I recently had the opportunity to see the 1988 horror classic, Pumpkinhead, written and directed by special effects wizard (and recently RIP) Stan Winston. In addition to running nonstop fright flicks the week leading up to Halloween, AMC Fearfest also has several horror classics online. Pumpkinhead is one of them and, despite the small screen and dark transfer, I got a real kick out of finally seeing this movie.
And why not? Who wouldn’t love a hillbilly vengeance story, starring a young and ripped Lance Henriksen (mmmmmm!), and featuring an enormous, implacable pumpkin-headed (sort of - looks like a cross between an Alien and Jack from The Nightmare Before Christmas) demon whose tenacity would put a Terminator to shame. Henriksen is a single dad hillbilly, raising his cute (but not too cute) son and running a farm stand out in the very rural hollows of Nowhere, U.S.A. Their bucolic, if grubby, lives are horribly disrupted when a group of six outsiders – three young couples from the city, out to ride dirt bikes and party for the weekend – accidentally kill the little boy. The father goes to see the local witchy woman and she helps him raise Pumpkinhead, whom legend tells will wreak vengeance for those wronged. The demon singlemindedly tracks and shreds the city folk while the local yokels cower in their hovels and wait for the vengeance to pass.
The cool thing about this movie is that it isn’t as straightforward as you would expect a 1980s era horror movie to be. The city kids are not all jerks; only one of them is, in fact, while the others show fear, remorse and regret at their actions. Henricksen’s character isn’t a saint either: when the witch helps him raise the demon, she warns him of the price he’ll pay – he becomes linked to Pumpkinhead, both seeing and feeling the killings as the monster carries them out. The question then becomes who is the real monster: the demon, who is only doing the job it was summoned to do, or the man, who did the summoning.
The Pumpkinhead effects are great; the whole movie is shot in dark and atmospheric tones; and there’s a nice little twist at the very end. Pumpkinhead is a perfect old school horror movie if you’re looking to get some pre-Halloween scares on. And kudos to AMC for offering it up there to the masses for free!
8 minutes ago