Darke Reviews – Pumpkin Head (1988)


So I had only one response on which movie to review tonight, but it was a good one! See this movie was directed by a man who won 4 Oscars and had 6 additional nominations. 31! This movie however isn’t an Oscar winner for him, nor did any of those wins actually come from directing, producing, writing, or even acting. They were all for visual effects and make up. Granted I don’t know how many people saw the movies he won awards for. I mean the Academy can get a bit stuffy at times. Let’s see 4 awards, three movies – Aliens (1986), Terminator 2 (1992), Jurassic Park (1993). Yeah, big flops that no one saw. Eh who am I kidding. This is the work of one of the greatest Make up and Special Effects artists to ever grace the world with his talent. His death at the age of 62 in 2008 was a huge loss to the world of movie magic and his work defined the careers of so many since. The man of course is Stan Winston. Pumpkin head is his sole feature length directorial and writing effort.

The movie does have the curse of having a total of five writing credits associated to it. There’s a triple credit on the story, Mark Patrick Carducci, Richard Weinman, and Winston himself. Double credit on the screenplay, Mark Patrick Carducci and Gary Gerani. It’s worth mentioning that there is a poem the movie may have been based on though no official credit is given to Ed Justin for this.

Much in the way of 80’s movies, the story focuses on a group of city kids who go to the country for a weekend get away. In their revelry the requisite jerk accidentally kills Billy Harley, the young son of a local shop owner, Ed (Lance Henriksen). Ed returns from an errand to find that those responsible have left the scene of the crime. In his grief he turns to a local witch and black magic to get revenge on the kids, no matter the personal price he must pay. With nothing left to lose, he has the woman resurrect a spirit of vengeance called Pumpkinhead. While it’s name may sound silly, it’s look is anything but as it appears to have stepped out of a nightmare. Those guilty of the death of Billy find themselves being picked off one by one by this force of nature; miles from civilization, with no friends and no hope.

There’s not much to the cast or acting on this one. A very young Mayim Bialik, before Blossom, Webster and Big Bang Theory. Tom Woodruff Jr. who is best known for never showing his actual face and being under a ton of prosthetics in everything from Monster Squad, Tremors, Goro in Mortal Kombat, Aliens, Predators and more. Sort of a larger version of Doug Jones. There is also the eternally awesome Lance Henriksen. If Tony Todd is the face of horror, then Lance is the face of Sci-fi. Most commonly known as Bishop from Aliens, if you love 80s Sci-fi you know this mans work, with 194 acting credits to his name in his career.

The technicals. Woof. Alright, this was made on the cheap, with a budget of around 3.5 million dollars. They used every penny of it to the best possible. Sure some shots clearly look like sound stages and yep, there’s no doubt that’s California and places we’ve seen on dozens of TV shows and low budget movies since. The creature itself is horrific. Though you can see that its design looked strongly inspired by the Alien of Geigers work and the movies. It has a life all its own and a movement as it crosses the screen that breathes menace. Effective lighting, darkness and sound add to the effect. It’s “soundtrack” is that of dozens of cicada and they work effectively in the way only insects can. It also bears mention Pumpkinhead isn’t a stupid monster, though it pushes its own credibility as a demon of vengeance at times and shows too much ingenuity. I will warn you know the ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) is god awful and there’s a millisecond delay at times where the words and sound mixing just don’t work.
TL;DR

Pumpkinhead is a modern classic monster movie that has inspired three sequels in it’s wake. The original is a solid piece of 80s horror that any purist much watch. It’s not a great movie by any stretch but it does its job and does it well. It does it a helluva lot better than creature features since.
Tomorrow’s review will not have a word spoken.

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