Welcome back to our Halloween and October spooktacular celebration right here at B-Movie Enema!
This week, we’re going to the video store and renting one of those classic direct-to-video horrors that would dump into stores every fall to give everyone that good ol’ creepy feelings for Halloween. We’re going to look at the 1995 slasher Jack-O! Not only is this a video store classic, but it’s also a Fred Olen Ray-produced indie thriller. It also had one of those video boxes that you’ll always remember as the primary monster of the movie, a pumpkin-headed creature named, appropriately Jack-O-Lantern, stares menacingly at you while carrying his scythe.
Jack-O was also directed by Steve Latshaw. Latshaw did direct a few movies, but was probably best known for being the writer who cranked out several scripts from the late 90s until about 10 years ago for the likes of the aforementioned Ray, as well as for Jim Wynorski. It’s his relationship with Ray that is most interesting.
For the 10th anniversary edition of the Jack-O DVD, Executive Producer Ray and Director Latshaw sat down to do a commentary track for the movie. Apparently, this didn’t go over well. It would seem that Ray and Latshaw would have a very combative relationship with each other. The commentary is actually somewhat well known for these two behaving fairly poorly with each other. It got so bad at one point, that a particularly heated argument broke out that caused Latshaw to storm out of the recording.
I’d love to hear that commentary and find out what got them so pissed at each other.
As for the movie? Well, it didn’t exactly do that well. It’s a fairly cheap movie, which wasn’t always all that bad for a video store release, but the quality is on display. It’s kind of statically shot without any kind of real artistic attempt to do anything interesting. The movie is more or less your standard slasher.
That said, J.R. Taylor from Entertainment Weekly did give the movie a B and said it was a fun little disaster of a movie. Taylor mentioned that it’s for the types of people who like their horror movies cheap. He even knows that the cast and crew kind of referred to the movie as “Plan 9 from Out of State” and that the movie is actually an improvement on the more atmospheric Pumpkinhead (which Taylor thinks Jack-O got all its inspiration from) by not being a special effect. Instead, it’s got a grown man running around dressed like a monster with a giant pumpkin on his head.
That’s a B-graded movie review in a major publication, folks.
Not all reviews were good though. John Kenneth Muir, who is a well-renown writer these days, states that he does appreciate the attempt at a larger concept. There is an attempt to make something of the mid-90s political polarization that was present in the American culture, but the ambition doesn’t undo bad acting and poor execution. According to that eventual rugby match that became that commentary track, someone else apparently called the movie a shit pickle.
These are things we like around here, Enemaniacs! So, let’s not goof around anymore. Let’s get into Jack-O and find out how this movie stands up in the politically polarized early 2020s!
So the movie does two things right out of the gate… First, it wastes zero time on credits. You get some exciting music. A few cards show up. A title saying Jacko Lantern gives us a mistitling right away (great job). And then we get to see this guy carving a pumpkin in his lap. This, my dear Enemaniacs, is who ruined solo, no-parental-supervision trick or treating.
This guy tells the little kid on the other side of the campfire tells the tale of the Pumpkin Man, who apparently is where the term “Jack O’Lantern” comes from. So I guess there was a story from, like, a hundred years ago or so, and there was some sort of murder or bad shit going on. Well, they found an old wizard who was behind it all. When he was sentenced to death, he put a curse on the town that Mr. Jacko will come and take revenge. Sure enough, on Halloween, a pumpkin headed guy showed up and took that revenge.
We flash back to 100 years ago. A guy tells his wife that he’s going to go deal with this accursed demon that was unleashed by the wizard. His wife very much would like for him to not go after the pumpkin man. The son, who originally wants to go with his father, stays behind with his mother. The kid watches his father go off to what will likely be his doom. In the present, the little kid who was told the story wakes up from a bad dream to a thunder and lightning storm. He watches the dreaded Pumpkin Man walking toward his bedroom window.
But he wakes up. It was that dream within a dream thing. The rest of the credits roll and the movie is off to the races.
I should make mention that there are a few familiar faces in this movie. First, Linnea Quigley gets first billing. In the “Special Appearances” part of the cast, we get John Carradine, Cameron Mitchell, Brinke Stevens, and Dawn Wildsmith. This would serve as the final movie for both Carradine and Mitchell. Both men had died previously (Carradine in 1988 and Mitchell in 1994) and their footage was lifted from other leftover takes and stuff from previous roles. Mitchell in particular appears as a horror host in stuff taken from the movie Demon Cop. Stevens and Wildsmith appear as a witch and sorceress respectively. We know Dawn Wildsmith from Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.
The only thing I just can’t quite put my finger on is the time of year this movie takes place during.
Nah, I’m kidding. This takes place during Easter, right? Aw, I’m just yanking your chain. This movie does have a lovely Halloween feel and atmosphere to it. It’s leading up Halloween. There’s a pumpkin headed monster planning to go on a killing spree. The kids are scared of the Pumpkin Man. They are also telling stories about witches in the neighborhood.
Speaking of scary witchy ladies, Sean, our little kid who is ostensibly our lead in this movie, stops a bully from throwing rocks at the car of a woman named Vivian. The bully says that Vivian is a witch and they should throw rocks at her and tie her up and burn her at the stake – Jesus, kid. Because Sean stopped the kid, Vivian makes friends with him and walks with him to his house. More of that Halloween atmosphere stuff is happening back at Sean’s home. His dad is putting the final touches on his annual Spookhouse. Vivian asks to help him with the Spookhouse.
Speaking of spooky stuff… Sean goes into his bedroom where he finds a gaping exit that leads into creepy trail full of fog and overgrown vines and shit. There, he finds a cloaked John Carradine that says it’s no use in trying to resist him. What that means… I dunno. But as he continues walking along, he finds the old farm his ancestors lived. He sees the old timey father discover the mutilated bodies of the mother and kid we saw before the credits.
Sean also starts seeing some visions. The first vision is of a pretty messed up couple begging for help. Their bodies are cut up and they are covered in blood. He always sees Jacko the Pumpkin Man reaching out for him.
Mr. Jacko looks good. That’s a good pumpkin head mask. he’s got straw and stuff sticking out from under his clothes. This movie is made on a uniquely direct-to-video level of quality and budget. It’s cheaply made and for cheap entertainment. That said, our monster looks alright. I’ll give them a more than passing grade.
Sean is found on the floor by his new friend Vivian. She tells Sean’s mom that he clearly had some sort of a bad dream because she heard him calling out and she found him on the floor. Vivian has a specific interest in the Kelly family. She tells Sean’s dad that she’s there because she’s doing a book about the history of the area. In fact, she wants to talk to the Kelly patriarch because their family and her family had a connection.
Elsewhere, three ne’er-do-wells pull up in a pickup truck and drinking Hamm’s out of a can. Yeah, this movie’s budget is the kind that means craft services is just buckets of warm Hamm’s. They are looking for a cemetery that has mostly grown over these days with grass and bushes and what have you. I guess when you’re drinkin’ Hamm’s one after another, you might as well go ahead and go to the cemetery to await the coming of the Great Cameron Mitchell on the Eve of Halloween.
So anyway, I guess that worked because Cameron Mitchell is on the TV and hosting some horror movies for Sean to watch in his jammies.
The girl in that trio of beer guzzlin’ truants finds a suspicious grave marked only by a handmade cross. It looks just like the one the Kelly ancestor was carrying when he was planning on taking on Jacko. One of the guys notices that next to it, there’s a giant scythe.
We cut away from that to watch Linnea Quigley shower.
Uh… I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but here goes… Why? Why did we see her in the shower for like 15 seconds before going back to the trio in the cemetery? Okay, yes, titties. But Linnea is playing Carolyn – the babysitter of Sean for Halloween night. I guess we need to see her at some point if both Sean and his dad make a comment about how she’s hot and stuff. But she’s the babysitter for tomorrow night. Not tonight. Seeing her showering and getting ready doesn’t make much sense for right now.
Also, I don’t think it is the same, but her shower scene in this looks eerily similar to the shower scene she had in Witchtrap – a movie I covered here. Now, I do gotta say that me being able to say “I’m pretty sure this Linnea Quigley shower scene was the same one as seen in this other movie I watched a while ago” is bizarre. It doesn’t quite make me feel too good. However, once we go back to her in the shower for another shot, I’m positive they are not the same scenes. They look a lot alike. Maybe this is like asking Lawrence Olivier to perform Shakespeare. There’s a certain level of consistency you will retain from one performance to the next.
Anyway, Sean’s mom calls to try to finalize everything for Halloween. Carolyn says she can’t watch Sean because she’s got a party to go to (probably the one in Night of the Demons). Now, I thought it was already settled that Carolyn was coming over to watch Sean. Apparently not. That said, Carolyn offers up someone else, her sister, Julie.
Across the street from Carolyn’s is the conservative couple’s house. The guy watches a guy who talks about how people shouldn’t apologize for not being homeless, disabled, or a minority. The wife is a busy body who just watches Carolyn’s place and bitches about her. She even goes so far as to say that she would have Carolyn spayed if she was a dog.
Things are about to ramp up a bit. Back at the cemetery, the girl and her boyfriend are playing grab ass in the woods around that overgrown cemetery. Vivian is also looking around and checking things out. Sean has been tucked in and starting to have another dream. Back at the cemetery, when the girl’s boyfriend falls near that bizarre grave with the cross, he pulls it out to as a joke. That was where Sean’s ancestor used the scythe to chop up Mr. Jacko and buried him.
With that cross removed, the ground starts undulating and out comes Mr. Jacko.
While Sean has another nightmare about John Carradine sentencing his parents to hell, this girl’s guy pals are killed by Mr. Jacko. He then chases her down and slices her throat. I do not know who these people are or what their importance was other than to die first. Oh, and to utterly and completely confuse me by making me think this girl was Julie, Carolyn’s sister, but was actually a totally different person named Shannon.
Vivian shows up, too late, to see the three slaughtered kids. She carries a locket that has a picture of her father, John Carradine, inside it. I have no idea what Carradine is or what he’s doing here. He says he’s the “Judge of Hell” or something. He just sits in the woods in his cloak and he has some connection to Sean’s family. He’s clearly family of Vivian’s. I don’t know if maybe he’s the guy who unleashed Mr. Jacko or what.
What I do know, though, is that Sean’s dad is really into Linnea Quigley and she likes him too. Linnea is radiant in this movie. She really is. She was 37 years old in this movie, yet she’s vibrant and youthful as if she was 22 years old. She’s really great looking and gives this movie a lot more credit and watchability than it probably deserves.
I bet Mr. Kelly’s pants have suddenly gotten a little tighter when he discovered that the sister Julie is just as hot as Carolyn. There is this really cool moment here. Julie’s boyfriend is a motorcycle-ridin’ bad boy who is getting busy making out with her when Sean comes up to look at his bike. When he tells the boyfriend that he thinks it’s neat, he asks Sean if he’d like to take a quick ride. This worries the little kid’s parents, but the boyfriend is super cool and takes it easy and just takes him down the cul-de-sac and back. It’s actually kind of nice. The supposed bad boy is kind of cool to this little kid with the big glasses.
Vivian comes over to show off her family bible. Vivian purposely shows Sean the picture of John Carradine. Sean mentions he’s seen his face in his dreams. Dad just sluffs it off like it’s no big deal. Vivian just nods knowingly. Vivian tells Sean’s dad about how the Kellys led the lynching party against Vivian’s ancestor, John Carradine. She tells about the curse he gave, etc. This doesn’t give Sean’s mom that many pleasant thoughts about Vivian.
Two kids go to the door to trick or treat at the conservative couple’s home. The guy asks if the kids are looking for a handout. He tells the kids that he makes his living selling food and candy and not giving it out. The kids decide to TP their place. Mr. Jacko has other ideas. The kids TP the shit out of the place almost instantly. Mr. Jacko watches and plans his attack on the crummy couple. After a couple kids mess with the couple’s car, it forces the husband to come out to investigate. Mr. Jacko gets the guy, “Richard” (get it? Dick… heh), with his scythe. His wife, finding his body, runs inside where she slips on a rug in the kitchen and electrocutes herself when she grabs a knife to defend herself only for it to go into the toaster killing her by melting her face off.
Remember I said that the thing earlier with Sean and Julie’s boyfriend was kind of a nice moment? Now, we have a funny moment. Sean goes out trick or treating with Carolyn. It was supposed to be both Carolyn and Julie, but Julie ditched them and took off with her boyfriend. Well, Carolyn is still a decent person and takes the boy trick or treating. Again, it’s very nice how some of the adults treat this kid. It’s probably because this kid has the same last name as the director. Just sayin’.
They go to a house and whose is it? The weirdo creep at the beginning telling Sean the creepy story about Mr. Jacko that kicked off this whole movie. He comes out dressed like the Phantom of the Opera and tells Sean he’s “been expecting” him. You know, like a real creep. Well, neither Sean nor Carolyn look impressed.
Julie and her boyfriend go off to fuck in the woods. Mr. Jacko watches. He starts walking in the woods, and Julie gets spooked. She says she doesn’t want to take part in the fucking because someone is out there in the woods. She puts her boobs away and her boyfriend decides to go to the store to get booze and leaves Julie out in the woods by herself.
A big part of the problem with this movie is that it spends a lot of time of having Halloween shenanigans going on like the Spookshow, couples fucking in the woods, trick and treating, you get the idea, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Mr. Jacko watches people, and you think he’ll attack, but he just walks off and then you see him some place else in the very next shot. I guess he’s supposed to only go after people who had something to do with the lynching in the past, but he also killed those three goofballs right after he was reanimated. What gives? Does he just decide to only kill some people on top of the people he’s supposed to go after? Why didn’t he kill any of the Kelly family? He had lots of opportunity to do so in more than one occasion. So… why not?
You know how some movie serial killers seemingly kills indiscriminately? Well, Mr. Jacko seems to mostly be someone who kills discriminately. But only until he doesn’t. Like when he kills Julie’s motorcycle boyfriend. Why did he do that? Did he kill him because he was part of the lynching? Did he do it because he called him a butthead? Did he do it because he flicked his cigarette at him? Or did Mr. Jacko just need to fill a quota? What’s the rules?
I will say that I like that Julie’s boyfriend’s fake head for the effect looks like Nicolas Cage.
Mr. Jacko approaches Julie, but she is able to run away before he attacks. A guy working on powerlines sees Julie running away and she asks for his help. He tells her there’s nothing out there and while he does, Mr. Jacko kills the worker. So… Was that guy part of the revenge plot? Does he just really not like the local power company?
Inside Sean’s room, his mom finds a picture frame of his smashed and his sheets slashed. Outside while on their way home, Sean and Carolyn run smack dab into Mr. Jacko. Now, I KNOW Sean is related to the revenge thing. So okay, we’re finally getting somewhere now. Carolyn distracts Mr. Jacko so Sean can get away. She gets knocked out by the monster who then chases after the kid.
Vivian tells the Kellys about how John Carradine rose the monster. She’s hunting the creature and knew Sean would be chased. Basically, both she and Mr. Jacko know that only Sean, being the fifth descendent of Arthur Kelly, can kill him. Basically it’s a race to whoever can kill the other first. Vivian realizes where they are going. Mr. Jacko is going to take Sean to a shallow grave and bury him alive.
I do have a question… Dude’s got a giant blade. Isn’t that enough to kill Sean? Does he have to bury him alive? Doesn’t that seem like the much more complicated way to go about this? Also, Mr. Jacko’s head, for all I can tell, is just a monster gourd. Can someone sneak up from behind and smash it but good? Oh, whatever. It’s fine.
So, yeah, Sean is going to be buried while Vivian, Mr. Kelly, and Mrs. Kelly work on building another wooden cross to they can go kill the monster. If I were Vivian, I would have probably built the cross before I got to this town, but what do I know? Sean stops squirming around in the shallow grave. Vivian confronts Mr. Jacko and tells him that she was the last in the line of the family that brought him into existence. She tells him it’s time to go back to hell. Mr. Jacko tells her she will go to there first.
Mr. and Mrs. Kelly show up to confront the monster but they’re pretty ineffectual. Sean climbs out of his grave and grabs the cross and holds it up. Mr. Kelly comes in from behind and pushes Mr. Jacko onto the wooden cross. It causes him to disintegrate into a digital effect (like a bad one from 1995) before he burns up into non-existence. I guess that’s the end of that monster.
This movie is a kind of interesting nothing burger. The movie is really not great. It’s just a family with a curse that has a monster chasing after them and the monster kind of kills whatever and whomever he decides whenever. There aren’t any significant plot intricacies. It’s just a pretty straightforward thing. Yet, Linnea Quigley is really sweet in this movie. She is really good in this and I get it that she has a rapport with the kid. The monster is awesome. The design of it is just excellent. The mask even has a tiny bit of articulation to it too. So, kudos to whoever made the monster.
However, the David Carradine and Cameron Mitchell stuff was totally unnecessary. Brinke Stevens is a witch in a movie being showed within this movie. Same goes for Dawn Wildsmith. So they weren’t much more than cameos, but I don’t think they brought anything that wasn’t already being brought by Linnea Quigley all by herself. At least this is a movie that can be enjoyed in October simply for being a Halloween-centric horror flick with a pumpkin head monster guy in it. So take that for what it’s worth.
But you know what? There’s still lots more Halloween shenanigans to do for October! Tomorrow, check out the newest episode of B-Movie Enema: The Series as Nurse Disembaudee and I celebrate Halloween the right way with the 1982 slasher Trick or Treats! To find out when and where to watch it, check out the top of the right hand sidebar column and follow B-Movie Enema on Facebook and Twitter and subscribe to the YouTube and Vimeo channels to watch this classic chiller as we celebrate another Halloween.
But, hot damn, we’re not even done beyond that! Next week, I take a look at a sequel to a favorite Halloween spooktacular of mine when I look at Night of the Demons 2. So be sure to check back here in seven days to check out that review in advance of all the fun parties and celebrations of the Halloween weekend. Be on the lookout for that invitation to yet another party put on by the devilishly demonic Angela Franklin!