Pumpkinhead is a nasty slice of southern-gothic revenge starring Lance Henrikson (Near Dark, Aliens) as the lead character Ed Harley. Harley is a single father and the proprietor of a rural grocery store in the deep south. He lives alone with his young son, whom he loves dearly. After his son is accidentally killed by a group of teen dirt-bike riders, Harley seeks some the dark magic of a local witch for revenge. Harley and the witch summon the demon Pumpkinhead, but Harley soon finds that this isn’t what he bargained for.
Pumpkinhead was the directorial debut of the late FX guru Stan Winston. Winston was also responsible for the creature FX in Pumpkinhead. The general consensus is that Pumpkinhead is a cool creature (you’d expect nothing less from the guy behind Aliens and Predator) and an okay movie. I see the point, and somewhat agree up to a point. The concept of the film is spot on, and the southern atmosphere is perfect for this story. But I do have an issue with the lighting. The indoor shots have a smoky, dark red tint to them. I understand what Winsto n was going for; it gives this film a humid, southern feel to it. These scenes, especially in the cabin of Haggis the witch, look like they were filmed in Hell. This is appropriate for a story about a summoning revenge seeking demons. However, it also makes a lot of the film very abrasive on the eyes. The nighttime shots have the inverse of this color palate with a cool dark blue tone. I think the shifts between the two, and they way they dominate the cinematography is overdone. Also, the camerawork during the kills makes it hard to keep track of what is happening in the film. The kills aren’t as gory as I thought they could be, and felt some were weak, but the presence of the character is powerful enough to overshadow these things.
On the plus side, Lance Henrikson nails the role of the grieving father. When his son dies, Henrikson is able to emote the rage and sadness of the character through looks. There is a scene where he gives the one teen who stays with his dying son a look of white-hot hate that is hard not to wince at. The shit-head teens that kill his boy also aren’t bad actors. The fact that they didn’t mean to kill him mixed with their general sense of confusion and remorse on how to handle the situation makes most of them sympathetic. This adds to the sadness of the story as a remorseful Harley watches them get destroyed by the demon. Pumpkinhead has a real story and heart to it that make it work.
Today was the first time I’ve watched Pumpkinhead all the way through since it’s initial VHS release in the late 80’s. I remember liking it as a kid but it’s sequel, Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings, which starred Bill Clinton’s more successful brother, Roger Clinton (as well as Andrew Robinson’s overacting eyebrows), ruined my view of the franchise. Upon re-watching Pumpkinhead today I was surprised at how much I liked it, despite it’s flaws. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a classic, but it’s a nice Fall horror film that fits nicely into the pantheon of films like Dark Night of the Scarecrow (another film that I’ll make revisits to).