Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, John D’Aquino, Kimberly Ross, Florence Schauffer
Directed by Stan Winston
Released by MGM Home Entertainment
I’ve always loved the simple premise at the heart of Pumpkinhead, that revenge is never the best course of action, but after watching it again recently I’m impressed with how well it holds up after all these years. Sure, some of the acting and wardrobe choices are questionable, but ignore those elements and Pumpkinhead stands as a timeless, dark fairy tale.
For those unfamiliar with it, and I hope it’s not many of you, Pumpkinhead is the story of quiet, hard working single father Ed Harley (Henriksen). He owns a local feed store that serves his very small community, working with his young boy, Billy, to make a life for themselves. One day a group of obnoxious city folk show up with their dirt bikes and the most annoying of the lot, Joel (D’Aquino) just can’t wait till they get to their final destination to start riding, so he starts zooming all over like an idiot.
Of course young boys and dirt bikes aren’t the best combination, and pretty soon tragedy strikes when Joel comes over a hill and lands right on top of Billy. Joel’s on probation already and flees as quick as he can, avoiding the immediate wrath of the boy’s father and the long-term wrath of the judicial system … but nothing can escape the wrath of Pumpkinhead.
As a young boy, Ed Harley saw the vengeance demon’s work first-hand, so calling up the beast is the first thing on his mind when he can think somewhat clearly. With the help of local mountain witch Haggis (Schauffler) he summons the monster, who will kill all those involved in the death of Billy Harley … and anyone else who gets in his way.
Of course, Ed’s never told that he’ll experience the killing first-hand because of some kind of psychic link to the demon, nor that the only way the monster can be stopped before his vengeance has run its course is for Harley himself to die. Quickly overwhelmed with guilt but unable to do anything to stop Pumpkinhead, what option does he really have?
Truly the darkest kind of fairy tale, Pumpkinhead was a very ballsy choice for Winston to make as a directorial debut, especially in a time where low-budget, brainless slashers were the food of choice for the market. He wanted to do something different, something scary and something with heart, and Pumpkinhead hit all those marks with ease.
At its heart a tale of revenge and morality that resonates across generations, what really makes Pumpkinhead work so well and a film people still seek out to this day is the design of the monster. It’s nearly a flawless representation of something that is vaguely humanoid but completely alien at the same time, and it was created so well by Winston’s team of makeup effects artists that the man inside the suit, Tom Woodruff, Jr., could actually have full freedom of motion and be photographed full-bodied, albeit for short periods of time. We’re lucky if we get that kind of design in this day and age, so you can imagine what a feat it was 20 years ago.
MGM’s newly compiled 20th Anniversary Edition DVD goes into great detail on the design of the monster and the team who came together to make it happen. There’s a commentary track moderated by Scott Spiegel featuring co-screenwriter Gary Gerani and creature effects artists Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. that will fill you in on all the creative and technical aspects of making Pumpkinhead, without ever getting boring or suffering from long silences. It was a good idea to get two kinds of creative talents together for this track, as they’re able to give a broader range of information and anecdotes about creating the movie, and Speigel lends a unique perspective being a filmmaker himself.
But the real meat of this edition is “Pumpkinhead Unearthed”, a six-part, hour-long documentary that focuses on everything from the casting process to the film’s stunted release to the creature design and more. Interviews with stars like Henrinksen, Kimberly Ross and Kerry Remsen, as well as co-writer Gary Gerani and most of the effects team, were conducted to showcase people’s thoughts on the project then and now. Most, of course, are amazed at how well it’s held up and the continued popularity of it.
Since the doc was being made when Stan Winston passed away, there’s also a very nice bit of remembrance for him and his work by those who were close to him during the Pumpkinhead shoot. They paint a portrait of a man who had every confidence that he was making a good movie and, though he’d never direct a film again, someone who knew how to accomplish what needed to be done with the skills of a vet.
Oh, and I’d be remiss not to mention that most of the interviews were shot by our very own Andrew Kasch and Buz “Danger” Wallick. We’re so damn proud of them!
There’s also a quick featurette called “Demonic Toys” which is an interview with sculptor Jean St. Jean, the man responsible for SOTA’s 18” Pumpkinhead figure. Nothing too revealing here, but it’s an interesting perspective to get on such a celebrated creation.
Rounding out the features is some behind-the-scenes footage, which is really cool because it was shot by Tom Woodruff, Jr. while on set and shows the first time Pumpkinhead was being put together and the reactions it incited. It’s far too short, only about 5 minutes, but maybe that much cooler for it.
MGM has done a great service to Pumpkinhead and its fans with this new Collector’s Edition DVD, and you’d be a fool to overlook it. This is definitely a must-have disc for anyone with even a passing interest in kickass monsters or just good horror movies in general.
4 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5