Monday, June 18, 2012

Pumpkinhead (1988) He Knows If You've Been Bad or Good...

Oh hells to the yes, Pumpkinhead. I'd seen this bad boy when I went through my initial must-devour-everything-horror-binge circa 1996-1997 but in the rush of Jasons, Wishmasters and Laurie Strodes... poor ol' Pumpkinhead got lost in the shuffle. And now I know, no one puts Pumpkinhead in a corner ... because he'll shank you.

In a rural, not-quite-populated-enough-to-call-it-a-town ... um... area in the States lives Ed Harley (Lance fuckin' Henriksen) and his young son. They don't have much but what they do have is love. And for once I mean that in the best possible sense. Harley is a salt of the earth man who adores his little boy and the son adores him right back. The early scenes are wonderful and a real testament to Henriksen's acting. Harley is a believable, grounded man, normal even. It's rare and wonderful when an actor can portray "normal" interestingly. His son is adorable without being punchable.

Harley and his son are content living their simple life with their main source of livelihood being the grocery store they run until one day when a bunch of jerk city kids come through on their way to a cabin. Hot headed lead jerk decides he doesn't want to wait to go dirt biking. He's wants it now! NOOOOOOOOOOOW! Short story short, jerk hits adorable son with motor bike thing, son dies. Harley goes in search of Haggis, one old creepy-ass swamp witch seeking revenge. She in turn summons Pumpkinhead the demon of revenge and namesake of the rhyme:
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.

Pumpkinhead starts with the killin' arriving at the city kids' cabin and laying waste. There is only one problem (once you get past a murdering vengeance demon) Harley is seeing all this happen.  Pumkinhead takes a nifty turn by forcing Harley to watch and in some senses participate in the brutal destruction. This escalates to a truly heartbreaking finale. Pumpkinhead manages to achieve an emotional core much deeper than most Ron Howard movies by keeping it simple and continually raising the stakes. The kills are imaginative and gross but nothing particularly special. I became so emotionally invested in Harley that I often wanted to skip ahead to get back to his story rather than focusing on the cut and kill Pumpkinhead.

Since this film was directed by effects maestro Stan Winston I was impressed by the design of Pumpkinhead as was Winston I assume which led to the monster being shown off way too much. In the lengthy scenes with Pumkinhead it became more of a figurine commercial than horror film. Also, it looked stupid when it ran. But holy heck, you should see it. While it's not perfect it's a darn sight better than most and more daring that its contemporaries.


  1. LOL @ your "Oh hells to the yes."

    I always LOVED this movie!

  2. Thanks! It's crazy underrated.

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  4. Great review, and I completely agree with you about his film: it IS wholly underrated.