the same idiot grin on his face when another middle-aged woman tries flirting with him.
“Are you a real cop with a gun? I’d love to pull your trigger”, which may not actually have been sexual, maybe she just likes shooting guns.
Someone in a mask and robes arrives at the party and follows this woman into the bathroom.
Vera says, “Who could’ve thought Grandpa?”,
Beth answers for absolutely everyone in the world when she replies, “I could.”
Roger leaves to go to check out Vera’s story just in time for the masked figure to kill the woman in the toilet by tightening her corset until she is somehow unconscious and then stabs her in the back until dead.
The cops are at the barn, including an Asian Deputy who I am guessing was something to do with the production team as he sure isn’t an Actor.
He gets one line, “I don’t see anybody here”, and he delivers it terribly.
The Sheriff declares it was a prank and they all leave.
Back at the party, Vera and Beth head to the bathroom, see the clearly dead woman on the floor, decide she couldn’t hold her punch and offer no assistance whatsoever while they take off their coats to hang up in the closet. Unfortunately for Beth, the masked killer is hiding amongst the coats and strangles her with a rope. Vera arrives and screams. Grandpa arrives in the same mask and tells Vera she belongs to Satan.
Well, the masked killer sees him and they both have a fight.
I know its awkward if someone arrives in the same costume as you but having a fight to the death is a bit on the extreme side.
Grandpa grabs a sword from somewhere, the killer has a trident. If you ever wondered who would win between the two, it’s the trident.
This maybe because the sword was wielded by an old man but you never know.
Grandpa dies after he falls from a slight height and Roger arrives to see him out.
“Roger….. the power….is in the blood…..”, Grandpa manages to overact one more time as he throws the horns and touches Roger’s head where a little red laser light appears (sadly no Predator turns up to kill everyone) and then Grandpa just dies.
The killer has only just got to the door to escape when Roger draws his gun, shouts, “TOMMY! FREEZE!”, and then shoots them as they leave.
Wounded and staggering through the woods, the killer finally comes to a stop and removes their mask and reveals………… AMANDA, of course! It was the mother all along! Absolutely nobody would ever have thought it might be her! Turns out she’s stopped at Bill’s grave (remember him?) and Tommy arrives to tell her he’s sorry.
“I only wanted to keep my family”, she says which, as I’ve mentioned before, she pretty much has done if she’d only stop banging on about how shit they all are to her.
“Mom, I love you”, says Tommy and she dies with that statement ringing in her ears.
Not literally of course, he didn’t scream it at her like a lunatic or sing it into her face like Cary Elwes in Robin Hood: Men in Tights but that would have been a great end to the film.
We get an immediate epilogue and another ritual in the barn when the High Priest turns around and it’s……. ROGER!!!! Freezeframe!
“You’re the Devil’s son!” song restarts and we finally finish.
Well, if you’re still with me, thank you.
I know it’s been a long, hard road but there was so much to get into this, and I’ve probably still missed bits of it. Give it a watch and let me know. Please do keep in mind that alcohol is recommended to get you through it in the right frame of mind.
An incredible piece of work and recommended to connoisseurs of all things shit.
It has to be Grandpa and Hy Pyke is a great name.
That crazy music video
Uncredited Asian Police Deputy: “I don’t see anybody here”
Brian’s death by shovel to head