“Bolted doors and windows barred, Guard dogs prowling in the yard, Won’t protect you in your bed, Nothing will, from Pumpkinhead.”
Pumpkinhead is one of the few directorial efforts from Academy Award winning visual FX artist, Stan Winston. (Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Jurassic Park) The dark fairy tale was a childhood favorite of mine, but I hadn’t seen it for years. The experience was very different revisiting it as an adult, but I’m happy to say I don’t love the film any less.
We open in the 1950s as a frightened rural family huddles inside their home. They listen to the terrified pleas of a man at their door, but the patriarch commands them to ignore it. Something awful is hunting in the dark and they mustn’t interfere. Does a young boy, Ed Harley, see a dreadful monster in the shadows?
Thirty years later, Ed Harley owns a general store and enjoys a simple life in the country with his young son, Billy. Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Near Dark) plays Harley. Oh, Lance. What horror fan doesn’t love this guy? If you’ve seen him interviewed or had the pleasure of meeting him in person, you’ll probably know Mr. Henriksen as a warm and endearing man. Filling in character development with much of his own personality and experiences, that is the man on screen. The loving relationship between father and son is established with a series of charming scenes tinted with gold and lit by sunbeams. It’s all so perfect. I’m sure nothing will go wrong.
Oh wait, look at that poster. Nevermind.
Unfortunately for the Harleys, your standard group of teenage twenty-somethings rides in from a slasher film and ruins everything. The few mildly likable members of the group connect with some local children and hear the creepy legend of “Pumpkinhead.” The others are visiting to… as far as I can tell… ride dirt bikes and act like douchebags. While the father is away tending to some business, the group’s thrill-seeking leads to an accident and the mortal wounding of sweet little Billy. Despite the father’s attempts to help him, the boy dies. He is devastated and justifiably furious. Still, it’s possible that he overreacts a little. Ed Harley seeks out a horrid witch rumored to give wronged men bloody satisfaction. He unearths the shriveled body of a creature from a graveyard pumpkin patch under her orders and a demon is given life in the witch’s lair. The city folk responsible for his pain are now cursed and he will have his revenge. There’s no stopping Pumpkinhead.
The demon is unleashed. Although the unfortunate victims of the witch’s curse are unable to see more than an occasional glimpse as they’re picked off one by one (slasher style), Winston isn’t afraid to show the audience the titular fiend. Pumpkinhead is a big ugly glorious practical monster. Now utterly disgusted by the overuse… the spreading SICKNESS …of shiny and weightless CGI, I exclaimed with joy almost every time the creature was revealed. You just don’t see this anymore. Is it perfect from all angles? Maybe not. But it is refreshing and absolutely wonderful to see a creature that physically exists. When Ed Harley is overcome by visions of the atrocities he has sanctioned, experiencing the murders as if committed by his own hands, he is horrified and begs the witch to stop it. It’s too late. The course is set in motion and vengeance is never clean.
“God damn you! God damn you!” “He already has, son. He already has.”
Ok, there’s liberal use of fog machines and it’s all a bit melodramatic, but it’s just that kind of movie. If you accept the film for what it is, it’s a good time. The monster is a delight and the atmosphere is spooky. If you’re looking for festive films to get into the Halloween spirit this week, you could do much worse. Recommended.
PS: I’ve never seen the sequels and I think it’s best that we all pretend they don’t exist. What sequels?