Film Review: PumpkinHead (1988)

SYNOPSIS:

Seeking revenge on the city teens who inadvertently killed his only child, small-town shopkeeper Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) enlists a local witch to unleash the titular demon on the adolescents. When Pumpkinhead’s otherworldly rage goes too far, Ed has a change of heart and tries to save the youngsters he wanted to punish but he’s lost control of the fiend. This 1989 horror film marks the directorial debut of special-effects whiz Stan Winston.

REVIEW:

“Cruel, devious, pure as venom. All hell’s broken loose.”

Ed Harley lives alone with his little boy and runs a general store in the country, far from modern technology. A group of young city people go into the country for an outing of off-road motor biking. One of them accidentally crashes his bike into the store owner’s son and he later dies. In a fit of rage and revenge, the storekeeper has a witch conjure up a hideous creature to kill the group.

I watched Pumpkinhead for the first time in about ten years. I didn’t remember much of it but I’m glad I watched it again.

This movie has a great atmosphere in the remote backwoods, perfect for October. It has great camera work with a majority of the movie taking place at night. Some of the sets are very spooky. The murky, foggy woods where the witch lives is just fantastic – it’s perfect for Halloween. The hill where the creature is dug up reminds of Pet Semetary.

The story is pretty simple but effective. Revenge makes for a good horror story. It’s more than just a slasher killer, like Jason Voorhees.

Pumpkinhead was directed by creature guru, Stan Winston, this is his work at its finest. The creature itself is great, kind of resembling Giger’s Alien. However, Stan Winston was too busy with directorial duties that he was not directly involved with his special effects team that actually create the monster. The witch is very creepy too.

Seeing the Pumpkinhead feature growing within a few minutes and crawling out of the ground is so creepy — you want to yell at the characters to flee but at the same time you, like the characters, want to stay to see what is emerging and taking shape before your eyes. I could almost feel the clock ticking and my heart beating faster as they waited for Pumpkinhead to start chasing and killing characters. It’s the same feeling I get when I watch the metamorphosis of a character changing into a werewolf.

At Winston’s request, the screenwriters made both Pumpkinhead and Haggis (the witch), much darker than in the original script. I am glad they did because it makes the film even scarier.

Lance Henriksen is great as usual. One question though, who would open a store there in the middle of nowhere? The profits must be great! Most of the actors are virtual unknowns, with the exception of Lance Henriksen, but the acting isn’t bad. Everyone does their part to make a believable cast of characters in a fantastic horror story.

The music is fitting and only adds to the film’s creepy atmosphere sense of impending doom.

Pumpkinhead was produced by the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group before it declared bankruptcy before it was released. It was later acquired by United Artists, which released it under the title, Vengeance – The Demon. The studio did not do a great job of releasing it to theaters. If not for hard-core horror fans of the movie, it probably would not be as well-known as it is today but it could have been even bigger if the studios did a better job of releasing it to theaters.

With a relatively small budget, for its time, of $3,500,000, Pumpkinhead just goes to show you that good horror creature films can be made with minimal budgets.

The movie does leave us with a few questions, such as the creature’s origin, the witch’s background, how the supernatural aspect works, and more. Many of these questions are answered in greater detail in later sequels. Somehow, even without these answers, this original movie is far better than any of the sequels; sometimes less is more.

Overall, I loved this movie! This is a perfect horror movie. It has it all! Atmosphere, story, great SFX, camera work and a perfectly scary music score. All horror fans need to see this future classic! 4/5

Quote:Ed Harley: God damn you! God damn you!
Haggis: He already has, son. He already has.

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