Nerdbot October Horror Reviews - Pumpkinhead "Pure as venom..."
It's often been said that the loss of a child is the worst thing a human being can go through. I can't personally speak to that, but there are way too many that can, and I can only imagine how horrible it must be. It would be bad enough if it were due to natural causes, illness, etc., but what if it was due to a careless mistake? There would have to be some yearning for revenge, even if it was just the smallest of ideas. You could say jail or prison time would suffice, but that's for another discussion. I'm just saying that it would be very natural to feel some sense of revenge. But at what cost? What if, in your quest to dole out revenge, you unleashed something so dangerous and deadly that you wish to take it back? That's the story of 'Pumpkinhead' in a nut shell. It's a tale of revenge with a deep Southern gothic vision that is as effective as it is dark, and will definitely remind you to be careful what you wish for. Directed by special effects genius Stan Winston, who was honestly one of the most creative individuals in filmmaking history, with his just insane filmography including special effects for movies like Terminator, Aliens, Predator, Jurassic Park, A.I., Iron Man, the list goes on and on and on. This man was responsible for so much that has been permanently etched into our pop culture and is undoubtedly on a shortlist of legends. So the film tells the tale of Ed Harley, a very simple guy that owns a very small, rural grocery store somewhere in an unspecified part of the country, but we're lead to understand it's somewhere VERY rural, backwoods, and mountainous, possibly the Appalachians or somewhere like that Due to the nature of the story, someone very good would have to be playing the role of Ed Harley. Look no further than one Lance Henriksen, who is seen as somewhat of a genre legend. Sure, he's been in some pretty low budget and just not great movies, but even if he's in the shittiest movie, you can rest assured that he's going to elevate it to a level that it wouldn't be at without him. Other than the titular monster, the crux of the film relies on Henriksen's performance as the grief stricken, desperate Harley. We're shown that Ed's son, Billy, is pretty much his world. They live a very simple but loving existence and you can tell by the way the father/son relationship is portrayed, Billy is Ed's world.
A rascally group of out of towner teenagers played by 20-somethings, which is standard is every horror movie ever made, end up at the store, looking for help. They also happen to be hauling a dirt bike with them. Against better judgment, one of them recklessly gets on the dirt bike and accidentally kills little Billy. Obviously a tragedy, but the group quickly leaves and this sets Ed on his journey for revenge. In his desperation, he tries to find a local witch named Haggis, a legend of the area. After combing the hills for her, some locals reluctantly give him her location, and he sets out to find her, bent on making those kids pay. So he finds her way out in the hills and woods, and I'll just tell you, Haggis is one of the creepiest things I've ever seen in a movie. She still makes me uneasy when I watch it, to this day. She explains to him that he would be better off leaving well enough alone, and warns him against what he wants to do. Bringing forth this vengence will do more harm than good, even to himself. So he agrees to the ritual that births the blood demon Pumpkinhead. From here on out, the movie veers into a more standard monster flick, with Pumpkinhead hunting down our teenagers and killing them off. Interestingly enough, one thing that differentiates this from other of the time, there's not a heck of a lot of gore, violence, or sex, the things that 80's horror movies are known for. Sure, it's got a share of death and violence, but the movie is really more about the creepy setting and the deeper morality play about revenge. For instance, there is a scene that takes place in an old church where Pumpkinhead is on the hunt, that is just an unbelievable looking scene. The movie is worth watching just to admire the beauty in that shot alone. As the demon invokes death on these teens, Ed Harley begins to have visions and feelings where he kind of begins to see things through the eyes of Pumpkinhead. He begins to share a seemingly spiritual connection with the monster, and begins to regret what he's done in summoning him. The movie is somewhat vague on exactly what this connection is, but the way I interpret it, Pumpkinhead is a physical manifestation of Ed's desire for revenge, and in reality, they start to become one in the same. In the end, Ed tries to set things right.
The plot of this movie isn't something that's going to blow you away. In fact, the movie itself probably won't blow you away. It's a cool premise, with a great monster and good acting, but it's the setting, the mythology, and the atmosphere that is so awesome. The back woods, the inbred locals, the set piece that is the witch's shack, the dark and dreary lighting that is used. Part of my personal admiration of this movie is the setting. Having lived in the somewhat rural South for all of my life, I have literally been to places straight out of this movie. In our small, close knit culture, it's very common to find these shared legends. In my town, when you talk about the house down the street that is haunted, everyone knows where and what you're talking about. These myths are passed down through the years. The idea of a witch in the woods that can summon a murderous demon, isn't too terribly removed from something you might hear around in these parts. Just don't bother with the sequels. Pumpkinhead gets 8 out of 10 vengeful demons!