Pumpkinhead

When picturing the Cavalcade Event 8 lineup, we’d already decided that it was going to be doing something rather different than the previous seven events. By focusing on the theme of Halloween, we were able to run off in different directions than those to which we had been bound previously. Able to touch on one-off topics like Pumpkinhead was definitely a big draw.

Directed by Stan Winston, the journeyman craftsman who lead the teams that brought the Terminator, the Alien Queen from Aliens, and the physical dinosaurs in Jurassic Park to life. The man was, frankly, synonymous with the best movie monsters and creature effects for over a generation-so when he puts together an original “dark fairy-tale fantasy” horror film involving Lance Henriksen and a demon, it’s something I want to see.

I’d heard about Pumpkinhead for years, of course. It wasn’t the most successful movie in the theaters at the time of its release in 1988, but has officially achieved “cult status” on home video. Enough so that they made 3 sequels and a comic book mini-series. Even though the sequels were supposedly terrible, word kept circulating that the original had some serious merit. Besides, there was a 20th anniversary DVD that had come out only a month prior. It was fate.

The film centers on Ed Harley (Henriksen), the owner of a small country store in the middle of nowhere which he runs while raising his young son, Billy. One day six fun-loving-horror-movie-style-idiot-teenagers happen by, decide to have some good old-fashioned goofy fun by… pulling out their ATVs and riding over the hills near the store. Woo. Before anyone can say “plot device”, Billy chases his dog out to the hills, gets himself run over, and Harley’s got a righteous mad-on for some blood vengeance. In short order, Harley finds himself a witch, mixes his blood into some kind of stew, and sets loose the titular demon.

Now, my rather flippant description of the movie’s plot doesn’t do it justice, but trust when I say this has much more to do with my inherent dislike of writing synopsis than the quality of the movie. This is a brooding, and deeply atmospheric monster movie that almost overcomes its B-movie origins. While not a great work of Shakespeare, the movie does evolve into a fairly well-played morality play by the third act, with Harley having to come to terms with the price of Vengeance. The movie succeeds in hitting every note its going for…

…Which is exactly why its not a good choice for the Cavalcade. The fact that it takes its time developing the relationship between father and son in the first act causes it to drag on an audience hungry for action. Later, when the Demon is slaughtering the teens, it’s more concerned with creeping out the audience (and it’s intended victims) than actually completing its task, which can lead the “suspenseful” moments to drag out…which can cause more rambunctious crews to start to check out of the picture.

Depending on your Cavalcade audience, this is either a fantastically told low-budget dark fairy tale, or a slow-moving bore. Your mileage may vary. But I, for one, am glad it’s in my permanent collection.