After seeing so many eighties creature features and slashers I thought that Pumpkinhead is going to be just another one of them. And while it honors the horror formula to a tee it’s much more foreboding and atmospheric than I initially expected. There are some Deliverance and The Evil Dead vibes but also a lot of other stuff. Strangely enough, the movie is based on a poem by Ed Justin that’s supposed to be really creepy.
It feels like a dark fairy tale starring one hell of a monster. And don’t be dismayed by its initial appearance as it looks much better in the rest of the movie. This comes as no surprise as the director of the movie is none other than Stan Winston. He’s a special effects artist who’s responsible for some of the most iconic creatures of the eighties. We’re talking about The Thing, Aliens and Predator, so you know what’s up.
After a pretty wobbly opening scene, we’re back in familiar territory with a group of reckless teens doing what they do best. However, there’s a huge tonal shift after the first twenty minutes. From that moment on, Pumpkinhead starts ramping up the tension and intense atmosphere. It feels like a Stephen King story not set in Maine. The focus is on the creature that looks phenomenal and very menacing. Ed’s character is the only one who gets a bit of development while our merry band of mischiefs is left in a haze.
This works surprisingly well and I think this was the right decision. If you can’t do proper character development don’t force it and focus on other aspects. Those other aspects are pacing and atmosphere along with the above-mentioned practical effects. Granted, some of the shots feel a bit awkward but some of them also look very cinematic. Unevenness is a trademark of novice directors and this is Winston’s debut movie. However, you can still feel that the man is very talented.
Ed and his son Billy run a small store in the middle of nowhere. They live a simple life far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Exactly that is going to come their way as a group of young guys and girls show up on his doorstep. They seem like a friendly bunch but soon things will take a turn for the worse. And for the horrible and unimaginable.
I want to clear something up. Our creature gets its name because it came from a field of pumpkins and not because it has a head that looks like a pumpkin. Initially, the title of the movie was Vengeance – The Demon. We’ll have to admit that although the title Pumpkinhead is somewhat misleading it’s insanely catchy. I remember stumbling upon this movie years ago and simply skipping it because I expected it to be too silly. And there will be some silly decisions made here but the overall atmosphere of dread covers them up nicely.
Since its release in the late eighties, Pumpkinhead has spawned a whole franchise that includes several sequels, comic books, and even a video game. And you can already probably guess that the reboot is in the works. After initial setbacks in 2017, it seems that the whole thing is moving forward quite well. Hopefully, it won’t end up in developmental hell and we will get the chance to see how things work out more than thirty years after the original.
Director: Stan Winston
Writers: Ed Justin, Mark Patrick Carducci, Stan Winston
Cast: Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, John D’Aquino, Kimberly Ross, Joel Hoffman, Cynthia Bain
Fun Facts: Although this is a pretty gloomy movie, the atmosphere on the set was cheerful. Winston was very easygoing and defused any tension stemming from demanding practical effects and makeup.
IMDb Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095925/