Director: Stan Winston
Studios: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
Starring: Lance Henriksen
Tagline: A Grim Fairy Tale.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, terror, thriller, monster, curse
Scare score: D
Plot overview: During a getaway to the country, some city teens are involved in a dirt bike accident that takes the life of a local boy. Stricken with grief, Ed Harley (Henriksen) seeks his revenge, unleashing a vengeful demon upon the unsuspecting teens.
I remember always seeing this VHS case in Blockbuster when I was a kid, but I've never gotten around to seeing this original movie or its made-for-TV sequels. While this production is '80s up the wazoo, it was an interesting concept and, at the very least, an entertaining movie.
First of all, I was excited to watch some sort of monster movie. Going into it, I had very, very different ideas of what Pumpkinhead was going to be like; not surprisingly I was expecting a pumpkin-headed monster or even some sort of scarecrow demon, but alas that isn't the case here. The demon is a masterpiece of special effects with all credit deservingly going to director Stan Winston, who is known for his work on film series such as Jurassic Park, Aliens, and Predator. Well before I knew about Winston's affiliations with these other films, the noticeable relation was already there.
Here are my issues with the monster: first of all, this isn't a demon or monster so much as an alien. Pumpkinhead doesn't quite have a pumpkin head, but rather a similarly shaped head to that of Alien. I wouldn't be surprised if, as far as the body and tail are concerned, Pumpkinhead was the inspiration for Mewtwo. That's a serious statement. All in all, Pumpkinhead is a fierce enemy, but in my book it isn't quite right for the mood the whole movie, and the tagline "A Grim Fairy Tale" tries to set; it is far too extraterrestrial instead of demonic. Furthermore, the cicada sound made whenever Pumpkinhead is approaching reminded me way too much of Predator. A little more creativity here wouldn't have hurt.
My other big issue with the creature itself was the boring, repetitive ways in which it always killed. Not once did it vary from a sort of strange combination of lifting, throwing, and dropping its victims until they were dead. Not once did this vary with the exception of very minor changes either before or after proceeding to lift up and drop the given victim. Boring city.
Regardless, special effects in this movie are pretty fantastic, specifically those involving Pumpkinhead itself. Perhaps with such a complicated costume they were limited to the ways the monster could actually kill people while onscreen. While it may not be as memorable as, say, Alien or Predator, Pumpkinhead was a cool looking demon. I also really liked the whole urban-legend bit revolving around him. When the Wallace kids start chanting that rhyme to scare their little brother, it was both a creepy and interesting moment. We've seen a similar rhyme in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies.
The script was nothing special in this movie. In fact, since the version I watched online had English subtitles, I was much more aware of the poor script that I perhaps would have been in a normal viewing. So much of the dialogue in this movie is repeated. So much of the dialogue in this movie is repeated. I can't stress it enough. I first realized this during the scene when Harley returns to the old woman who lives in the woods. Every single line he has he repeats twice. Then the old woman starts to do it too. In later scenes, the teenagers do it as well. The teenagers do it as well. What may feel like desperation to an amateur screenwriter just sounds like a poorly thought out echo to audiences.
Acting isn't good either, but for an '80s B movie, it's certainly entertaining. Lots of melodrama from unexperienced teenage/ twenty-something actors, lots of over-the-top Appalachia-meets-Deep-South poverty, and extra lots of running through dark, foggy woods and slipping in the dirt before giving up the will to run only to continue running. When will these teenagers learn?
Something I loved about this movie though was the sort of evolution we saw in our two main characters at the end. That is to say, Pumpkinhead and Ed Harley. From the first murder, we realize that there is some sort of connection between the two, but it isn't until the very end that we see Pumpkinhead taking on the features of Mr. Harley and vice versa. Truly eerie and fascinating, and done spectacularly for 1988. Then, at the end of the film, we see the curse of vengeance complete its full circle when the witch/ old woman buries a new corpse in Pumpkinhead's grave for next time.
Final critique: There is plenty of promise in this movie, but not enough delivery. Going into Pumpkinhead, I think that most audiences will expect something different, although at the end of the day we have a unique monster attacking a group of frightened teenagers just as other unique monsters chased and killed other frightened teenagers throughout the majority of horror films from the 1980s. The best thing about this movie is the fun plot and the creative monster, both of which will leave you wishing everything were more masterfully executed. A fun watch, nothing more, nothing less.