Starring Andrew Robinson, Ami Dolenz, J. Trevor Edmond, Steve Kanaly
Directed by Jeff Burr
Distributed by The Scream Factory
Preface: For better or worse (usually worse), I am a child of ‘90s horror. Born in ’81, my formative viewing years were the mid-‘90s, when weekends were spent walking a couple miles to the nearest Wherehouse where I’d peruse the shelves for an entire afternoon. Those halcyon days before I developed discernible taste meant that any new release on the horror shelf was ripe fruit for picking. I rented with impunity. Many of those titles were so bad no one has even bothered to release them on DVD, but one of the “prestige” (comparatively speaking) titles I kinda loved was the sequel to one of my favorite childhood horrors: Pumpkinhead (1988). Not having great taste (when you’re still a kid, of course) is actually pretty awesome because the film world is your oyster; you tend to be less judge-y regarding what you’ll watch. And I watched Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1993) – a lot. But upon receiving Scream Factory’s latest Blu-ray it dawned on me that I haven’t seen the film in probably ten years… which may not have been such a bad thing.
It is not a good movie.
For starters, the script – which suffered at least four different writers – more or less ignores everything that made the first film so great, retconning Pumpkinhead’s history and giving the enigmatic demon one of the dumbest origins ever. This is mostly because it started off life as a non-Pumpkinhead vehicle. Here, he’s actually the father (let that sink in for a minute) of a young mentally-challenged boy named Thomas who likes to play with toy trucks. Back in the ‘50s, a group of hooligan kids thought it would be fun to chase Thomas through the woods, hang him from a hook over an old mine, beat him up and kill him. How else would you spend your afternoon? Thomas’ caretaker, an old witch not named Haggis (for whatever reason), watches over him and, eventually, over his grave after he’s killed. Cut to modern day, when Sheriff Braddock (Andrew Robinson) and his daughter, Jenny (‘90s horror heartthrob Ami Dolenz), move to town. He’s got a wife, too, but she’s basically wallpaper here. Jenny immediately strikes up a friendship with the local gang of misfits, led by Danny (J. Trevor Edmond), the son of local Judge Dixon (Steve Kanaly) and wearer of dated ‘90s bad boy outfits.
The group – which also includes former Punky Brewster, Soleil Moon Frye – goes out for a night of drinking and driving. Fun stuff. It ends poorly when Danny hits the old witch, Ms. Osie (Lilyan Chauvin), as she’s crossing the road. Concerned, they head over to her cabin and, rather than help her, Danny punches her out and steals a vial of blood so they can perform a ritual one of the girls read about literally seven seconds earlier. It works, and now Pumpkinhead is unleashed upon the town. Instead of killing the teens first, though, the creature stalks and kills a number of townsfolk who may or may not be related in some way (spoiler: they are). Sheriff Braddock seems to be their only hope, as he has a really lame connection to this malevolent demon that will surely come in handy during the climax.
Any shred of decency this film has should be chalked up to the tenacity of director Jeff Burr, a.k.a. the man you call when your horror film needs a sequel. After debuting with the creepy little anthology, From a Whisper to a Scream (released theatrically as The Offspring) (1987), Burr spent the next five years of his career helming sequels aplenty. I’ll always respect him because, even though it was hacked up by the studio, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) rocks. Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings was no different from his other projects in that he was brought on board with precious little time to make sure his film was, you know, good. Burr even admits in the bonus features he felt the script needed a lot more work, but movies have deadlines and he had two options: make the film, or don’t. Who knows what he could have accomplished with a few more weeks to polish the script.
At least Burr makes his cast interesting. Andrew Robinson can always be counted on to do good work. Dolenz proves she’s more than just a pretty face; maybe not all that much more, but she’s got some decent chops. The smaller roles were hyped up most on the VHS back cover, including Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III alumni R.A. Mihaloff and Joe Unger, former (then current) Jason Voorhees, Kane Hodder, and scream queen Linnea Quigley. But the real player everyone came to see is the brother of Bubba, Roger Clinton, making his feature film debut. Why Burr didn’t just cast him as the lead is anyone’s guess…
For as much crapping on the film as this review has done, it is admittedly pretty entertaining. The Pumpkinhead design was tweaked a bit here, giving the beast a little more muscle and a menacing set of white eyes. Plus, unlike the recent abominations (read: sequels) that are now part of the series this creature was done practically; no CGI here. The kills look a little clunky at times, but Burr keeps the crimson river flowing freely enough that it’s all good fun. The dual revenge is a nice touch, too, ensuring we get a number of deaths across all demographics. And, to wax a bit nostalgic, there’s a certain feeling of childhood comfort that comes with watching it again all these years later. Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings is by no means a masterpiece (although compared to the third and fourth entries in the series…) but it’s entertaining enough that horror fans should have some fun watching it.
What was not entertaining was “Bloodwings: Pumpkinhead’s Revenge”, the PC game released for DOS in 1995. You are welcome to seek out those YouTube clips at your own risk.
For a low-budget ‘90s picture, the 1.85:1 1080p picture looks relatively strong. Despite having no restorative work done, detail is slightly above average and there’s a nice, fine grain structure that provides a filmic appearance. Colors look faithfully reproduced, even if they tend to lack vibrancy and pop. Black levels, however, are dark and stable. Some medium and wide shots look a tad soft, likely issues inherent to the source. It looks like a ‘90s DTV title, which isn’t such a bad thing. Also, this is the first time the film has been released in its original aspect ratio, as the previous Lionsgate DVD was full-frame.
The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track is passable, though it’s certainly lacking any sort of real presence or range. Dialogue sounds a bit “canned” at times, but it’s presented clearly with no defects. Voices and discreet effects pan effectively across the front speakers, adding some sense of immersion to the soundtrack. There isn’t much support from the subwoofer, which remains mostly dormant throughout. It’s a competent, unimpressive effort that, much like the picture, is in keeping with the ‘90s DTV origins.
Director Jeff Burr is a fast talker on the audio commentary track, regaling listeners with stories from every step of the production. Burr has a wonderfully candid, unvarnished approach that is refreshing and makes his commentary tracks absolutely worth listening to for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of low-budget filmmaking.
Interview with director Jeff Burr runs for just over an hour. Just as with his audio commentary, Burr is never at a loss for words. He speaks for the entire duration of this interview virtually non-stop. Some of the information is redundant if you’ve heard the commentary, but his frequent anecdotes and honest storytelling will have most viewers hooked in from the start.
Re-creating the Monster – Interview with Special Effects Artists Greg Nicotero, Gino Crognale and actor Mark McCracken – The FX guys talk about watching old behind-the-scenes footage from the making of Pumpkinhead so they could see how the previous animators brought the creature to life, then making subtle changes to that design to make their beast unique. McCracken, the man under the suit, talks about his work, which from the stories they tell involved a lot of on-set humor.
Behind the Scenes Footage is entirely camcorder footage of Pumpkinhead being operated and shot on set, along with some of the on-set gags Nicotero & co. spoke of in their interview.
This Blu-ray doesn’t carry over a featurette on the making of the film found on Lionsgate’s previous release, though what is included here mostly makes up for that. Still, it would have been nice to get some interviews with the cast just to hear their thoughts on the film twenty years later. I’m sure Roger Clinton would’ve been available.
- Audio commentary with director Jeff Burr
- Interview with director Jeff Burr
- Re-creating the Monster – Interview with Special Effects Artists Greg Nicotero, Gino Crognale and actor Mark McCracken
- Behind the Scenes Footage
- Reversible cover art