Starring Rob Freeman, Amy Manson, Bradley Taylor, Richard Durden, Claire Lams, Ovidiu Niculescu, Peter Barnes, Elvin Dandel, Lance Henriksen
Directed by Michael Hurst
In my opinion, Pumpkinhead is a great movie monster that’s never really had a great movie, not even the original. Stan Winston may be the greatest special effects master of all time, not so much as a director. There’s a good reason why Pumpkinhead and A Gnome Named Norm are his only directorial credits. The cinematographer and lighting people deserve more credit for creating the eerie atmosphere of Pumpkinhead than Winston’s sloppy direction. But Winston does deserve credit for designing one hell of an awesome looking monster.
Then came the direct-to-video sequel, Pumpkinhead: Blood Wings, a movie so awful that perhaps I should reconsider everything I just wrote in the previous paragraph. All fell silent on the Pumpkinhead front until the Sci-Fi Channel announced plans to produce two sequels last year. Bad memories of that first sequel, combined with what I’ve come to expect from Sci-Fi’s original movies, led me to skip Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes. From the reviews I’ve read since, I get the impression I made a wise choice there. To be honest, I wasn’t planning on tuning in to the premiere of Pumpkinhead: Blood Feud until getting roped into doing so for the website. I didn’t go into this latest sequel with any real expectations, and that’s probably a good thing because the movie wouldn’t have lived up to them, but as far as low budget monster movies go, especially ones produced for the Sci-Fi Channel, Pumpkinhead: Blood Feud, though deeply flawed, is actually pretty okay.
First things first. This is not Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead, and by that I mean this version of Pumpkinhead was designed by veteran FX guy Gary J. Tunnicliffe. While it’s still pretty much the same Pumpkinhead design as Winston’s, there are some minor differences in Tunnicliffe’s version that make it not quite as cool looking. Maybe it’s just me, but I always found the Pumpkinhead of the original movie to be big, mean, and scary. This Pumpkinhead kind of struck me as being more like it should be starring in Son of Pumpkinhead – sorta like Minya to papa Godzilla. It just didn’t look as ferociously nightmarish to me; facially it seemed more like an adolescent version of the monster. It also didn’t strike me as being quite as large, although that might be due to some of the camerawork in certain scenes and seeing a character prove capable of bringing down this Pumpkinhead by jumping on its back. Still, only a minor quibble for otherwise solid monster FX work. The fact that Sci-Fi let them make this movie using practical man-in-suit effects instead of all CGI is a miracle unto itself. There’s one lone CGI shot in the film’s opening few minutes that will make you thank god they didn’t go the computer generated route; Pumpkinhead quite literally looked like a chupacabra with the head of one of those grey aliens.
The “Blood Feud” part of the film’s subtitle stems from the two feuding backwoods families at the center of the plot. Ever heard of the legendary Hatfields vs. the McCoys feud? This movie doesn’t just have a feud that could be compared to the Hatfields and the McCoys; they are the Hatfields and the McCoys. One family is named the Hatfields, and the other is the McCoys.
I couldn’t help but get the feeling this film was originally intended to be set in the early 1900s until the producers came along and insisted that it be set in the present, and despite being set in present times, the filmmakers still went out of their way to make just about everything look, feel, and sound like it’s from at least a century ago. The way they dress, the way they talk, the way they behave, even the town they live in – it all feels like it’s stuck in a time warp like in M. Night’s The Village, but then we see a few modern touches, some old (but not that old) vehicles, and the opening scene even involved some shiny new dirt bikes. Other than that, the majority of the time I felt I was watching “Little Pumpkinhead on the Prairie”.
There’s a raging feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys stemming from old Uncle Abner Hatfield having been wheelchair bound for most of his life due to getting run over by the McCoys’ motorcar as a kid. Yes, this movie set in present times has characters refer to cars by the old-time term “motorcar,” and when we finally do get to see this particular “motorcar,” it turns out to be an actual early 19th Century motorcar. The McCoys had promised to hand over the motorcar to the Hatfields as compensation for the crippling only to welch on the deal. Ever since then the two families and all their kin have been at each other’s throats.
That is except for young ‘uns Jody Hatfield and Ricky McCoy… They’ve been after other parts of each other’s body. Ricky keeps suggesting they just elope since both know their families will never approve of the relationship and his dad is talking of marrying him off to a cousin. Marrying cousins, eh? That might help explain why IQ’s seem to be in short supply in these two respective clans.
Ricky’s kid sister, Sarah, acts as lookout whenever the two get together for a romantic rendezvous in the woods. On this particular night two excessively rambunctious Hatfield brothers onto their sister’s forbidden romance stumble upon Sarah standing watch and give chase. She ends up taking a fatal header into a tree. Then the two brothers tie Ricky to the back of their pick-up and do something usually reserved for Texas hate crimes.
Injured, angry about discovering one of his sisters dead, and full of hate for the Hatfields, Ricky goes looking for the shack belonging to the much whispered about old witch of the woods who he hears can conjure up the vengeance demon nicknamed Pumpkinhead that’s the subject of local legend. He wants all the Hatfields dead except for Jody, whom he wants for himself. If you’ve ever seen a Pumpkinhead movie before, then you pretty much know where things go from here. All well and good except adhering so closely to the Pumpkinhead formula doesn’t allow for much by way of plot twists.
Lance Henriksen starred in the original Pumpkinhead as Ed Harley, an angry father that sold his soul to unleash the monster on the teens that accidentally killed his kid. Ed Harley’s back, or at least his ghost is, apparently on a haunt furlough from Hell. His ghost bickers with the old witch about not telling Ricky just how steep the price of the vengeance he seeks will be, he shows up to warn Jody about what Ricky has done in both dream and spirit form, and he keeps appearing to warn, taunt, and encourage the sheriff about his own Pumpkinhead-related fate.
The sheriff is another aspect of the movie I just didn’t get. The movie opens with him and another being chased by Pumpkinhead to the house in the woods where the now regretful individual that unleashed the beast upon him is residing. The sheriff shoots the guy dead – killing the person that unleashed the demon being the only way to put a stop to its killing spree – saving him from a gruesome Pumpkinhead demise. Ed Harley’s ghost then appears to him, taunting him about how it’s not over and he’ll have to face the vengeance demon again one day soon. The movie then jumps forward five years to when the film’s plot unfolds. I’m under the impression that what we saw in this opening was not a continuation from the end of the previous sequel; the sheriff will later fill in the blanks as to what the heck was going on in the opening prologue. That still doesn’t explain how or why Ed Harley repeatedly shows up to taunt him one minute and encourage him to make things right the next by facing down his demon (literally). This subplot ended up being both needlessly confusing and extraneous, given the sheriff’s eventual fate.
The moment Pumpkinhead rises is the point when the plot gets caught in a bit of rut. More family squabbling, Jody trying to figure out what’s going on, Ricky behaving more like one of the Children of the Corn, the sheriff investigating the murders, Ed Harley’s ghost’s continued speechifying, and a house fire rescue. Aside from a pretty spectacular death by bear trap, Pumpkinhead’s killing spree is just generic monster-style hack & slash with an over reliance on spilling entrails. It certainly doesn’t help that you can’t even tell a Hatfield from a McCoy let alone have any reason to give a damn one way or another if these undeveloped, in some cases unnamed, kinfolk get individually stalked and killed by this creature from Hell. And for an unstoppable monster given the simple task of killing everyone with the last name Hatfield but not the first name Jody in a town where half the populace seemed to have that last name, it sure seemed to take its sweet time. It spreads the job over several nights, begging the question: What does Pumpkinhead do during his down time?
But then comes the film’s last half hour that delivers big time with a ghastly, all-out Pumpkinhead assault on both the Hatfields and the McCoys. Who cares if you can’t tell one from another when all are on the chopping block? I may not care about these characters one way or another, but I care when I see a movie monster go to town like this. If you’re not going to make your monster movie scary, then you better make it fun, and this finale unloads with the rampaging monster fun.
I still don’t think Pumpkinhead has had its great movie yet; odds are it never will, but as far as “watch once and dispose” B-monster movies go, Pumpkinhead: Blood Feud is a movie you shouldn’t go out of your way to watch, but if you do watch, you’ll probably be modestly entertained.
3 out of 5
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