How…how have I never seen the original Pumpkinhead? Not only have I owned a sweet looking Pumpkinhead action figure for about fifteen years, but I’ve seen the sequels. Oh not Pumpkinhead 2 if that’s what you’re thinking. No I didn’t see the one sequel apparently worth watching. I saw Pumpkinhead 3 and fucking 4, the two direct to TV sequels that even Lance Henriksen is ashamed of and have you seen that dude’s filmography? Thankfully, the glorious people over at Scream Factory released a fantastic special edition of the original movie and since I gladly consume everything they release ever, I snatched it up and finally corrected this long overdue movie blind spot.
There’s actually a lot more going on in this movie than I originally expected. Lance Henriksen is Ed Harley, loving father to a young boy whose name escapes me. Billy? Let’s say Billy. Most young kids in movies are named Billy. Anyway Ed really loves Billy and Billy really loves Ed. It’s endearing and you really hope that a bunch of teenagers on four wheelers don’t roll in and fuck everything up by accidently murdering Billy. Of course against all odds, this is exactly what happens.
Right here I was already happy with how things were going as the teenagers aren’t portrayed as assholes coming in and picking on the locals. Billy doesn’t die as a result of them playing a mean prank or something you would expect teens in horror movies to do. It is 100% an accident. If they simply waited there for the police to arrive and provided their side of the story things may not have turned out so bad but because the asshole teenager responsible for the accident has priors and has booze in his system, he takes off and the majority of the group goes with him. Harley ends up going to a crazy old lady witch who gets him to fetch a shriveled up corpse from a nearby cemetery. She then turns that corpse into Pumpkinhead, a giant, gangly cool looking demon who is called upon to seek vengeance for people. Of course Harley very quickly changes his mind but Pumpkinhead ain’t having it and continues murdering teens. And so on.
The story of Pumpkinhead is surprisingly solid and breaks away from the typical tropes you would expect. I’ve already mentioned how I enjoyed the way the tragedy unfolds but there are other ways they break away from expectations. Harley is not a bad guy. He does something insane while he is suffering and not thinking straight and almost immediately realizes his error. He then sets about correcting his mistake. Also even the asshole teenager starts to see the many ways where he fucked up so everybody here is actually a decent person. It helps create sympathy across the board and provides characters that are more fleshed out than you might expect. These guys fucked up but do they really deserve to be torn apart by a giant Stan Winston demon? Probably not.
The acting is quite solid all-around with the stand-out naturally being Henriksen. He’ll bring credibility to even the silliest (of which there are plenty, seriously check out the dude’s filmography) of movies but here he is actually given a lot to do. He gets to go the full emotional scope from happy to angry to mournful to scared to badass. It’s definitely amongst his best roles and it makes it even more disappointing to know how few movies allow him to shine like this.
The actual Pumpkinhead creature is great and another reminder that I am almost always going to prefer physical creations over computer generated ones. It makes everything remarkably more effective to see Pumpkinhead there as an actual presence amongst the actors/characters. A CG creature would make everything so cold and blah. This is the way to go. The creature within the fiction is also fantastic as there is nothing scarier than an antagonist who simply can’t be stopped or reasoned with. It’s made very clear from the outset that Pumpkinhead does not stop until his mission is complete which is always going to make for a terrifying concept.
I will say that I wish a bit more were done with Pumpkinhead when he shows up as it does take quite a while before he makes his first appearance. Yes the events taking place up until then are interesting but you still can’t help but want to see the titular creature and while he is absolutely impressive looking, he doesn’t get as much screen time as perhaps you would like/expect. He gets a couple of good kills and the face cross carving is effective and unsettling but he does spend a good amount of time just chilling outside or up in trees and waiting for people to come to him. Though if the main complaint I can come up with is “The creature was so fucking rad I wanted more of him” then clearly things turned out pretty well here.
I guess I shouldn’t have been that surprised that Pumpkinhead is as enjoyable as it is since obviously it has a reputation for a reason. I think I expected it to be cheesy though fun, but instead it’s actually a very well put together piece with a good story and surprisingly fleshed out characters. The sequel, Blood Wings, is set for a blu ray release later this month so I definitely wouldn’t be surprised to see it end up a part of this marathon as well.