Pumpkinhead (1988)

MARCH 21, 2010


I actually have seen Pumpkinhead before, on a very dark “EP mode” VHS copy (taped off of Cinemax, if memory serves) when I was 11 or 12. So come to think of it, I have never SEEN Pumpkinhead. Hell, I don’t even know if I was able to see the (way creepy) shot of Pumpkinhead’s face starting to resemble that of Lance Henriksen, which is pretty much the point of the movie. In fact, the only thing I thought I remembered was incorrect - for some reason I thought Lance’s son in the film was handicapped. But I wouldn’t consider thick glasses a handicap; if not for contact lenses I’d have to wear glasses thicker than the windows on the Popemobile.

I also had a vague recollection of it being somewhat disappointing; one of many 80s films where the concept was better than the execution. I still feel that way, though I certainly enjoyed the film more now than when I was a kid (which wasn’t much, hence why I never watched it again). The monster is terrific, as is the fog machine drenched final 20 minutes, when Lance goes to right the wrongs as Pumpkinhead lumbers about. But it’s got a few problems getting there.

For starters, the movie is too damn short. If you remove the credits, you have a movie that’s under 80 minutes long, and that includes a rather unnecessary prologue (gives away Pumpkinhead’s appearance - should have been saved for later. See: well, any of the movies (Pumpkinhead director) Stan Winston did the effects for). Lance begins regretting his decision instantly; I think it would be more interesting if he enjoyed his revenge at first (not unlike Jeff in Saw III, also looking to punish those responsible for his son’s death). Perhaps the “psychic link” that causes Lance to change his mind should have been more gradual, so that it didn’t really hit him full blast until the 3rd or 4th death. It also makes his character seem a bit ineffective - he tries to stop it after the 2nd, but 3 more get it before he finally succeeds.

Also, the group isn’t very interesting or well developed, even though they sort of become the main characters. I guess we should like Tracy because she’s nice to Billy, but that’s about all there is to her. Worse, it’s kind of odd that there’s really only one asshole in the group (the one who actually hit Billy with his bike), and his death is no more graphic/satisfying than any of the others. If I was writing this, I’d actually have Lance himself kill the guy at the end, or at least let him die while trying to save the others. It’s unclear if Lance tries to stop it because he realizes that vengeance is not going to bring his son back, or if he simply feels bad for having a giant monster kill a bunch of largely innocent folks. Christ, the guy who stayed behind to keep the kid company and tell Lance what happened gets it first!

But it works as a weird fairy tale horror. The basic sentiment behind the whole thing is fine, it’s just awkwardly played out. And again, the monster is amazing in both design and execution - Tom Woodruff was/is one of the best movie creature performers, as he also played the Alien several times, as well as Gillman in Monster Squad (sadly, guarantee they’ll go to Doug Jones if they do a remake, that is if they go with a man at all. Our luck he'll be CGI). Winston may spoil his appearance too early, but he’s a good enough director to keep him from being overused where it counts; not a lot of shots of Pumpkinhead just wandering around like in the latter Jason/Halloween films.

And Lance is awesome. He didn’t get to play a heroic lead very often, and that’s a shame. You really feel for the guy even before the kid is killed, because you can tell he’s trying to make the most of his rather crappy life for the benefit of his son, and that’s something that wouldn’t have been apparent with a less capable actor. Hell, at one point he gets bullied by Buck Flower (!) and yet remains honorable. I’d hang my head in shame for life if Flower, best known for playing bums and winos, got the upper hand on me during a business transaction. I also liked seeing Brian Bremer as Bunt, the hick kid who tries to help the “cursed” foks, mainly because I only know of the guy from his creepy androgynous role in Silent Night Deadly Night 5. Mayim “Blossom” Bialik pops up somewhere too, according to the credits, but I didn’t spot her (she’s one of the other hick kids).

The movie has been on DVD for a while, but again since I didn’t have the fondest memory of it, I never picked it up. However, I understand the bonus features are well above average, so maybe I’ll check it out after a while. Being one of ShockTillYouDrop’s midnight screenings, some special guests made up for my lack of behind the scenes observations: Screenwriter Gary Gerani and producers Billy Blake and Richard Weinman were on hand to talk a bit about the film’s production, but as things were running late it was rather brief (no audience questions!). Apparently there is a new comic series coming out, and one of them (Gerani I believe) mentioned that they are actively looking at new ways of keeping the character alive, or some jargon that basically said “Don’t be surprised if a remake gets announced before the end of the year”. While I don’t usually think remakes of films less than 25 years old are necessary, I can definitely think of ways the story could be improved, and in the right hands I think we can get a Pumpkinhead film that improves over the uneven original.

What say you?

P.S. I know you love the movie and think I’m nuts for finding it lacking in certain areas. My apologies. I’m sure I’ll feel exactly the same way you do on the Sci-Fi Original sequels once I get around to watching them.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. (SPOILERS, but if you're reading this review, you've probably seen the flick...)

    I actually felt the same way you did about this flick, BC. I liked it, and I thought the monster and concept were really cool. But it just didn't grab me the way I was expecting it to based on its cult status.

    The set-up is great -- the feeling of dread the teenagers get when Lance's son is killed is one of the scariest things about the movie to me. But like you said, Henriksen's arc is sort of muddled.

    A remake, if done right, would be amazing. If someone could really make the ending with Lance's character and Pumpkinhead becoming one hit home, it would be great. I think that concept is fantastic, creepy, and suitably dark. But it doesn't quite resonate the way it should in the original. Except for the final shot with the necklace. That's pretty fucking great.

  2. All I remember from seeing it in the theater is a genuine sadness at the ending, not director and writer snickering, but real tragedy.

  3. I have always enjoyed this movie. I do agree that it is lacking in certain areas, but to me the incredible creature effects and Lance always seem to make up for the bad parts. There were one or two of the sequels that I didn't mind either, but those were more 'so bad it's good' type of enjoyment.

  4. i love this movie but cant watch it because the death of the little boy upsets me so much :(


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