Directed by: Stan Winston
Written by: Mark Patrick Carducci and Gary Gerani
Produced by: Howard Smith and Richard C. Weinman
Reviewed by: Brett H.
ďNothin' can call it off... but I'm gonna send it back whatever hell it come from!Ē
The vengeance theme in horror films plays a very established role, from the worst slashers to the best gothic horrors, revenge has been everywhere and done everything in the horror genre. As for how well itís been portrayed, well thatís another story. Watching a vengeful Vincent Price stand beside his Pit and the Pendulum brought the viewer out of their seats and cheering him on all the way, whereas I Spit on Your Grave made people leave the establishment. Pumpkinhead, the film that marked the directorial debut of genre vet, Stan Winston, brings forth the definitive vengeance tale of the eighties. But, where does it fit in the grand scale revenge based horror films?
In 1957, a country family puts their son to bed as the wind howls deep in the woods, thereís something amiss. After a few moments the child looks out the window and sees a massive monster hunting down a man. Bloodied, the man stops at the Harley family doorstep and pleads to be let in. He appears to have been at least a bit friendly with the family, but Father Harley doesnít budge. He informs the man that itís none of his concern as his child cries and his wife watches on not knowing what to do. Not long after the creature grabs hold of the man and drags him away. Itís not apparent what the man did to get the attention of this creature or what hell the creature emerged from, but Father Harley doesnít seem to care. So long as he and his family are safe, thatís all that matters to him. The backwoods myth of Pumpkinhead is actually reality.
Fast forward to the present and we see a man, Ed (Lance Henriksen) and his son Billy (Matthew Hurley) working on their farm and playing with the family dog, Gypsy. Itís apparent they have a very close relationship (the mother of the family had died), creating a special bond between the two that is impeccable; theyíre all one another have. They hop in their pickup and make their way to their fruit stand when some rowdy teens pull up in their big trucks and hot cars pulling along some dirt bikes. A very poor hick family comes by to pick up their feed, but Ed had forgotten it at home. Ed tells Billy to stay in the store and takes off to get his customerís product, but Gypsy escapes soon after Ed leaves and Billy gives chase. In a heartbreaking scene, one of the drunken bikers hits Billy and leaves him dead. When Ed returns and finds out about the tragedy, he decides to make the ultimate sacrifice. It turns out Ed was the kid that saw the heathen monster from the beginning, and he goes on his quest to find the old lady deep in the woods to sell his soul to bring forth the demon of Razorback Hollow, Pumpkinhead.
I have owned Pumpkinhead for nearly ten years and it seems as though Iíd seen it many times when in fact I hadnít. I started it many times in the years prior but always something had gotten in the way and Iíd have to leave somewhere in the middle. Although Iím not kicking myself too bad for not having watched it sooner, Pumpkinhead is a very good horror film. Rich in atmosphere (most scenes are misty in the dense woods and always have a blue hue during the night scenes), Pumpkinhead can match nearly any horror film in that department. The scariest scenes in the movie are those featuring the old witch, Haggis, deep in the woods. Her small room glows a red-ish orange color from the fire and mostly see her face in a creepy silhouette straight from hell. Iíve always been a fan of horror films based in the woods and I must say that Haggis is an all-time highlight for me; the scenes are that effective. She tells Ed to go to an old graveyard and bring a shovel. Heíll know what for when he sees it.
Amidst the rich atmosphere is the overwhelming feeling of tragedy. Billy is such a nice and cute kid that itís pretty sad to see him go and you just know itís going to happen, which oddly makes it a more uneasy feeling. Sure, vengeance is the overall motive and the entire reason Pumpkinhead can be summoned, but the tragic nature of the film is mostly what hit home to me. Itís tragic that someone made a bad mistake (it was a total accident, drinking or not) and killed little Billy, itís tragic that the innocent teens had to go, itís tragic that Ed Harley sold his soul to get revenge. As much as I agree with people harking on the vengeance theme of the film, to me it just plays off as a no win situation for anyone. When Pumpkinhead is summoned, there are no winners. His victims go slow and painfully (although itís not always shown on screen, itís referenced) and any innocent soul in his way could be killed merely for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. It is all pretty effective, whereas many horror films in the eighties used vengeance and tragedy as a cheap ploy to make the plot move along, Pumpkinhead uses vengeance and tragedy be the very soul of the story.
Sure, plot, atmosphere and theme are important, but at the end of the day a horror fan needs to know about the monster. Fear not, as Pumpkinhead looks amazing and very foreboding. Heís twice the size of any character and is as strong as can be. Heís a bit too alien-like for my personal liking, but to many thatís not a setback and truthfully it brings a whole other aspect to the demonic character. Itís more like a monster movie than a demon movie in this sense, itís not some Evil Dead rip with an appearance like this. There is a fair body count, but gore isnít the premier draw of the film. One impalement kill stands out, which makes Pumpkinhead look very badass and is the best kill in the film. Lance Henriksen steals the show as the protagonist whose biggest enemy turns out to be himself for allowing this beast to be summoned. When Pumpkinhead attacks, Ed Harley sort of leaves his body, as though his rage powers the demon, and it makes the kills more personal and leaves him sick while theyíre happening. He takes the higher road and helps take the monster on, but in doing so pays prices so ultimate, itíd make Page Fletcher blush. The climax is very effective and I commend them for going the route they did.
Pumpkinhead has some great acting on the part of Henriksen, Hurley and Florence Schauffler as Haggis, although the teens leave something to be desired. The music is decent, they mix some hillbilly chords with horror themed music, which I wasnít too big of a fan of. The denouement shows that they were more than willing to make a sequel, but since what happens is actually relevant to the story, it thankfully doesnít come off as cheap. Itís odd it took so long for a sequel to be made, but seeing as it took so long for Pumpkinhead to be released, I guess perhaps people had already moved on. The film has its share of unique touches, such as the wind roaring when Pumpkinhead is near and a downright chilling scene in an uncompleted, raggedy church where the glow of the moon (or the blue-ish hue all woods scenes have) glares through a cross shaped hole cut in the structure of the building. Pumpkinhead is a minor classic in the world of horror and certainly deserves to be remembered; just hang on to your old video rather than buying MGMís early DVD as it's full screen and the transfer isn't much better than the VHS featured here. Regardless of this, every horror fan must make the trip up to Razorback Hollow. Bring a shovel. Buy it!
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