I’ve waited twelve years for a new Pumpkinhead movie, and even longer for a good Pumpkinhead movie. This made-for-TV film came out of the blue, it seemed, and right around Halloween, no less. While Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings was mostly a re-imagining of the Pumpkinhead story, Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes is pretty much a direct sequel to the original film, even going so far as to bring back the lead actor from the first film as well as a number of characters.
Doc (Doug Bradley in a rare non-Pinhead role) is the chief medical physician of a local backwoods town, as well as the head of their mortuary and crematorium. What the townsfolk don’t know is that he’s a liar and a cheat, using the corpses of the dead for black market organs rather than cremating them like he’s supposed to. Four townsfolk uncover his scheme (unaware that he’s behind it all) when they find the corpses of their loved ones piled up in a barn. Overcome with anger, the townsfolk track down an old witch living in the swamp who instructs them on how to resurrect Pumpkinhead, the Demon of Vengeance. They bind their souls to Pumpkinhead, unleashing the beast on all those responsible. Meanwhile, Bunt Wallace, a dimwitted hillbilly who was roped into helping Doc in his schemes, has been repeatedly haunted by visions of his encounter with Pumpkinhead as a boy (from the first film) as well as the spirit of Ed Harley (Lance Henrickson). Harley provides a grim warning to Bunt, that Pumpkinhead is coming for him and there is no escape.
Much to my surprise, Ashes to Ashes is an excellent follow-up to the original Pumpkinhead, completely ignoring the debacle that was Blood Wings and paying undivided attention to the Pumpkinhead myth. Bunt’s character has undergone a bit of a change from the first film. Where he was once a savvy kid with an attitude, now he’s a superstitious bumbling oaf. Despite what you might think, it’s not bad continuity. Bunt’s violent encounter with Pumpkinhead as a boy scarred him for life, turning him into a cowardly imbecile. Seeing Lance Herickson making a come-back as Ed Harley added a great sense of continuity to the films and was a real treat of a cameo. The bit where he appears to Bunt in the basement of the church, making gestures behind Doc’s back is just hilarious. Although his role is rather small, it really ties the two films together (flashbacks using clips from the first film help, too). And, just incase you’re wondering, they do indeed use the classic Pumpkinhead poem (or at least a portion of it).
Pumpkinhead, for the most part, is realized through traditional effects which honor Stan Winston’s original design. Pumpkinhead looks fantastic, and unlike the version from Blood Wings, you actually get to see his legs this time. He also gets a number of good, gory kills, such as squeezing a guy’s head until it explodes or impaling a man on a lightning rod. Pumpkinhead seems a lot angrier in this film. Or, at least, he goes out of his way to make the deaths of his victims more painful. He’s also shown to be smarter than before, corralling his victims into a church and using a large log to barricade the front door and lock them inside.
The rules of the Pumpkinhead myth are adhered to very strictly. As the demon kills more people, each of the ones who brought it back to life share in the pain. Also, the closer the beast gets to completing its task, the more they lose of their souls. They also do a great job recreating scenery and characters from the first film. The old witch from the swamp is just as nasty and creepy as she was in the original film, a real accomplishment. Then there’s the ancient pumpkin patch where Pumpkinhead’s body is buried: almost an exact duplicate of how it appeared in the original.
There are a few setbacks, I must confess. For the bulk of his appearances, Pumpkinhead is brought to life through traditional effects. Unfortunately, for some of the sequences which required him to be more agile, they used some terrible CGI. The CG is used sparingly, thankfully, but it sticks out like a sore thumb whenever it pops up. The worst bit would have to be the sequence where he breaks down the stained glass window of a church. The actors can also get on your nerves as they honestly aren’t very good.
Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes is the long-awaited “true sequel” to the original film, and definitely the only other Pumpkinhead film worth seeing. The team that worked on this film had a real respect for the first installment and they certainly do it justice.