Thursday, September 21, 2017

Pumpkinhead - (1988) review

Pumpkinhead should be approached like a dark fairy tale.  It’s a simple story of revenge, of a father who loses it all and makes a deal with the devil, but realizes too late that nobody makes it out alive when Pumpkinhead is summoned; he will eventually consume your soul.  The set pieces are excellent, the creature FX spot on; this was Stan Winston’s directorial debut, so it’s no surprise that the creature FX stand the test of time.  The lighting and foggy wooded backdrop certainly adds to that dark fairy tale quality of the movie. 

Lance Hendrickson plays the father of a son who is callously ran over by a dirt biker who seems more concerned about saving his own ass from jail than helping the kid.  His gang promptly leaves the scene to call an ambulance, leaving one guy behind to tend to the farmer’s son, but when Lance shows up he is hearing none of it, and gives one of the best death stares in all cinematic history.  His son was his world, and they took it away from him, left him to die….but Pumpkinhead will set things right.  Or so he believes, and in a fury he sets out to discover an old back woods hag that is said to have strange powers.  He knows Pumpkinhead is real enough, he saw him as a kid, it terrified him and stuck with him all his life, but poor Lance (aka Joe Harley) doesn’t know the steep price the witch demands for such a summoning; she wants nothing less than his immortal soul.  When Pumpkinhead is finally brought back to life after being dug up from a foggy grave, Joe Harley begins experiencing terrible bouts of pain and terror.  He suffers a vision of his son returning to life, asking him “what have you done daddy”.  He sees through Pumpkinhead’s eyes as he slowly tortures the teenagers involved in the death of his son, and it’s too much for his simple mind to take.  He knows he has unleashed something worse than revenge, and it’s his Christian duty to put an end to this madness.     

Pumpkinhead’s design is grim and iconic; I remember always wanting to rent the VHS at the local grocery store for the striking cover art alone, same goes for the sequels.  When he does capture the target of his revenge he seems to toy with them for a while before eventually releasing them from their torture through the final embrace of death.  He seems to love tossing people around and dragging them over the ground, it’s not the quick death you’d expect from the giant lanky creature.  One girl he really takes his time with, using his nails to gouge deep rivets in her face, then tosses her through a window when he’s bored, it’s awesome.

The movie is so very 80’s, two characters in particular really stand out for their over-the top performances; Joel and Maggie.  Joel is the alpha male cock-bag that runs over the little kid with his dirt bike after guzzling beer and trying to show off, then refuses to help and tries covering it up like a coward, turning on friends at the drop of a dime.  There’s something horrible and entertaining about these over the top asshole types in 80’s movies; they really came off as complete psycho-paths often worse and more nerve grinding than the monster they would eventually meet their well-deserved end to.  He has an uncharacteristic turn of heart later, but it comes too little, too late, after holding his friends hostage at gun point to ensure they don’t rat him out to the police for a few hours he decides to give himself up.   

Maggie is just hysterical.  The way she spit fires her lines about “Only God can save us” really tickles me every time I watch this.  Her self-induced hysteria after the bike accident is almost as funny as how she comes out of it by looking at a Catholic cross that her boyfriend dangles in front of her.  She definitely gets it the worse of the bunch, which was unfortunate because I could have used a few more laughs on the way to the end, but this is a dark fairy tale, and there is plenty of Velveeta to be had in the sequels.

Joe Harley figures out that Pumpkinhead is taking over his soul with each victim he claims, in regret for his decision to release the demon of revenge, and to save the remaining teens, he puts a bullet through his own head, killing the creature as well, as it was tied to his own flesh.  The carcass of Pumpkinhead lights on fire, removing all traces of the nightmare.  

I’d definitely recommend Pumpkinhead as a mood setter for the Halloween season to come.  It has some of the best creature FX work I’ve ever seen, from Pumpkinhead to the Swamp Hag; it all looks very well crafted and lit impressively in hues of orange and blue.  The atmosphere and mood more than make up for any bad acting or technical gaffs, certainly a movie I plan on revisiting time and time again for it’s simple pleasures.