Night #10: Pumpkinhead (1988)

Directed By: Stan Winston

God is the only thing that can stop what’s out there, Kim.”

So we’re done with found-footage (For now at least, I can’t speak as to when it’ll show up again) and moving on to affairs of a different kind. This time is Lance Henriksen in a rare hero role with the somewhat ludicrously titled Pumpkinhead. Trust me, it’s better than the title lets on (And isn’t as goofy as it lets on either) and boasts one of the more intriguing premises I can remember.

After his son is killed by some out-of-towners in a motorbike accident, Henriksen visits a local voodoo lady and summons the aforementioned one with the head of a pumpkin to get his revenge. So it’s essentially a slasher film with some believable motivation and some kids who don’t actually deserve to get killed.

The film was directed by visually effects guru Stan Winston, who here is making his Directorial debut. Sadly it shows on occasion, with Winston making the occasional mistakes like a prologue that reveals the monster far too soon. It’s also incredibly short, running just over 80 minutes. Once the killing starts there’s barely enough time before it’s over. It does however pack some good ideas into that runtime and the creature itself looks fantastic, with the practical effects work looking better than arguably any CG would’ve.

It’s a movie that falls right into the ‘revenge is bad’ category, with Henriksen realising right away that he’s made a terrible mistake. He gets a psychic connection with the monster and sees what it sees, so after the first killing he tries to stop everything. Yes his son died, but killing a bunch of distraught teens(ish) won’t help matters. Nailing the point home even further is during the last 20 minutes where the face of the monster, previously a featureless blob, comes to resemble that of Henriksen.

Speaking of Henriksen, he’s great in the role. Forever under-used in Hollywood, he’s believable both in his grief as a recently bereaved father and also as someone who’s come to regret what he’s done. Often cast as the villain – just the year before he was in the best Vampire movie ever made, Near Dark – he brings something believable to the role that a lesser actor probably couldn’t have, particularly as his arc is so truncated it’s not really that believable at all. He doesn’t come to regret his decision over any real amount of time, instead it’s so short that it’s like he instantly regrets having that last bit of pizza. Again that’s not his fault though and he does much better than with what he’s been given.

Sadly the teens don’t get the same treatment or any treatment at all for that matter, which is strange since we get to spend a lot of time with them. Instead they’re all instantly forgettable, and die in similar ways (Pumpkinhead just loves throwing people around). Even the asshole of the group, the one who actually kills Henriksen’s kid, and then forces the others to hole up in a cabin, gets mostly nothing to do. He doesn’t even get the most memorable death (Though it is close) which is an odd choice for the film to make since it clearly sets him up as the main antagonist. Well, kind of.

Despite the faults it’s still a fun entry into the most prolific of horror decades, OK I don’t even know if that’s true – but it sounded right. You could essentially call it a slasher film, but it’s more akin to a Southern Gothic fairytale, something in which bad things happen and a lesson is to be learned at the end. It just happens to be one with a ludicrous title.

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