Pumpkinhead (1988)

“What you’re asking… got a powerful price.”

Joel’s rating: 3 out of 5 Special Demons

Joel’s review: Pumpkinhead is an interesting experience for me, and one that I’ve revisited often over the years. Of course, at heart, it’s a horror movie with a killer monster, just like hundreds of others made over the years. It’s essentially a ‘B’ movie, but made with ‘A’ movie talent, and so stands out. In my opinion, it doesn’t get as much love as many scary films of its time.

Without getting too spoilery, Ed Harley (Lance Henrickson) is a country man living a simple country life. He is a single father with a young son whom he loves dearly. Ed’s wife passed away in the recent past, something that Ed and his son still feel. We are never told what exactly happened to her but there is no indication that there was any foul play, just an accident or illness most likely. Some young adult city folks on a weekend trip to the hills have an accident, and Ed’s son is killed. In his rage and grief, Ed remembers a legend about a creature of vengeance, something that he caught a glimpse of as a child, and starts a very tragic sequence of events.

How a viewer takes Pumpkinhead really depends on what kind of horror you like. If you are looking for extreme gore, fast paced chases, or things like that, this won’t be satisfying to you. Pumpkinhead builds slowly, gives us a glimpse at how each of our characters act and think before the real fun starts. The movie has atmosphere, with some excellent lighting and sound effect choices. But I think the movie’s greatest strength is in the narrative itself.

For one, there is no real ‘villain’ here. Several characters do some shady things, sure, but in the end, each tries to change their path for one reason or another. Even the monster is only doing what it was tasked to do. It’s more like several people make bad decisions having no intention for things to go and end the way they do. Once things are set in motion, there is no easy solution.

And really, my favorite part of the movie is Haggis. They never say it outright, but she seems to be a witch or at least someone old enough to know the things about the world that the world has forgotten. Like Pumpkinhead. You only see her when Ed is visiting her (with one exception), and she really has most of the best lines in the movie. Ed screams at her, “God damn you, God damn you!” Her reply? “He already has, son. He already has.”

And maybe this is just me, but the lore surrounding Pumkinhead makes the movie so much better. We never know everything, and the film doesn’t try to explain every single detail like some horror movies try to. What we do know isn’t that much. The country folks in the movie have no real understanding what Pumpkinhead is, they just know the signs to look out for, an idea as to why it appears, and they know to lock their doors and wait until it’s all over. It’s even to the point of being willing to shoot someone themselves if they have to so that the vengeful spirit doesn’t turn it’s gaze to their household.

Just like the viewer, they don’t know everything. They just know enough. The monster itself isn’t some mindless beast either. It shows some intelligence and a vicious, cruel mind as it goes about the taks for which it has been summoned for.

The creature effects are good as well, but the director, Stan Winston, has many more effects credits to his name in film than directing. The creature itself works great, some great lighting and shadow use, and all practical effects, no CGI.

Like I said, the movie starts slow and, if you are just looking for a body count, Pumpkinhead isn’t going to deliver as much on that. There is no ‘everyone dies except final girl’ here. If the stuff that happens in the first half of the movie doesn’t suck you in, then the last half probably won’t be exciting for you. This isn’t the classic that films like Alien or Halloween are, but I think it is worth watching.

One comment

  1. The scene where Pumpkinhead is searching the house and finds that kid in the closet is one of the best prop effects I have ever seen. Still hasn’t been matched.

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