Directed by Jake West
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Sometimes a movie has everything going for it and still drops the ball in a big way. Such is the case with Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes, a direct sequel to Stan Winston’s solid 1989 creature feature that would’ve, could’ve, should’ve worked. This follow-up (which completely ignores the dreadful Blood Wings) crosses the line from disappointment into tragedy mainly because the idea has all the right fixings: Jake West, writer/director of the acclaimed Evil Aliens is at the helm, FX whiz Gary Tunnicliffe works his mojo on the monster, and Lance Henriksen reprises his role as Ed Harley. We even get that signature Gothic-twang music from the first flick. What more could a fan ask for?
Well, a budget for one. Ashes to Ashes reeks of direct-to-video cheapness (its Sci-Fi Channel premiere is sadly fitting) that could have been avoided had it not been produced back-to-back with another sequel.
The story picks up twenty years after the original with Ed Harley dead and buried. His young accomplice has grown up and fallen in with a band of psychotic organ doners led by Doc Frasier (Doug Bradley). Eventually the bodies of their victims are discovered, which pisses off the town something fierce and leads a group of teens to seek out revenge against the Doc and his posse. Faustian bargains once again come into play as our dim-witted youngsters track down the old witch from the first film and unleash Pumpkinhead onto the world once more.
For what it’s worth, it’s not a bad setup, and West makes an honest attempt to continue the story with a more grandiose approach. But the decision to shoot the sequel in Romania (an obvious budget issue) completely robs Pumpkinhead of its most vital ingredient: atmosphere. Gone is the haunting backwoods vibe so prevalant in the original, replaced by static shots of small-town Europe that fail to double for small-town America.
As for the cast, they’re a forgettable bunch. Most of the supporting players are obviously Romanian actors dubbed-in with horrendous Southern accents while Bradley remains fairly unimposing without pins in his skull. The witch, so effective in the original, is now a younger actress doing a bad impression under layers of crusty old age make-up. The only ray of sunshine comes from Henriksen, who pops up in full Jacob Marley mode to offer warnings of doom and gloom from the great beyond. And if we’re taught anything about the after-life, it’s that ghosts in fact do age.
But let’s address the main question: How does the monster look? Tunnicliffe does an admirable job following in the footsteps of Stan Winston, but his work is sadly botched through a shoddy presentation. While he was hardly a marvel director, at least Winston knew how to show off his monster. West films everything in such a sterile TV-movie fashion that he gives Pumpkinhead the look and feel of a guy in a rubber suit. To make matters worse, there are shots where the monster is replaced by the world’s cheapest CG double (anyone who’s seen a Sci-Fi Channel original should now have the perfect mental image). In fact, the computer work here is so bad it recalls something out of the pre-Lawnmower Man days, making this once great monster lurch across the screen with the veracity of a stick figure.
Despite the cast and crew’s obvious devotion to the original, Ashes to Ashes hits every pitfall in the low-budget realm. It’s a damn shame, too. Had the production opted for one solid film instead of two rushed sequels, we could have wound up with something more than … well, ashes.
Nada. Nothing. Zippo. Zilch. Donut Land.
2 out of 5
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