Pumpkinhead (1988)

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“Pumpkinhead” is one of the many horror movies from the eighties that is unparalleled. It’s a movie series that opens with a bang and continues on with many inferior sequels. Alas, “Pumpkinhead” remains a single entry horror revenge thriller, depending on how you prefer to look at the storyline. That said, “Pumpkinhead” is a fine and atmospheric yet flawed revenge thriller that features some pretty incredible special effects by the late great Stan Winston, who also directs. And how can you not like Lance Henriksen?

Director Winston doesn’t aim for much of a high brow horror film, setting much of the proceedings in a backwoods Southern town cursed by its residents need for revenge and vindication. Henriksen plays Ed Harley, a man scarred by a past event involving his father and a grotesque monster that’s kept him awake at nights. Despite the past, he’s a devoted single father who takes his son Billy with him everywhere. One day a group of teenagers enter in to town preparing for a day of motorbike racing. Ed leaves Billy behind as he runs an urgent errand and due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, Billy is mortally injured.

Despite one teen’s insistence on staying with Billy until Ed returns, his friends flee and argue over whether to report the accident. Despite Ed’s best efforts, Billy dies and Ed pursues a local witch who can’t bring him back. Ed is thirsty for revenge and agrees to literally sacrifice his humanity in order to resurrect the goliath demon Pumpkinhead. Rising from its spawning ground, Pumpkinhead is a demon built on pure bloodlust and cunning and seeks out the teens that wronged Ed, knocking them down one by one with vicious maulings and murders teeming with religious symbolism. The more the creature carries out its mission, the more Ed realizes he’s becoming the very demon he spawned and fights to maintain his humanity and soul.

Henriksen’s performance is a highlight of the film, providing a truly gut wrenching portrayal as a man anxious to avenge his son, and pays the price. Stan Winston’s direction is atmospheric and competent building a back woods bayou aesthetic that’s grim and muddy but bleak. The design of pumpkin head is brilliant and still immensely striking, despite the film’s age. With the use of traditional effects and animatronics, Pumpkinhead is very much a menacing beast worth of its legend. If you can get over the fact that it’s not the speediest monster in horror movie history, it’s a great anti-hero in what is a very good supernatural revenge film. It’s sad that Stan Winston never really pursued other cinematic projects, as he brought a unique aesthetic to his project that we didn’t often see. Besides, he should have rightfully directed the follow up.

Scream Factory gives the film the royal treatment, providing an audio commentary with Creature and FX creators Tom Woodruff JR. and Alec Gillus, both of whom sit with co-screenwriter Gary Gerani to give a very interesting and insightful discussion about making the movie, the influences of the creature, and their own technical experiences with the creature’s model. Pumpkinhead Unearthed is an hour long six part making of documentary with in depth interviews with the cast and crew, all of whom discuss the finer points of the plot and monster.

There’s a seven minute Behind the Scenes featurette that is quick but fun, and a five minute segment with Sculptor Jean St. Jean who discusses his love for the creature and building the toy model. There’s a still gallery, and trailers, and the forty nine minute “Remembering the Monster Kid” a fantastic tribute to Stan Winston that assembles footage Behind the Scenes and stills from the production, along with interviews with people that knew and loved him. The sixteen minute “Night of the Demon” features an interview with producer Richard Weinman who talks about the production, and there’s the fifteen minute “The Boy with the Glasses” which features an interview with Matthew Hurley who plays Henriksen’s son in the film. Finally, there’s “The Redemption of Joel,” a fourteen minute interview with John D’Aquino who talks about his experiences working on the film.