“Keep away from Pumpkinhead, unless you’re tired of living.
His enemies are mostly dead, he’s mean and unforgiving.
Bolted doors and windows barred,
Guard-dogs prowling in the yard,
Won’t protect you in your bed,
Nothing will, from Pumpkinhead.”
That’s the original poem which inspired this often-overlooked horror classic. Pumpkinhead is a tale of tragedy, sacrifice, revenge, and stupid teenagers getting killed-off one-by-one. Lance Henrikson plays a loving father in a rural backwater town, who spends his days delivering farm supplies to local hillbillies and taking care of his only son. But one day a troop of city-slicking teenagers come to town to motocross all over the sprawling sandy landscape (and this was BEFORE “extreme sports” were all the rage!). Unfortunately, the kids aren’t all that careful of their surroundings, and quite by accident, run over Lance’s only son. Distraught with grief over the loss of his boy, Lance does what any rational father would do in such a predicament; he seeks advice from a senile old witch who lives in a swamp.
Her advice seems sound-enough:
1: Dig up corpse of terrible demon buried deep in a foggy pumpkin-patch. Check.
2: Bind your soul to the demon and tell it what you want. Check.
3: Watch as the demon hunts down all the stupid teenagers and anybody who gets in its way. Check.
4: Lose your soul to Hell for all eternity. Chec-Hey! Wait a minute!
After unleashing this abomination on not only the gang of youngsters, but his entire town, Lance has second thoughts. You would too if *you* started morphing into a demonic wraith from deepest Tartarus.
The movie features special effects from Stan Winston, the same guy who gave us Jurassic Park, Predator and…uh…Leviathan (you know, that movie with Ernie Hudson, Daniel Stern and Peter Weller!?). So the title character looks remarkably believable. The setting of swampy woods and burned-down churches, along with the eerie lighting, is really what make the monster Pumpkinhead work, though. In daylight, the puppet would look ridiculously fake, so again, it’s all in the atmosphere.
Lance plays the grief-stricken hillbilly dad to perfection, and while this isn’t one of his most note-worthy roles, he certainly lends an iota or two of credibility to the film. The rest of the cast is just your usual 80’s teen nobodies. They’re acting is everything you’d expect, no more and no less. The only other shining character in the film would be the old hag of the swamp, who is almost as creepy as Pumpkinhead.
Pumpkinhead is a far too forgotten horror film that should be rented by any fan of the genre at least once, if only to appreciate Stan Winston’s remarkable effects and the Twisted Fairy Tale-concept behind the story. The premise of the film should’ve been enough to kick-start a franchise, but alas, they dropped the ball with the second installment.
I’ll give it a C+. It’s not ground-breaking, but it’s not bad, either.
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