Directed by Stan Winston
Distributed by Scream Factory
Despite the subjectivity of nearly every horror film in existence, there are a handful of titles that more or less remain above reproach because they’re just so damn beloved. These are the films that would make you question a person’s love of the genre if they claimed not to be a fan. When it comes to a title like Pumpkinhead (1988), horror fans should fall into one of two categories:
1. Those who love it.
2. Those who haven’t yet seen it.
After toiling away in Hollywood since the early ‘70s, special FX pioneer Stan Winston finally got the chance to direct his first feature length film (and it should have stayed his first and only, if you’ve seen his one other theatrical picture, 1990’s A Gnome Named Gnorm). Pulling from a concept screenwriter Gary Gerani had kicking around in his head since the late ‘70s, along with a poem written by Ed Justin, Pumpkinhead is a seminal supernatural creature feature; a morality tale pitting film’s two oldest foes against one another – good vs. evil. Swathed in atmosphere and anchored by a strong lead in Lance Henriksen, the true star here is the eponymous demon of vengeance, Pumpkinhead, who remains one of cinema’s most realized, emotive creations of latex and mechanics ever produced. Even heathens who only find the film to be decent can’t argue the beast Winston’s team conjured up isn’t an enduring icon of horror; its legacy only diluted by some truly atrocious sequels (although, being a child of ‘90s horror, I have to admit to fostering a soft spot for Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1994) despite the fact it is entirely unnecessary).
Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) is a simple man. He lives in a modest cabin with his young son, Billy (Matthew Hurley), and their dog, Gypsy (who also played the Peltzer family pet in 1984’s Gremlins), since his wife passed away many years ago. By day, Ed and Billy run a local market & feed store by the roadside. One day, some city folk stop by on their way to a weekend getaway in the woods. Ed is forced to leave the shop when he forgets some feed for Mr. Wallace (played by John Carpenter crony George “Buck” Flower), leaving Billy “in charge” momentarily. And in that moment, Billy is run down and killed by Joel (John D’Aquino), a hothead dickhead who drinks constantly, thus ensuring that even when he does have a legitimate accident (see: Billy) he still has to go on the lam. Steve (Joel Hoffman), Joel’s brother, does the right thing by staying behind and trying to speak with Ed when he returns. As you might imagine, Ed is not thrilled.
Ed drives back down to the Wallace’s place, hoping to get in touch with an old woman who lives in these parts. She’s rumored to be able to conjure up something to even the score; a demon that Ed witnessed killing a man (Dick Warlock, in a very brief role) back when he was a young boy. One of Wallace’s kids shows him the way, down into the swamp where Haggis (Florence Schauffler) lives in a ramshackle cabin. Ed wants vengeance, which Haggis can provide… at a high price. Ed is instructed to dig up a malformed corpse from atop a small plateau within a pumpkin patch. He returns with the body, Haggis performs a ritual and the corpse transforms into the gargantuan demon of vengeance, Pumpkinhead. Numerous deaths follow.
It’s a tale as old as time – good vs. evil, revenge, justice, consequences. Pumpkinhead doesn’t succeed by doing things differently; it succeeds by getting a number of variables right, including the casting of Henriksen, who brings a strong sense of gravitas to the picture; delivering an atmospheric, almost gothic aesthetic set deep in the woods of Califo…er, the South; and, most importantly, Pumpkinhead as a character is unforgettable. Winston was mostly hands off during production because he had so much to manage running the ship. Thankfully, his shop contained a number of insanely talented individuals – Tom Woodruff Jr., Alec Gillis, Shannon Shea – that they were able to craft such amazing work in the span of several weeks. As a malevolent creature from another world, Pumpkinhead feels organic; it moves and emotes with as much realism as possible. Verisimilitude aside, the design is just flat-out spectacular, too. You almost can’t blame these producers for making sequels because it’s the kind of movie monster you want to see more of. Note I did say “almost”.
Henriksen is such a damn solid actor. He’s got this soulful charm to him, whether he’s playing a villain or a hero. It’s a magnetic presence. Side note: the guy is just like that in real life, too. Total class act. Here, as Ed Harley, he’s a man who makes a rash decision based upon raw emotion and a sense of total loss; he needs these kids to feel as he does, in this moment. Only after Ed is vicariously linked to Pumpkinhead does he understand the error of his choice, a wrong he desperately tries to right until the very end. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job filling Harley’s boots.
The film’s road to theaters was not an easy one, fraught with studio change-ups, a poorly-timed wide release date and very few screens. Still, it thrived upon hitting home video, where mass audiences were finally able to appreciate the hard work Winston and co. had done. It’s possible for some this is one of those “rose-tinted memory” films that might not hold up for first-time viewers more accustomed to CGI creatures and hot-bodied teens in their horror. I stress “possible” because, really, you can’t love horror and not love everything about Pumpkinhead. It’s a brisk romp through the swamp, full of creepy creature moments and gorgeously lit, looking like a southern-fried Mario Bava flic.
Fans of Pumpkinhead have likely purchased this film at least a handful of times – VHS (which had the best cover art of any release), a full-frame DVD, a special edition widescreen DVD and now, finally, the reigning kings of horror on Blu-ray, Scream Factory, have delivered what should be taken as the definitive version, with a 1.85:1 1080p image that looks just great. Barring an extensive 4K restoration, this is the best the film will ever look on home video. There’s not much to complain about here. The picture relies heavily on colored lighting and a brooding atmosphere to heighten the horror, with many shots bathed in hues of red or blue. That blue, in particular, looks very effective when coupled with all the smoke pumped into the shots when our characters are trying to escape from the woods. Black levels are stable and rich; and they need to be because nearly the entirety of the film takes place in dimly-lit woods. Contrast takes a bit of a hit at night, when details tend to get obscured by shadow, though much of that lost detail is just inherent to such low lighting. Unsurprisingly, the image looks best during the daylight scenes, when finer details are able to more fully show themselves. No digital tweaking has been done here; no DNR or unnecessary tampering. Other than a few minor specks, the print used here is in great condition. Some minor compression issues pop up in the background of a few scenes; nothing major, though. I’ve seen this movie a hundred times on a half dozen formats on this is unquestionably the best it has ever looked.
As usual, fans have the choice of an English DTS-HD MA in either 5.1 surround sound track or 2.0 stereo. Now, the film was originally mixed in Ultra Stereo and the additional tracks added for a more immersive experience aren’t completely needed. The multi-channel option does sound a bit fuller than the stereo track, so this will simply come down to a matter of preference for most. Personally, unless a 5.1 channel track is terribly done it’s usually my go-to pick simply because the soundfield is expanded more fully. If you’re a purist, however, just know the 2.0 stereo track gets the job done nearly as well. Dialogue tends to sound a bit thin and flat on either track, lacking presence. Rears get some sporadic play during tense moments, never quite delivering enough audible cues to be totally immersive. The highlight here is composer Richard Stone’s score (someone get on a vinyl release, ASAP), which is perfectly constructed for the film. Stone uses a great deal of Southern instrumentation here, including some great pieces done with slide guitar and harmonica. There’s nothing generic about this score. Subtitles are included in English.
Continuing on with their mission to provide amazing releases, Scream Factory not only included ALL of the bonus materials found on the previous special edition DVD but they’ve also included newly-produced featurettes in an effort to absolutely pack every bit of space on this disc with awesome material. In addition to the returning audio commentary, documentary, trailers and featurettes, the disc also includes new interviews, a retrospective on Winston and an image gallery.
Ported over from the previous DVD is this audio commentary, featuring co-screenwriter Gary Gerani and creature FX creators Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis, moderated by filmmaker (and super fan) Scott Spiegel. It’s a mostly-active session, with all participants getting plenty of time to discuss their respective contributions to the film. Everyone does quiet down on a few occasions, leaving awkward gaps of silence, and some info is redundant if you watch the other bonus features first. Still, if you want to know everything you possibly can about the production, this is an essential listen. Pumpkinhead Unearthed is a six-part documentary that runs just over an hour. No stone is left unturned here, as nearly every available principal cast & crew member is interviewed about their work on the film. This documentary was excellent when it arrived with the SE DVD, and here, presented in HD, it’s no less interesting to watch all over again. Behind the Scenes is a vaguely-titled piece that looks at the genesis of Pumpkinhead as a practical creation.
Most of this footage consists of the special FX crew guys testing out a rough form of the Pumpkinhead suit, as well as sculpting the “hero” head and seeing the entire thing all put together on set. Night of the Demon with Richard Weinman is an interview with the veteran producer, who has some vivid recollections about working with Winston, including one moment of testosterone overload when he and producer Dino DeLaurentiis got into a screaming match. Dino, of course, won. The Redemption of Joel with John D’Aquino is an interview with the film’s big jerk. Ironically, he originally wanted to play the Jeff East good guy role, but wound up playing the heavy. He makes mention of his death scene being very painful due to the rig in which he was hoisted up. The Boy with the Glasses with Matthew Hurley is an interview with the actor who played Ed Harley’s son. Young Billy is all grown up, looking very much like you’d expect Older Billy to appear.
Being so young during the time of filming, he’s got nothing but golden memories of his time on set. He points to Henriksen as making a great effort to keep him comfortable during the shoot. Demonic Toys is an interview with Jean St. Jean, sculptor at SOTA toys, who talks about the process by which he created the 20” tall Pumpkinhead figure that was put out many years back. It looks badass, but I’ll say this: it can’t stand for sh*t. Kids, leave most of your toys in the box. Trust me. Remembering the Monster Kid – A Tribute to Stan Winston is a slightly moving, slightly long remembrance of the FX legend. Stan was a major innovator in the film world; this is undeniable. Some of his contemporaries (mostly those who worked on this film) show up to wax fondly on how much they admired him. A couple tales of his temper are worked in, though nothing all that revelatory or shocking is told. This could’ve had more substance to it, but as an effusive tribute it’s not half bad. A still gallery containing 102 images and the film’s theatrical trailer, looking rather rough, complete the extra material.
The cover art is reversible, allowing for display of either newly-commissioned art (which is some of the best to grace a Scream Factory title) or the original theatrical key art, which, frankly, isn’t all that awesome. Nobody would’ve minded if they chose the VHS art, but this is a very minor quibble. A slipcover featuring the new art is included on first pressings.
4 1/2 out of 5
5 out of 5
AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters
Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill
Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
** NO SPOILERS **
It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.
To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.
That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.
Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.
Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.
Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.
Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.
But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.
But let’s backtrack a bit here.
Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).
And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.
Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.
With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.
Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.
I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.
Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!
Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.
Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?
On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.
That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.
In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.
While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.
Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.
Bring on season 12.
The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.
The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror
Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro
Directed by Nicholas Woods
The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).
The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.
The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.
The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.
The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.
The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.
- Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
- Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
- If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
- “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
- The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
- As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
- “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
- The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
- Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.
The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!
Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey
Directed by Alan Lougher
The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.
When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”
Ultimately chilling in nature!
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