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
American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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