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.
– Ed Justin
The Halloween season is upon us and in celebration, Tomb of Nostalgia and Horror You Might Have Missed will be taking a break while MonsterZero NJ presents Halloween Favorites which will obviously focus on horror films I consider essential viewing for this spooky time of year. And what better way to kick off this look at some of my favorite films for my favorite time of year then with a film that is one of my top Halloween season flicks… Pumpkinhead!…
Pumpkinhead tells the grim tale of a group of partying twenty-somethings from the city who head into the Appalachian Mountains for a weekend of drinking and dirt biking in a secluded cabin and run afoul of a local legend who is quite real. While stopped at the rural general store of kind, local man Ed Harley (the legendary Lance Henriksen), drunk jerk Joel (John D’Aquino), who already has injured a girl in a drunk driving accident, takes out his dirt bike and proceeds to carelessly run over and kill Harley’s son Billy (Matthew Hurley). Enraged with grief, Harley turns to a mountain woman who is rumored to be a witch named Haggis (Florence Schauffer) to evoke the demon Pumpkinhead that Harley saw once as a boy. The demon is said to grant vengeance to those who call upon it. But as both Harley and the young vacationers find out, evoking Pumpkinhead comes with a powerful price, as not only will it stop at nothing till all its prey, including good natured Chris (Jeff East) and his girlfriend Tracy (Cynthia Bain), are dead, but may take Harley back to Hell with it when it’s done. Can a now regretful Harley stop what he started and save the remaining youths, or will the demon of vengeance have all their souls before it returns to the pumpkin patch from whence it was called?
Pumpkinhead is a very spooky horror dripping with Halloween atmosphere thanks to the great visuals from first time director and make-up SPFX legend Stan Winston. With a truly great looking creature and production design that oozes All Hallow’s Eve, this is a welcome addition to any Halloween season movie viewing. Aside from his awesome monster, Winston not only gives us some great settings…such as Haggis’ cabin, the pumpkin patch from which Pumpkinhead originates and an abandoned church where our remaining characters flee to…but he also creates some nice suspense, tension and chills. The biggest factor in the film’s effectiveness, though, is imbuing the title creature with a great sense of character and menace. Pumpkinhead is a vicious and unforgiving demon who shows no mercy and even seems to enjoy taunting and then killing his victims. When Ed Harley, who is cursed to feel it’s victims’ pain, changes his mind about calling it, the creature still will not stop till all are dead. Winston, who also co-wrote, also creates likable characters for us to fear for. They are all pretty good people with Joel being the exception and even he shows us he has a soul when he realizes that his friends are being slaughtered because of his selfish actions. A key to a good horror is empathy with its characters and here we feel for them as the backwoods demon relentlessly pursues them for a nasty death.
Winston gets good performances out of his cast with Henriksen creating one of his best roles in Ed Harley and the young cast members, like East and Bain, creating likable victims to root for. D’Aquino does a great job of making Joel an unlikable jerk and yet being very convincing in his moment of redemption when it comes. Film vet Buck Flower has a strong presence as mountain man Mr. Wallace and Schauffer is downright chilling as the witch, Haggis.
Overall, Pumpkinhead is part slasher, part backwoods horror and part monster movie with some great special FX to present its title creature and the carnage it creates. It’s also surrounded in some very spooky visuals that evoke the spirit of Halloween in almost every shot. It is an underrated horror that got a sadly ineffective limited release back in October of 1988 and then dumped onto VHS and then DVD. It should have gotten better and thankfully, it has developed the cult following it deserves and Pumpkinhead himself is now regarded along with Giger’s Alien as one of modern horrors most iconic creatures.
Sadly, the film was followed by three awful sequels and if any character deserves a reboot and another chance, it’s dear ole Pumpkinhead! Also stars Brian Bremer as Bunt Wallce, a local boy trying to help the city folk escape the monster’s wrath and Big Bang Theory’s own Mayim Bialik as one of the Wallace kids.
Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Pumpkinheads!