31 Days of Horror: “Pumpkinhead” (1988)

 

 
Overview
 

Title: Pumpkinhead (Collector's Edition)
 
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Writer: ,
 
Actors: , ,
 
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Direction
7.0


 
Acting
6.0


 
Plot
6.0


 
Execution
7.0


 
Total Score
6.5


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Posted October 20, 2016 by

 
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“Keep away from Pumpkinhead, Unless you’re tired of living, His enemies are mostly dead, He’s mean and unforgiving, Laugh at him and you’re undone, But in some dreadful fashion, Vengeance he considers fun, And plans it with a passion, Time will not erase or blot, A plot that he has brewing, It’s when you think that he’s forgot, He’ll conjure your undoing, Bolted doors and windows barred, Guard dogs prowling in the yard, Won’t protect you in your bed, Nothing will, from Pumpkinhead!” This short poem by Ed Justin served as the inspiration for the 1989 motion picture, “Pumpkinhead”, which was originally released in 1988 under the alternate title, “Vengeance-the Demon”. Although the movie performed modestly at the box office, it has since garnered quite a large fan base, and even managed to inspire several sequels.
The tale centers around a simple but kindhearted hillbilly named Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen), who runs a small grocery store in town, and has an adorable son named Billy. One summer day, a group of obnoxious teenagers from the city roll into town for some dirt biking, and fun in the woods. When they stop at Harley’s store for some provisions, there are already signs that things may soon get out of hand. Sure enough, a careless accident moments later leaves little Billy dead. Overcome by grief, Ed visits the local witch, who is known to have unusual powers. Although she is unable to help the boy directly, she is able to offer Ed an opportunity for some serious payback.
The instrument of Harley’s revenge comes in the form of a monstrous ten-foot tall demon-like creature known as Pumpkinhead, who can be summoned specifically for these occasions. Ed understands that this will cost him his soul, but in the heat of the moment, considers that to be a bargain. One by one the teens begin meeting their gruesome fates, and before long, Harley comes to his senses and realizes that he must find a way to stop the killing. He pays another visit to the witch, who incidentally, is just as creepy as the demon, only to find that once begun, the process cannot be interrupted, and must run its unholy course. The ending, part clever and part cliché, resolves the story nicely.pumpkinhead-2
This feature marks the impressive directorial debut of Stan Winston, who is more known for his special effects work in films such as “Aliens”, “Terminator 2”, and “Jurassic Park”, each of which yielded him an Academy Award! Henriksen delivers an unusually strong performance, and shows a lot of range as he moves from loveable oaf, to inconsolable villain, to sympathetic hero. Florence Schauffler also does a great job portraying the witch, and has the pleasure of delivering some of the film’s most iconic lines; (referring to an old graveyard) “The thing you’re looking for is in there. Bring it back here. There’s things I gotta do to it ‘fore it’ll be any use to ya”. The rest of the performances are largely forgettable, but help to give the picture more of a lighthearted B-movie feel than it might have had otherwise. The same can be said of the Synth-based musical soundtrack, and ridiculous 80’s style-haircuts.
The best thing about the movie, however, is the visual effects work. The cinematography, courtesy of Bojan Bazelli, is extremely well done- especially the eerily atmospheric night scenes. Frankly, the film looks far better than it has a right to, given it’s measly 3.5 million dollar budget. The monster effects (all practical) are also quite remarkable for their time. Simply put, the creature is just really fun to watch onscreen, much in the same way that we love seeing Godzilla stomping all over Tokyo. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself rooting for the evil beast at times, instead of the bumbling, bratty kids it is pursuing. Great stuff!
“Pumpkinhead” has a dark, unrelenting tone throughout, and provides plenty of unsettling, tension-filled moments for all to enjoy. It is not a masterpiece, but was never intended to be. It is, however, a highly entertaining way to spend an hour and a half on a cold October night. If you’ve seen it before, you’ll enjoy it again, and if you haven’t, you really owe it to yourself to give it a try.

MikeD

 


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