Pumpkinhead is not a movie about a demon with a pumpkin for a head. That’s important to note, as multiple people do in the special features included on this Scream Factory Blu-Ray, because thinking of the film in such a literal sense downplays the intense morality play that it really is. Stan Winston’s directorial debut in 1988 set up six kids who were marked by a vengeful demon, but it doesn’t simply mimic the ideas of slasher films of the era. It expands upon them, and in that way, it’s a much more nuanced film than its peers.
Pumpkinhead stars Lance Henriksen as Ed Harley, a hard-working man out in the countryside who runs his own grocery store and raises his son without a mother. Billy and his dog love Ed, and they obviously both love their life together. Everything goes swimmingly on the morning Pumpkinhead opens, except for the fact that a couple of city kids ride in on their dirt bikes and accidentally hit and kill little Billy when Ed’s out on a run for feed. Joel (John D’Aquino) is the guy who makes the mistake, but he’s been drinking and already has a DUI on his license, so he runs off leaving the others to try to figure out what to do. When Harley finds out, he’s out for blood and calls upon the witch Haggis (Florence Schauffler) to summon Pumpkinhead to get revenge.
The reason that Pumpkinhead works so well is because it manages to conjure up an incredibly likable cast (besides Joel, of course, who does have a change of heart later on). Henriksen makes an awesome father figure, and little Billy (Matthew Hurley) is so cute and innocent it’s impossible not to feel for him when he’s killed. Add to that a couple of teenage kids who really want to do right by Ed (Jeff East, Kimberly Ross, Cynthia Bain, Joel Hoffman, and Kerry Remsen) and you’ve got an accident that just spins out of control.
It’s vital to screenplay writers Mark Patrick Carducci and Gary Gerani’s story, because the moralistic idea lies in how Harley reacts to the situation. Immediately he’s angry and upset, which is to be expected, and his mind immediately heads to revenge; but the way that Harley is portrayed early on, it feels very unlike him, even though the audience has just met him. In this extreme situation, he’s ready to kill these kids even though he knows it won’t bring his son back.
From there, Pumpkinhead comes in, who is admittedly a very cool monster besides the issue of morality. The design is decidedly a loose take on a pumpkin; rather than hitting that nail on the head, Pumpkinhead is much more bulbous and bulging, and done entirely with practical effects to enhance all of the tense scenes. His appearances are marked by deep blue and orange lighting, and windy, autumnal landscapes that add atmosphere to the already deserted landscapes.
But most importantly, Pumpkinhead never loses the theme it begins with. As Ed realizes what he’s unleashed, he works hard to stop it, realizing that his son is not owed the blood of others. And as the movie advances, Pumpkinhead’s features begin to resemble Ed Harley’s more and more, and his movements mirror Ed’s. Stan Winston uses their connection to define the vengeful act, and also to show the unrest that it causes. When Pumpkinhead is laid into the ground after all of the horrors have been committed, it has Ed’s necklace around its neck. Pumpkinhead shows us the cycle of revenge never ends – one man becomes Pumpkinhead, then another calls upon him, and then that man becomes Pumpkinhead yet again.
Pumpkinhead hasn’t lost its meaning over the years, and it continues to have significance in an increasingly vengeful society. In fact, appreciation of the film has most likely grown over time; the practical effects are great to see, and Henriksen portrays a great protagonist. Scream Factory has brought Pumpkinhead back from its rest, but not for revenge; instead, it’s for others to see the grim fairy tale and realize its criticism of vengeance.
Click the second page for a review of the Blu-Ray features and picture quality.