Release Date: October 14th, 1988 (limited)
Directed by: Stan Winston
Written by: Stan Winston, Richard C. Weinman, Gary Gerani, Mark Patrick Carducci
Music by: Richard Stone
Cast: Lance Henriksen, John D’Aquino, Kerry Remsen, Buck Flower
United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 86 Minutes
“When we get out of here, Joel’s going to be carrying his balls home in a knapsack.” – Tracy
In my preteen years, I discovered Pumpkinhead on the shelf of a video store. I noticed it was directed by Stan Winston, who did the special effects of several films I loved, and it starred Lance Henriksen, who was in a bunch of movies I loved. It was also a supernatural horror film in a similar vein to a slasher picture, so as far as I was concerned, it deserved my attention.
Pumpkinhead is a movie that I consider to be a classic. While it might not be as highly regarded by most people who have seen it, the cinematography and the monster are friggin’ amazing!
Sure, the acting is sub par but it also isn’t as awful as a typical low budget 80s horror film. Stan Winston, for a rookie effort behind the camera, did a great job of getting the most out of his actors. Plus, Lance Henriksen is talented enough to level out the playing field. Also, the witch is scary as hell in every way and she has a strong presence that is long lasting.
The real star of the film is the monster Pumpkinhead. He is a demon that rests in a pumpkin patch on a mound. He is called upon when someone wants violent and murderous revenge and doesn’t want to get their own hands dirty. In this case, Lance Henriksen wants to seek vengeance for his son who was killed in a drunken dirt bike accident. Maybe Henriksen shouldn’t have left the tiny tot alone with a bunch of rampaging teenage motorcycle maniacs outside of his store but lets just blame the teens.
The monster is seen in the intro to the film, which I feel was too early for a reveal. However, he really doesn’t show up in all of his glory until the second half of the movie. However, the slow build to his appearance is well handled and the first half of the film has a solid pace that doesn’t feel rushed or too drawn out.
When the monster does show up, he is an amazing sight to behold. Stan Winston made a literal Hell beast in every sense. Pumpkinhead is just cool and menacing and bad ass in a way that all monsters should be. For a more modern reference, he looks very similar to the deathclaws from the popular Fallout video game series.
I mentioned the cinematography earlier and I have to bring it back up to point out the superb lighting in this movie. There are vivid lights and a good use of contrast. Visually it is effective and makes this movie feel otherworldly. Additionally, the film employs a strobe light effect when Pumpkinhead appears in a scene. While this could have turned out horribly, it just works here and it makes the feeling of dread feel more extreme.
Pumpkinhead is a damn good horror picture from a decade that gave us a lot of great movies in that genre. It is overshadowed by the more famous monsters and films of its era but it is much better than its lack of recognition would suggest.
The film also spawned three sequels. They weren’t as good but they do feature this amazing and scary monster.