Eddie Brock attempts to reignite his career by interviewing serial killer Cletus Kasady, who becomes the host of the symbiote Carnage and escapes prison after a failed execution.
Why VENOM LET THERE BE CARNAGE is the Cosmic Horror Super Hero Movie We Needed This Halloween Season
I love cosmic horror and all things related, complete with tentacles. The science fiction aspects of the horror genre are gateways to twisted aliens, elder gods, death cults, abominations, and a whole lot of insanity. I’m fascinated at how cosmic horror’s tropes can weave their nefarious tendrils into non-science fiction properties. It meshes well with folk horror, for example. THE RITUAL, Adam Nevill’s excellent novel and subsequent film adaptation, is a great example of this mash-up. Comic Books, and superheroes in particular, are also riddled with cosmic horror elements.
The Marvel multiverse is filled with Cosmic Horror, and the current Phase 4 appears to be going all sorts of Lovecraftian. There have been a few attempts to translate these horror elements in the past, and not all of them have been successful. Going back as far as HOWARD THE DUCK, (YES – I invoked HOWARD THE DUCK) in which the “Dark Overlords of the Universe (aka ELDER GODS) want a piece of the earth, we’ve seen a cosmic horror element in Marvel properties on film. Most recently, Josh Boone tried (and failed) to bring the horror of mutants into a then FOX film, with THE NEW MUTANTS.
With the creation of the Multiverse, it only makes sense some of Marvel’s true Cosmic Horror entities make their way to the forefront. Take the alien symbiote, VENOM, for example. You cannot deny the cosmic horror origins of the character. His first film outting was in Spider-Man 3, the overbooked and underwritten finale of Sam Raimi’s trilogy. SONY’s decision to bring a revamped incarnation, the anti-hero Venom has become in the decade since, proved to be wise. The 2018 film, albeit flawed, made a mint in the pre-pandemic world. Tom Hardy’s reimagined Eddie Brock is the perfect likeable sad sack. And his dual role as the brain eating symbiote lured viewers in and promised a sequel featuring a showdown with one of Venom’s greatest adversaries: Carnage.
And we were all ready to get it in 2020… until the Pandemic hit. We were forced to wait an entire year, with the date getting pushed back and forth as studios tried to adapt to the difficulties of the pandemic. The date of 10/1/21 turned out to be more perfect than we could have imagined. Why, you ask? Because it’s the start of Halloween Movie season for many horror fans. And what could be better than shape morphing aliens chomping off peoples’ heads?
Oh yes, VENOM LET THERE BE CARNAGE, although mostly bloodless, is a PG-13 superhero cosmic horror delite. After a seriously scary prologue featuring teenage Cletus Kasady in a mental institution, the new movie moves to where the last film ended, with Eddie being summoned as the chronicler of serial killer Kasady’s final statements before being put to death. The homages to Silence of the Lambs are not forgotten, and used as catalysts to move the plot forward.
Yes, I said plot.
You see, unlike the previous VENOM entry, this movie actually has a story and a plot. At a brisk 96 minutes, director Andy Serkis wastes no time getting down to business. Kelly Marcel, co-writer of the first Venom, brings a solo screenplay full of chills, thrills and laughs. But in the end, it’s Woody Harrelson, doing his best Nicholas Cage overacting, and Tom Hardy’s charisma that make this movie leaps and tendrils better than the 2018 film. There are plenty of heads eaten by bad guys and anti-heroes, and more than enough one-liners to make you giggle like a 5th grader.
I hope we get an R-rated home release with some blood and gore in it at some point. You see, on a written page, the VENOM films would be extreme cosmic horror novels, complete with as many mind fucks and brains sucked out as any book from the genre. I’m a believer the more extreme aspects of horror can be mainstream, it’s in the manner you present them. And doing so through a superhero property is an easy way to do it. Godless has seen great success with their Splatter punk anti-hero line, GODLESS LEAGUE, which includes characters as diverse as John Baltisberger’s vengeful Rabbi, STABBERGER, and Drew Stepek’s head squishing buzz topped DOZE.
The only thing I didn’t care for was the mid-credits scene. It felt like a shoehorned cop-out, but I digress in my search to find something in the movie that didn’t work. Make no mistake about it, VENOM LET THERE BE CARNAGE is a horror film. It’s the perfect start for your Halloween and a welcome entry into the modern era of the Marvel Multiverse and superhero movies.
The God Provides — The foothills of Upstate New York are alive with something terrifying. It hunts, it tempts, it traps, and there’s no escape. Thomas R Clark re-invents Irish Mythology and takes you on a bloody, emotional, and horrific journey back through time with the tale of the McEntire clan, and the devastating secrets they hold. The author of the Splatterpunk Awards nominated Bella’s Boys: A Tale of Cosmic Horror has crafted a story that’s part The Wicker Man and part Cycle of the Werewolf, but at the same time like nothing you’ve read before.
Halloween is as much about fun as it is frights, so here’s a list of films to get you cackling through the chaos. I’ve avoided the obvious choices, so no Shaun of the Dead, Scream, Trick ‘r Treat, etc. (even if Shaun is one of the best films of all time, hands down). Here, you’ll find a baker’s dozen of rollicking romps and silly shocks, all dressed in the finest Halloween regalia, and I’ve even included some streaming options if that’s your thing… but I should warn you, Halloween itself plays almost no part in these films. Themes are hard, man! Here’s your effing lot.
DEMONS (1985) Lamberto Bava’s Demons lays on the cheese thick and fast, taking everything we’d come to expect from producer/co-writer Dario Argento’s oeuvre and amping the ridiculous action up to 11. A group of unsuspecting folk enter the Metropol for a free screening of a new horror flick, only to find the nightmare bursting off the celluloid to run amok in the theatre. Cue special effects that range from laughably daft to outright eerie, a soundtrack that cuts between a very ‘80s synth score by Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti and rockers like Mötley Crüe’s “Save Our Souls” and Billy Idol’s “White Wedding”, and outlandish elements such as a working dirt bike in the cinema lobby and an unexplained final-act helicopter crash in the amphitheatre. A perfect beer and pizza flick!
NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986) Featuring a standout turn from Tom Atkins as the endlessly quotable Detective Ray Cameron, Night of the Creeps delivers a fun 1980s update of 1950s SF/horror larks that never knowingly takes itself seriously. A college hazing prank gone wrong looses alien brain parasites upon a small town, turning the infected into murderous zombies whose rampage leads to college girls accessorising their prom dresses with flamethrowers. Writer/director Fred Dekker channels youthful joy into an enjoyable romp that throws in B&W ‘50s flashbacks, Hawaiian dream sequences, a disabled best friend who brings both laughs and pathos, and exploding heads by the dozen. If you don’t answer the phone with the words “thrill me” after watching this, you’re doing it all wrong.
TRICK OR TREAT (1986) We’ll be moving on from the ‘80s in due course, but first, here’s a treat (or trick) for fans of cheesy heavy metal. Sneering hairspray rocker Sammi Curr dies before the release of his new album Songs in the Key of Death, but his biggest fan soon realises the gig he had planned for the local high school’s Halloween dance will be going ahead regardless – and Curr’s set is going to kill. Featuring cameos from Gene Simmons as rock DJ Nuke and Ozzy Osbourne as a fundamentalist preacher set on abolishing rock n’ roll, Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat brings a knowing wit to its cheap pyrotechnics as it follows many a disgruntled teen’s arc from investing whole-heartedly in rebel music to eventually discarding it for the trappings of maturity. Don’t believe that hype, though – metal is forever!
THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988) Ken Russell’s delirious adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1911 novel is as outrageous and enjoyable as you’d expect, contrasting venomous visions of Romans ravishing nuns amidst blood and fire with the bucolic sleepiness of a small English village. When a giant serpentine skull is unearthed at an archaeological gig, the appetites of ancient worm deity Dionin accelerate to envelop humble innkeeper and rich gentry alike. A fresh-faced Peter Capaldi (twenty-five years away from headlining Doctor Who) brings the modest heroism, Hugh Grant plays his charming, dapper-but-practical toff to the hilt, and Amanda Donohoe is having such a blast as the seductive villainess Miss Marsh that her sharp turns into sheer snake-eyed terror are all the more disturbing. The Lair of the White Worm is a fever dream from which you’ll wake laughing… in a pool of cold sweat.
FRANKENHOOKER (1990) You won’t find any frights here, but you will laugh your head off – and if you’re unlucky, someone will come along to sew it back on the wrong body. After an horrific lawnmower accident leaves his fiancée in pieces, a backyard scientist resolves to build her a new body, and what follows is an orgy of homemade super-crack, exploding sex workers, relaxation techniques involving trepanation by power drill, and a patchwork prostitute tottering around on stacked heels looking for fatal “dates”. Frank Henenlotter’s ludicrous body-horror is a welcome shock of lightning for those seeking bad-taste titillation on Halloween. Also, I just can’t help myself, so here’s a crap joke: Frankenhooker; or, the Modern Promiscuous.
BRAINDEAD (1992) If you’re only familiar with Peter Jackson through his epic Tolkien adaptations, watching his early films must be like discovering your favourite classical composer used to be in a smutty grindcore band. After she’s bitten by a Sumatran Rat Monkey, downtrodden Lionel finds his nasty mother taking a turn for the worse and must go to extreme lengths to keep her and her ever-increasing horde of zombie victims under wraps, even if it means strapping a lawnmower to his chest to cut swathes through the undead or stabbing his way free from a monstrous womb. Jackson masterfully steers this flick from a comedy of manners set in 1950s New Zealand to a hilariously over-the-top rampage that soaks the screen in more red stuff than any movie before or since. This is splatter that matters.
SCOOBY-DOO ON ZOMBIE ISLAND (1998) When it comes to spooky fun, how can you go past the family-animation gateway to horror that is Scooby-Doo? The gang reunite to shoot some footage for Daphne’s TV show in New Orleans, only to find themselves up against a threat that, for once, proves to be much more than a small business owner trying to scare off competition by skulking around in a monster suit – this time, the creeps are real. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is highly regarded amongst fans for its (slightly) darker tone, which prefigures the show’s future exploration of more layered and “adult” plots in the excellent Mystery Incorporated. Jeepers, jinkies, and zoinks, oh my!
CUT (2000) Time for some tongue-in-cheek slasher hijinks, and you can keep your Scream franchise and subsequent knock-offs – Cut may not be better, but it’s at least a flavour you might not have tried before. An Australian film crew decides to finish shooting the incomplete horror feature Hot Blooded!, which has long been regarded as cursed, and naturally, slaughter ensues as the movie’s masked killer returns to wreak havoc on the set. If you’re not sufficiently intrigued by the casting of Molly Ringwald as a bullish diva looking to reignite her career, perhaps you’d be interested in watching Kylie Minogue meet a gruesome death – and this was all shot by Kimble Rendall here in my home state of South Australia. Frights, camera – slashin’!
GHOSTS OF MARS (2001) That’s right, my friends, we’re going there – I consider Ghosts of Mars to be an underrated and highly enjoyable horror flick, not a patch on John Carpenter’s prior classics but easily worth ninety minutes of your time. When a mining crew unleashes a horde of ravenous spirits on Mars, it’s up to Natasha Henstridge’s team to save the day, and if nothing else, it’s a whole lot of fun watching Pam Grier, Ice Cube, and a pre-fame Jason Statham chew the scenery like catering had taken the day off. Carpenter throws a bunch of intriguing ideas at the screen – a subtly matriarchal society, the use of illegal narcotics providing unexpected salvation for one character – as well as a whole lot of severed heads and tribal scarification. If you’ve heard about the toxic reception but haven’t tried it yourself, you might find that, like me, you disagree with the critical consensus.
THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO (2009) If you’re in the mood for something crass and entirely lacking in socially redeeming features, look no further than Rob Zombie’s outrageous adventure in animated sleaze. Celebrity luchador lunkhead El Superbeasto follows his lust for super-stripper Velvet Von Black (and anything else with boobs and a pulse) into the path of Doctor Satan’s clumsy quest to gain all the sudsy powers of Hell, with his sexy spy stepsister Suzi-X riding shotgun to pull his irons out of the fire. Packed full of horror references, silly songs, and game-for-anything celebrity voices, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto threatens to throttle good taste at every turn. All together now: “Zombie Nazis, f**kin’ up my day now…”
DETENTION (2011) Why be just one thing when you can be everything – that seems to be the driving thought behind Detention, Joseph Kahn’s sensory overload of a film. A grotesque serial killer called Cinderhella is on the loose, but that’s merely a distraction from time-travel shenanigans involving a stuffed bear, personality swaps, wardrobe malfunctions, and a character once teasingly nicknamed TV Hand. More of a teen comedy on steroids and hallucinogens than a horror flick, Detention throws so much at the viewer that they might end up wishing they too could time-travel, if only to make sense of the increasingly convoluted plot. Kinetic, crazy, and a whole lot of fun.
HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) Here’s a slasher that proves more interested in character development and even – gasp! – a dash of pathos than outright slaughter. Self-centred college student Tree Gelbman wakes up in a boy’s dorm-room bed and takes a walk of shame that ends in her murder at the hands of a killer in a baby-face mask, only to begin the same deadly day again and again until she works out how to use her knowledge of events to combat her murderer, experiencing some much-needed personal growth along the way. Christopher Landon’s horror-comedy charms more than one expects, and for those who want to know more, there’s a sequel that flips everything on its head. Fun fact: this is one of those rare films that features a bong as a murder weapon.
SCARE ME (2020) Telling scary stories is an integral part of Halloween, and here’s a film that builds upon that tradition in a most amusing fashion. When struggling writer/actor Fred finds himself trapped by a thunderstorm in a cabin with successful horror author Fanny, the two try to frighten each other by making up terror tales – but the biggest threat may lie in Fred’s frustration with Fanny’s acerbic nature and his own feelings of failure and entitlement. Writer/director/actor Josh Ruben’s Scare Me relies upon the rapid wordplay of its lead actors, and while he acquits himself well, it’s Aya Cash (Stormfront from The Boys) who carries the film with her vibrant performance of the acidic Fanny. Add an unexpected sting in the tail, and you have a funny and satisfying addition to the horror-comedy canon.
BONUS FLICK: THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW (1949) This animated segment – one half of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad – was something I saw a few times in my childhood, and it never failed to provide me with much amusement and a little healthy fear. Lanky bookworm Ichabod Crane vies for the hand of Katrina von Tassel, so his rival Brom Bones regales him with the tale of the Headless Horseman… and later that night, he discovers for himself just how much truth is held in the tale. The only selection here suitable for a family audience, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow comes highly recommended for anyone looking to pique their children’s budding interest in spooky fun.
Midnight in the Chapel of Love — THE MAN: Jonny Trotter has spent the last fifteen years running from tragic memories of the country town where he grew up—but the black envelopes pushed under his door won’t let him forget, and now that his father has died, he can run no more.
THE TOWN: Returning to Waterwich for the funeral and wake with his partner Sloane, Jonny must confront old resentments, his estranged best friends Brendan and Coralie, a strange, veiled woman the locals call the White Widow…and the mystery surrounding the fate of his first lover, Jessica Grzelak.
THE GIRL: A morbid and reckless city girl banished to the country to live with her aunt, Jessica loved to push the limits and explore the shadows—and no one has seen her since the night of her high school formal, the night she and Jonny went looking for the Chapel.
THE CHAPEL: Rumored to be found in the woods outside Waterwich, mentioned in playground rhymes about local lovebirds Billy and Poppy and their killing spree in 1964, the Chapel is said to be an ancient, sacred place that can only be entered by lovers—a test that can only be passed if their bond is pure and true.
THE TRUTH: Before he can move on to a future with Sloane, Jonny must first face the terrible truth of his past—and if he can’t bring it out into the light at last, it might just pull him and everything he loves down into the dark forever.
Five years after an unexplained malfunction causes the death of 15 tour-goers and staff on the opening night of a Halloween haunted house tour, a documentary crew travels back to the scene of the tragedy to find out what really happened.
I admit it. I am a found footage fanatic. The Blair Witch Project captured my imagination. I saw it in a packed theater with my brother when I was 16 years old, and it blew me away. It wasn’t the first found footage film, but it launched the subgenre to new heights and unleashed a wave of new content. The good, the bad, and the ugly—I was there for all of it.
As I got older and started a family, there got to be less time for movies, and I started missing releases. Then a couple years ago, scrolling through the Shudder app, I came across a 2015 found footage movie/mockumentary I had never heard of called Hell House LLC. The description told of a documentary crew investigation of an unexplained malfunction at a Halloween haunted attraction five years previously, resulting in the death of 15 tour goers and staff. I was intrigued and pressed play. What followed was one of the creepiest and most unsettling movies I have ever seen.
The film opens with interview clips from a journalist, witness, and an author weaved between footage of the documentary crew at the now abandoned hotel. They set the scene perfectly, instantly identifying the Abbadon Hotel as a place of mystery and unease. A short time later, the documentary crew gets in touch with the one surviving staff member from that fateful night. She turns over a bag of video footage from the weeks leading up to opening night of Hell House which is where the movie really takes off.
We meet the group of twenty-somethings who run Hell House. This Halloween they are moving the attraction from the city to a more rural area and the vacant Abbadon Hotel, documenting the entire process on film. We watch as the team spends weeks turning the already spooky hotel into a haunted attraction. It isn’t long before strange things begin to occur. No spoilers, but Hell House is filled with high tension, genuinely creepy scenes. Very few times in my adult life has a movie put me on the edge. Hell House LLC is one of those movies.
Even if you aren’t a fan of the found footage trope, Hell House is so well acted and directed that I still give it the highest recommendations. If you’re like me and love found footage, this movie is an absolute must watch. The two sequels don’t quite capture the magic of the original, but are still great movies. When I talk to people about great horror movies in the last decade, Hell House LLC is the first title out of my mouth. Stream it for free on Shudder (along with both sequels) or Amazon Prime (which also features an extended director’s cut version). You won’t forget your stay at the Abbadon Hotel.
Boo-graphy: Steve L Clark is a horror author from southwest Ohio where he lives with his wife and three children. His publication debut was the short story Cold-Blooded in the anthology Dark Words: Stories of Urban Legends and Folklore. He followed that up with his own short story collection The Collapse of Ordinary featuring twelve horror stories ranging across supernatural, demonic, monsters, and human horror. He is currently working on his debut novella.
Dark Words — Horror hides everywhere! That abandoned house down your street, the woods nearby, even your own home. They all have old stories and legends of ghouls, demons and monsters. Throughout time, their stories were handed down around campfires and during sleepovers. Today, those stories will have a fresh take, but with the same Dark Words.
A young man and his sister endure a night of increasingly frightening practical jokes while spending the night at a secluded motel.
S.C. Mendes’ Review
Troll a) a dwarf or giant in Scandinavian folklore inhabiting caves or hills b) to antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content
Larry is a Troll of the internet variety. A small, weak man in the real world, but a smack-talker online. As the movie unfolds, we learn more about his sad backstory… But he’s also a jerk, so it’s hard to feel bad for him.
On his way to break up a wedding—wait until you find out who is marrying Larry’s ex—he stops at the Pink Motel to spend the night and gets a taste of his own medicine when he meets the late-night manager.
Chester has a juvenile and twisted sense of humor. From the minute Larry walks in, Chester starts fucking with him. Annoying, but relatively harmless and all in good fun of course. Like making Larry pay for the room in cash for a cheaper deal, then ten minutes later saying Larry never paid. An awkward pause ensues before the punchline. That type of tension starts off strong and Chester creates a genuinely disturbing atmosphere for Larry and the viewer. Image if Heath Ledger’s Joker owned a motel.
Blumhouse has a great set up here. I was expecting this to have a brilliant twist and secure a spot as one of my new favorites in the hotel genre. Psycho. Identity. No Vacancy. I’m Just fucking With You.
But no. The punchline of this joke lost me. I can admit that I don’t have a better resolution—in fact, I loved the final scene which I won’t spoil here—but the twist of the film felt very generic. Maybe I went in expecting something the movie wasn’t intended to be. But I felt it didn’t add anything new to the genre and that’s what I was looking for.That said, it was an updated version that most horror fans will enjoy.
Overall, it’s definitely worth a viewing for Hayes MacArthur’s portrayal of Chester. Oh, and the polaroid of a large phallus. Or maybe there is no polaroid. Only one way to find out if I’m fucking with you….
Boo-graphy: Learn to appreciate the darkest moments of your life. It is those moments that make our time in the light even more beautiful. S.C. Mendes is the author of numerous short stories and a fan of pen names. The anonymity helps maintain his day job as an indoctrinator of children for the state. THE CITY is the beginning of the Max Elliot saga.
A town is terrorized by devil worshippers and a masked killer.
Hack-O-Lantern begins appropriately with lurid red titles floating in black space, accompanied by the creepy pulse of synth music.
Then, something unexpected happens.
The sun rises, shining gloriously upon a bucolic farm. A pleasant tune chirps as an old pickup truck putters into view with a flatbed full of pumpkins. The driver (Hy Pyke – Dolemite, Blade Runner, Vamp) is a chipper old man in a cozy flannel shirt.
He arrives at a farm house and honks the horn to call out Tommy, his little blonde grandson. Everything is bathed in sunlight as the innocent child dashes out and leaps into his grandpa’s welcoming arms.
Everything distills into a perfect Norman Rockwell moment, until grandpa slips him a bundle with something “special.” He leaves him with a pumpkin, throws up the devil horns and then bones out in his truck.
This is not yet four minutes into the film, but we have been put on notice. This story just might give you whiplash.
Later, Tommy is carving his pumpkin and pelting his sister, Vera, with pumpkin guts. When he cuts himself, he proclaims that he likes the taste of blood and that ‘grandpa says it’s good for him.’
Their mother is distraught when she finds out that grandpa has been there, and she demands to know if the old man had given anything to her son. Tommy denies it and hides the special package.
That night, she begs her husband Bill not to confront Grandpa on this, of all nights – Halloween. Bill storms out to handle things anyway.
He arrives at Grandpa’s barn and finds him hanging out with a bunch of robed cultists. One of them smacks Bill with a hammer and together they dump his body back in his car and then set it on fire. Grandpa cackles with dark delight.
Back home in his room, Tommy takes out his special gift – a pentagram medallion.
It is once again Halloween, and Grandpa has returned with another honk of the horn. This time he has a black robe for Tommy, who will undergo a ritual that night and learn his true power. Grandpa throws up the devil horns again, and now Tommy does too…and then they press their devil horns together.
Let’s pause for a moment to appreciate these actors. Gregory Scott Cummins has a prime set of ‘crazy eyes’ and does his best to mean mug every chance he gets, but he’s fighting for oxygen in every scene with Hy Pyke.
Hy Pyke is a character actor unlike any I have ever scene. He plays Grandpa like a southern fried, chain-smoking, frog-throated, slightly femme goth hillbilly. If Tim Curry had an older brother who was prone to falling down stairs, he might be a little something like Hy Pyke.
Tommy’s mother runs out and begs Grandpa to leave the family alone. Grandpa then reveals two things: first, he has been wearing one of Bill’s bones as a necklace for 13 years; second, he has been forcing her into an incestuous relationship for most of her life. If the devil horn hand kiss made you uncomfortable, you may wish to avert your eyes from the flashback in which Grandpa smothers his daughter on her wedding night. This could imply that Tommy and the others are, in fact, Grandpa’s children after all.
We are re-introduced to Vera, who is getting ready for Halloween with her friend Beth, and then to Tommy’s little brother, Roger, who is now a rookie policeman. Roger has been assigned to patrol the cemeteries after a string of grave robberies as well as chaperoning the big Halloween party in town.
Mom stands outside the door to Tommy’s basement apartment and screams at him to change his wicked ways, but he tunes her out with a Walkman and a cassette tape of rock n’ roll.
This begins a full-on music video, with Tommy fantasizing that he is the backup guitarist for a leather-clad rock band playing a song about the Devil’s son. A woman appears in a bolt of electricity. She is dressed in a skimpy outfit and draped in bones (possibly his father’s), and she shoots green lasers from her eyes that festoon the band’s drum kit with shrunken heads, freeze the band members in place, and then make them vanish one by one.
She throws Tommy to the ground and stabs his head off with a pitchfork. Tommy wakes up, disturbed (and/or aroused).
Now Roger is knocking on his door. He asks Tommy if he’s ever going to do anything worthwhile with his life. In response, Tommy shows him a closet that he has converted into a satanic altar with candles, skulls and a human fetus in a jar.
Roger just shakes his head, chagrinned and says, “No wonder mom thinks you spend too much time with Grandpa.”
The Satanic Panic of the 1980s certainly inspired this movie, but it seems that satanic ritual has been completely normalized for this family as well as the town at large.
Tommy goes to get booze with his girlfriend, whom everyone knows has a pentagram tattoo on her butt (see?). Unfortunately for them, Grandpa is there to nag Tommy into geting his rest for the big night.
Not long after, the girlfriend is surprised by a robed figure in a strange mask that is equal parts satanic and simian, like a demonic baboon. She believes the masked intruder is Tommy and she tries to flirt, only to get brutally murdered with a hooked pitchfork. For clarity, I will henceforth refer to this robed and masked figure as the ‘Staboon’.
Vera and her friends are all downtown decorating the hall for the big Halloween shindig. Naturally Grandpa stops by to leer lecherously at his granddaughter, but her boyfriend Brian chases him off.
Vera takes Brian home with her to lose her virginity, but Tommy busts in and throws him out with a warning; “Next time, you’re dead.”
Tommy goes to his room and pulls out a Staboon mask and a switchblade.
Brian takes the shortcut home through the cemetery and quickly finds himself being chased by the Staboon. He tumbles into an open grave. He begs the Staboon for a hand up, but gets his head cleft in twain with a shovel instead.
Night falls, and Roger begins his patrol of the cemetery. He has also brought Beth, so they can spend their date looking dug up graves. They find nothing but a fresh shallow grave, so they lay down and get it on, oblivious to Brian’s half buried body.
Roger then heads to the Halloween party, which features a tasteful full-nude strip tease.
The movie then grinds to a halt as an amateur comic shoehorns his tight five minute set into a random scene. This bad comedy is made even more awkward because it is performed outside on the street, instead of inside on the stage which was literally just established with the other entertainment acts like the stripper and the band. Perhaps this is meant to signal a tonal shift to comedy, which is only one of the genres that Hack-O-Lantern tries on like so many Staboon masks.
Vera and her friend Beth also take the cemetery shortcut, which apparently connects her house to the party hall. Beth shows off all the places that she had sex with her brother, but this time Brian’s body does not go unnoticed. Vera thinks it’s another classic Halloween prank and pulls on the arm, only to reveal her cleft-in-twain boyfriend. She freaks out and blames Tommy for the murder.
Vera heads straight to Grandpa’s satanic ritual barn to confront Tommy. She knows that he will be there for the big Halloween ceremony, and does not seem overly concerned by the robed cultists shuffling around the giant pentagram on the floor.
Grandpa rebukes her for intruding and orders his minions to tie her up.
He gives Tommy a goat-shaped knife, which they gamely try to hold in their hand while making devil horns with their fingers. Grandpa commands him to kill Vera, intoning, “The power is in the blood!”
Tommy raises the knife…and cuts her ropes! He sends her packing off into the night.
He turns to face his grandfather and shouts, “She’s my sister!”
Grandpa is both furious and crestfallen. He explains that in the kingdom of hell, the only family that matters are your fellow Satanists and…the master! He excommunicates Tommy from the satanic ritual barn.
I will note that it is heavily implied that the ritual that Tommy was supposed to enact that night was going to involve murder, but they didn’t seem to have any sacrificial victims handy until Vera showed up. Was this all part of Grandpa’s master plan?
Back at the freaky Halloween party, a belly dancer undulates for the revelers wearing a large snake. Vera and Beth arrive to find Roger, but the Staboon is already there.
Roger learns all about the murder and attempted sacrifice and then speeds away on his motorcycle.
The Staboon decides to knife a random lady in the women’s bathroom. Her only connection to the story was a few minutes earlier, when she was hitting on Roger. If there is a through line to any of the killings, it is that anyone who attempts to have sex with anyone in Tommy’s family dies. That may seem par for the course for a slasher flick, but this will take on added significance later.
Roger and the rest of the police find the barn, but no evidence of satanic activity. Back at the party, the Staboon strangles Beth. Vera finds both bodies and runs out, into the arms of Staboon.
She thinks that this is Tommy, but the Staboon removes its mask. It is her Grandpa, and he tells her that tonight, she belongs to Satan.
Tommy arrives wearing his own Staboon mask and wielding a pitchfork. Grandpa puts his Staboon mask back on, grabs a machete from a party goer, and the two start swashbuckling their way through the Halloween party.
Tommy quickly bests the old man and sends him careening to the ground with a pitchfork wound in his stomach.
Roger makes it back in time to unmask Grandpa. Grandpa tells Roger that, “the power is in the blood!” and then pokes him in the forehead with the devil horns, leaving behind a flicker of red light.
The other Staboon tries to flee, but Roger blasts it in the back with his pistol. The bleeding Staboon stumbles into the woods and unmasks. It is Tommy’s mother. She takes the cemetery shortcut to her husband’s grave and collapses.
Tommy finds her there and apologizes, telling her that he loves her. She dies, and the now reformed Tommy makes the sign of the cross.
It seems that all is well, or at the very least the nightmare is over.
Unfortunately, the Satanists have reconvened at their satanic ritual barn. They have a new leader now – and it is Tommy’s brother, Roger.
Hack-O-Lantern ends on that final twist, leaving us to contemplate what the hell we just watched and what was going on. I believe that Grandpa secretly fathered Tommy, Roger and Vera because he needed someone in his bloodline to carry on the power and dark work of his satanic coven. He jealously protected that bloodline, which is why anyone who attempted to sleep with or corrupt it was murdered. The theme song’s refrain, as you’ll recall, was ‘you’re the devil’s son.’
That is just one possibility, however. It doesn’t explain why Tommy had the pitchfork at the end, which was previously used to kill his girlfriend. And what was Tommy’s mother doing at the party dressed as a Staboon? Was she the swashbuckler who killed Grandpa? Or that random lady in the bathroom? Was she hoping to create a diversion to allow Tommy to escape? Was this movie set in a farm town only so its devilish characters could have easy access to pitchforks?
Indeed, this movie raises more questions than it answers. Overall, it is crazy, cheesy, creepy, gory, schmaltzy and simply fun. If you want a first time watch for your Halloween marathon, I say throw up the horns and put on Hack-O-Lantern.
Boo-graphy: Jeff C. Carter’s stories have been featured in dozens of anthologies, translated for international markets and adapted for podcasts. His love of Halloween, adventure and science continue to inspire his horror, action and science fiction writing. He is a member of the Samhain Society and a contributor for the Creepy Kingdom network. He lives in Los Angeles with a cat, a dog, a human and a child.
When a freak blizzard cancels trick-or-treating (based on a true event), a Halloween-obsessed nerd and his friends break the rules and go out, only to discover that a terrible curse has befallen their town.
COLD SPELL The Halloween Curse of Winterhill is a fun, fast-paced story of friendship and supernatural adventure that will appeal to fans of Hocus Pocus, Goosebumps, and anyone who believes there is magic just beyond the veil of red and orange woods.
This book is packed with dark whimsical illustrations by Mexican artist Mariana Garcia Pizá.
Her charming map of Summerhill shows a town on the verge of Halloween and all the places that the kids will go as they battle the Witch’s forces and attempt to break her curse.
There is a handy Spookabulary, a list of new words that every Halloween lover should know. The book also includes a Monster Manual featuring the unique creatures that serve the Witch, compatible for the D&D 5E and Tiny Dungeon RPG systems.