An unjustly overlooked classic. A strange film that manages to be a creature feature, revenge flick, and supernatural horror picture all in one. My mom’s favorite horror movie. These are all apt descriptions for Pumpkinhead, Stan Winston’s 1988 movie starring Lance Henrickson.
It’s funny — I know I saw this movie over and over when I was younger, but I might as well have never seen it, for as vague as the plot was in my memory. I don’t remember it being as hallucinatory and freaky-looking as it is. There are angles and elements of Pumpkinhead‘s shooting that make it look like Sam Raimi had control of the camera. They contrast nicely with the almost pastoral scenes early on, before everything goes violent and revenge-y.
In addition to the crazy camera movement and light streaming through backlit fog for its nighttime shots, Pumpkinhead looks like Texas Chainsaw Massacre during its daylight scenes. I watched this on a full-screen, untouched DVD from 2000, and it still managed to look frickin’ great, despite the fact that Scream Factory put out a pretty excellent reissue of this on Blu-ray earlier this year. Honestly, though, the grainy, slightly blown-out look of the release I have only lent to the terrifying, awful aspect of everything.
In terms of pacing, it’s more early ’70s than late ’80s. You’ve got to be patient with this one. Pumpkinhead‘s slow build of southern gothic horror to an all out slaughter means that, while there’s a good tease in the first scene to get your blood pumping, it’s not until nearly halfway through that things get going.
This being a Stan Winston film, the creature effects are unsurprisingly amazing. It’s a great looking film, even if it’s pretty terribly acted, with the exception of Henrickson. Granted, he’s just doing the quietly tough thing he does in everything, but it’s especially suited to this picture. The creature is like a backwoods Giger creation.
I can see how there were three sequels: the premise of Pumpkinhead as some kind of avenging reaver makes this an open-ended franchise of infinite possibilities. Why there were, however, I don’t know. It’s not particularly exciting unless you get an emotional resonance in the revenge, and killing a kid at the start of every picture will endear you to no-one.
Still, despite all the striking parts about how it looks, and the delightful way in which the film brings a sort of pastoral British horror (a la The Wicker Man) to the American south, and the ways in which its pacing mirrors ’70s horror, the plot’s pure ’80s horror, with the obnoxious young people in a convertible being punished.
While being a fun romp, Pumpkinhead is ultimately just another movie which proves the horror movie rule: young city folk ought not be jerks in the country, or they will die terrible, violently bloody deaths. It’s almost to the point nowadays that, should I see a nice sports car loaded with 20-somethings, I wonder who’s going to be the first one to go, and how it’ll happen.