Home | Film Reviews | Film Review: Dance of the Pumpkinhead (Tanz der Kürbisköpfe) (1996)

Film Review: Dance of the Pumpkinhead (Tanz der Kürbisköpfe) (1996)

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SYNOPSIS:

A zombie attempts to rise from the grave, but he needs blood in order to do it. He is able to get a pumpkin to fly aroundand kill people. He also mentally enslaves other people. Will he ultimately return from the dead?

REVIEW: 

Before Andreas Bethmann was combining hardcore p*rn with hardcore horror, and even before he started messing with islands swarming with demons, he was directing ultra-low-budget, shot on video horror films. Way back in 1994, Bethmann released his debut, Der Totenhugel, followed in 1995 with Hills of the Living Dead 2. In 1996, still two years before Die Insel der Damonen would come out, Germany saw the release of Tanz der Kurbiskopfe, which translates to English as Dance of the Pumpkinhead. While these films don’t quite live up to his later work, there are touches here and there, hints of what we can expect in Bethmann’s future work, especially in Dance of the Pumpkinhead.

A couple things to keep in mind going into this movie. This is one of Andreas Bethmann’s very first films. It was made with an extremely low budget and no doubt with non-actors (also known as “friends and relatives”), and shot not on sets or “on location,” but around town. Also, this is one of those early independent German horror movies whose budget was so low that, tragically, there are no English subtitles.

It’s still pretty easy to follow the story, or at least guess fairly accurately, but us non-German speakers lose out on any details of most of the conversations that go on. And finally, this is a movie that was shot on video. There are some SOV movies that look pretty good, and aside from a scene or two it can be tough to tell. Dance of the Pumpkinhead is not one of those. The sound is kinda bad at times (then again, if you don’t understand German, does that really matter?), when the scenes are dark, they are nearly pitch black, and there are a handful of times when the color almost completely washes out. It is almost on par with old home movies from when we were young; then again, not too many of the home movies my dad shot have decapitations in them.

Okay, now that we have all that out of the way, and we’ve weeded out the film snobs and perfectionists, let’s talk about the movie itself. It opens with a scrolling story (in German, but thanks to Google translate I’ve got it) about the origins of Halloween, and how since no one believes the stories, it’s become easy for the dead to walk among us. Cut to a couple dudes drinking beers by a fire, and a weird old guy in a trench coat who wanders upon them and tells them a story, which is shown in a flashback scene involving a woman chained to a wall and killed by a dildo with nails on the tip. It’s possible that this is a witch, and that her spirit still haunts the place, but this is all conjecture on my part (although it could make sense, and it would tie the whole story together, so I think I’ll stick with that for now).

This movie might be called Dance of the Pumpkinhead, but aside from a throwaway shot of a jack o’ lantern in a tree, the titular “pumpkinhead” doesn’t come around until a bit past the thirty-minute mark. In the meantime, we get a junkie arguing with the old dude in the trench coat before shooting up in a graveyard and passing out. We also get a dude checking out a girl at a bus stop. In his mind, she is down to her underwear, dancing/swaying all sexy for him, and, oh yeah, bleeding from the mouth and holding a knife. When he “wakes up,” she is gone, so he goes home, looks at a porno magazine (with plenty of close-ups on the pages) and then argues with his girlfriend before leaving the house again. Finally, we have a man and woman walking to a Halloween party and carrying, yes, a pumpkin. They stop at a graveyard to pee and set the pumpkin down. Some smoke floats from a grave, there’s a shot or two of a skull, and lightning hits the pumpkin, which not only carves a face on it, but mobilizes it as well. Sorry, passed out junkie, you may be high, but that really is a jack o’ lantern cutting your head off.

The rest of the movie is pretty much the jack o’ lantern killing people, and then the spirit that brought the pumpkin to life possessing humans in order to kill other people. Along the way, we also get a door-to-door porn and dildo salesman (does Germany really have these?) making a sales pitch to Andreas Bethmann himself, having interrupted him while he was watching Halloween on TV with overdubbed German audio. But really, this is a slasher movie that, aside from the slow start and the couple filler scenes here and there, is pretty fun to watch. The sleaze of future Bethamnn films isn’t really here, so instead we focus on low budget gore effects that as a whole work fine. There is one specific scene where a guy is pushed into a wooden spike and it goes through the back of his skull and out his mouth, and it is quite well done. The director must have been happy with it too, as we get a variety of angles featuring the painful kill. Otherwise, the random decapitations and bloody kills rank as slightly above average but fun.

Dance of the Pumpkinhead, despite its technical flaws and lack of budget, is a fairly enjoyable movie. It’s not amazing, and it’s fairly uneven (long chunks of nothing happening, which could be due in part to the language barrier), but when it gets going, it has its moments.

As mentioned before, the things we know Bethmann for today are only hinted at – aside from shots of girls in a magazine, there is no nudity, and at no point does this movie feel as sleazy as any of his most recent work – and instead we have a fairly innocent (by R-rated horror movie standards, anyway) slasher film with a somewhat silly killer and a handful of one-dimensional characters just waiting to be offed. This isn’t for everyone (don’t you hate that phrase?), but if you’re a fan of Bethmann’s work, or you just like slashers of all kinds and/or getting a group of friends together for drinks and “bad” movies, Dance of the Pumpkinhead is one to keep an eye out for.

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