Hack-O-Lantern Gets Massacred (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Hey, it's the holidays!  So let's have a holiday film!  Ooh, I know a good one: 1988's Hack-O-Lantern.  What?  You wanted a Christmas movie?  This is DVDExotica; not DVDBoringa.

Like it's title suggests, Hack-O-Lantern is essentially a Halloween-night slasher, with just about all the usual 80s horror elements that entails.  There's also a bit of a Satanic supernatural bent to it.  Essentially, the story goes that Hy Pike is a satanist and grandfather of three kids, one of whom he thinks has what it takes to assume the reigns of his cult some day.  The mother, Katina Garner, wants to stand between them and protect her children; but on Halloween night, there's a great big town-wide party.  Oh, and also the evil ritualists are joining together while a killer goes around in a monster mask with a pitchfork offing people.
This is an early film by Jag Mundhra, a filmmaker who alternated regularly between making films in India and exploitation films here in America.  Producer Raj Mehrotra suggests - and I agree - that it's probably a Bollywood influence that Jag is bringing to his early work that makes this film so interesting.  Because, on the one hands, this is a very by-the-numbers slasher film, with low enough production values that it doesn't have much besides one clever gag with a dead body and a colorful, over-the-top performance of Pyke (boy, does he really go for it!) to recommend it.  But then all these unusual elements are brought into the film, often having to do with the party.  A snake dancer comes in and does a dance, a stand-up comic stops the film to do his tight five, and then we get the scene that really makes the movie for me.  The grandson who's being drawn to Satan puts on his walkman to drown out his family, and he immediately goes into an awesome dream sequence where he's part of a heavy metal band performing a rocking 80s metal song called (of course) "Devil's Son."  Their dancer's eyes begin to glow, and she blasts them all with eye beams and turns his guitar into a trident that she proceeds to stab him with.
Hack-O-Lantern's a fun time, but it needed a little more of what that moment brought to really push it over the top.  As it is, it's a competently made little slasher with an appealing Halloween theme.  It's reasonably gory, but the effects are too cheap to really sell it, a la the Bloodfeast "just slather in it fake blood rather than create any complicated latex effects" style.  But yeah, the overwrought performances are pretty enjoyable, even if you're laughing at the film as much as with it.  It moves at a good pace, is well photographed, and has a twist ending you're not likely to predict.  There's a surprising amount of nudity. 
Massacre's 30th Anniversary Limited Edition DVD/ blu-ray combo-pack is the first legit release of Hack-O-Lantern since VHS.  In fact, if you bought the bonus pack direct from Massacre's site, you also got a limited edition VHS copy of the film, as well as a 27"x39" poster.  Now, this limited edition is spine #1, though I'm not sure how they arrived at that figure.  It's certainly not Massacre's first release, they've been putting out low budget horror titles on DVD for years, and it's not even their first blu-ray.  I guess it's the first in a particular line of theirs?  Anyway, this limited edition comes in a cool slip box and has an orange cover.  It seems to be pretty much sold out everywhere, but it's being reissued as a non-limited edition in 2018, without the slip box and in a blue cover.  From the specs, though, the blu-ray itself sounds like it will be the exact same disc.  ...I'm not sure if it will still include the second DVD edition, however, if anybody even cares about that.
2017 Massacre DVD on top; 2017 Massacre blu-ray bottom.
VHS rip.
Massacre's blu is downright mind-blowing.  Admittedly, a lot of that comes down to the fact that none of us have ever seen the film outside of smudgy, fullscreen VHS tapes and rips [left].  So this is a world of difference.  Also, the kind of films Massacre typically focuses on have been cheap, mostly shot on video-tape fare.  But Hack-O-Lantern was actually shot on 35mm, and they've made a fresh 2k scan from the original camera negative, which looks almost pristine (a few, blue chemical burns subtly appear in the film every so often).  Now, we're finally seeing the film widescreen (at 1.78:1), revealing some more on the sides, but also matting the film tighter vertically.  Seeing the film properly composed reveals the film to be far more professionally shot than fans previously believed.  Obviously a ton of detail and clarity is restored, colors are corrected (blacks are no longer grey) and honestly this Massacre's presentation looks as good as any of the top labels' work.  Happily, they haven't tinkered with DNR or anything like that.  In fact, this blu is quite grainy; I suspect this film was shot mostly on short ends.
The DVD image semi-transparently laid over the blu.
Interestingly, the DVD included in Massacre's combo-pack is a step down, and I don't just mean in the obvious, expected way SD fails to live up to HD.  Obviously the DVD is lower resolution, and therefore a little softer and more compressed.  But did you expect it to be in a different aspect ratio?  It's not cropped, but actually slightly squeezed to 1.74:1, giving it a little pillar-boxing.  On top of that, it's interlaced, something fortunately not carried over to the blu-ray.  The whole film looks oddly compressed, then, with the grain looking downright messy.  When I first tested it out in my DVD player, I thought something was wrong with my settings, but nope.  It's just this disc.  I mean, it's not terrible.  People who don't tend to notice PQ shifts between DVD and blu-ray probably won't suspect anything's off at all.  And us serious fans won't really be upset because the DVD's just a coaster when you've got the BD.  But it's there and kinda peculiar.

For audio, we're given the original mono mix and a remastered stereo mix, which are both in 2.0 and really don't sound very different.  It's pretty solid, though you can detect where the filmmaker's struggled a bit getting clear audio in the recording.  Optional English subtitles have also been created for this film - Massacre really went all out.
And speaking of going all out, they've cooked up some nice special features, too.  There's a cool featurette editing together interviews with two of the film's stars, Gregory Scott Cummings and Garner.  Interestingly, though, Cummings talks about how the director couldn't speak a word of English.  But we find out that's absolutely not true in a vintage half hour public access talk show segment with the director and two of the actors, Garner and Marya Gant, who speaks perfectly fluently and tells us he's gotten his masters in marketing at a US University before this film.  Anyway, both of those features are a lot of fun - the public access show is super campy.  Then the producer, Mehrotra, provides an excellent audio commentary. with a couple of moderators prompting him with questions.  There's also an isolated score track, a photo gallery with some cool glimpses behind the scenes, plus some bonus trailers for other Massacre Video releases.
Look, I absolutely, 100% recommend the amazing restoration job and first class package Massacre has put together for this film.  But do I recommend this film?  Only for real slasher enthusiasts.  Hack-O-Lantern barely walks the line between effective horror and Mystery Science Theater (or Best Of the Worst?) level cheese.  More accurately, it recklessly hops back and forth over the line.  This would make a great film to see in theaters with an audience who knows what to expect.  But for watching home alone, well, I still enjoy it, but it runs a bit thin.  If it went just a little bit crazier, it would be a blast.  But as it is, it's amusing enough.

1 comment:

  1. Massacre's Limited Edition series is focusing on film-based restorations of retro titles. #1 is HACK-O-LANTERN, #2 is the upcoming Blu of Frank Q. Dobbs' ENTER THE DEVIL (1972) scanned from a recently discovered internegative, and #3 is Don Dohler's FIEND (1980) restored from the original 16mm A/B. (And a few surprises I'm not at liberty to discuss beyond that!)