An eighties horror film that at least tries to spin a character-based,
emotion-centered yarn that doesn’t rely on derivative splatter. It’s not
entirely successful, but director Stan Winston and star Lance Henriksen
deserve points for effort.
The late Stan Winston was and remains one of the top
special effects men in the business. 1988’s PUMPKINHEAD marked Winston’s
directorial debut, and also a rare starring role for the veteran
supporting player Lance Henriksen.
The film wasn’t a huge success, but had enough of an
impact to inspire a straight-to-video sequel in 1994, two further
made-for-SciFi Channel sequels in 2006 and ‘07 (both starring Henriksen),
and a two-issue comic book series from Dark Horse.
Back in the 1950s Ed Harley, a boy living in a secluded
country town, witnesses a man killed by a monstrous something outside
his bedroom window. Flash forward to 1988, when the thirtyish Harley is
raising his young son in the same town. There Harley runs a tiny grocery
store, where one day a bunch of rowdy big city teenagers turn up. They
commence a bunch of dangerous motorbike stunts and accidentally kill
Harley’s boy in the melee.
Understandably upset, Harley tracks down an old woman
who lives deep in the woods. He’s desperate to avenge his son’s death,
and the old bitch obligingly conjures up a nasty creature--the same one
Harley witnessed as a youngster.
The asshole teenagers are hiding out, ironically
enough, in Harley’s house, where they’re set upon by the critter. It
kills them off in a succession of bloody demises, leaving only the guy
who did the actual killing and two others alive.
Harley, meanwhile, is having second thoughts about his
course of action. He tells the old woman to call off the creature, but
she denies his request, leading him to shout “God damn you!” Her
reply: “He already has.”
Harley decides to help the surviving teens fight off
the Pumpkinhead. He’s still upset, however, and almost completely
Over the years Lance Henriksen has become known for
playing psychopaths in movies like
NEAR DARK, JOHNNY HANDSOME and HARD
TARGET. In PUMPKINHEAD he made a valiant effort to expand his range, and
for the most part succeeds in creating a well rounded and complex
protagonist. The teenaged antagonists, alas, are straight out of the
standard horny-young-people-in-over-their-heads eighties movie playbook
(see most any FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH or NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequel
Stan Winston’s direction is thoughtful and measured,
and has a nicely atmospheric visual sheen (Winston and cinematographer
Bojan Bazelli particularly like the Ridley Scott-esque shafts of
sunlight effect). Winston also conjures some decent scares (an
unexpected appearance by Harley’s dead son being the most affecting),
wisely keeping the titular creature off-screen for the first hour or so.
Unfortunately Winston has to unveil the thing eventually, and its
budget-lite ALIEN-esque appearance isn’t quite up to the standards of
the genius who helped create the amazing special effects of
ALIENS, PREDATOR, TERMINATOR 2 and
Yet for all its shortcomings I’m still inclined to
grade PUMPKINHEAD on a curve. It’s a good movie and deserves an
appreciative audience, albeit one that isn’t too demanding.
De Laurentiis Entertainment Group/United Artists
Director: Stan Winston
Producer: Bill Blake
Screenplay: Mark Patrick Carducci, Gary Gerani
Cinematography: Bojan Bazelli
Editing: Marcus Manton
Cast: Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, John D’Aquino, Kimberly Ross, Joel
Hoffman, Cynthia Bain, Kerry Remsen, Florence Schauffler, Brian Bremer,
Buck Flower, Matthew Hurley, Lee DeBroux, Peggy Walton Walker, Devon
Odessa, Mayim Bialik, Madeleine Taylor Holmes, Tom Woodruff Jr.