pumpkinhead_2Welcome to Reel Rewind, a semi-monthly column in which I’ll revisit some of our favorite/overlooked films, bringing along artists that I can’t get enough of. We’ll team up for some fun collaborations and bridge the gap between film appreciation and art. For the entire month of October, creatures, spooks and things that shouldn’t be are taking over the column to celebrate Halloween! Be afraid, be very afraid!

Year: 1988
Director: Stan Winston
Writer(s): Stan Winston, Richard C. Weinman, Gary Gerani, Mark Patrick Carducci
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: R
35mm, Color, 86 mins

Tragedy, vengeance and demons. Those three things are a volatile cocktail no matter how you choose to look at them, and under the careful guidance of the late Stan Winston, they gave birth to the classic Pumpkinhead. Originally released to mixed reviews and only one of two feature films the legendary FX guru would go on to helm, it’s a haunting fairy tale of a man driven to the edge by rage and the murderous avatar of vengeance he spawns. Shot beautifully with plenty of eerie style, the film’s grotesque creature has deservedly grown a cult following over the years to become one of the genre’s most memorable offerings. Above all, the film is one that feels more emotionally potent than most, showcasing the battle between good and evil, becoming a refreshing alternative to much of today’s nihilistic offerings and yesteryear’s exploitive shocks.

The film concerns a father named Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) and his son Billy (Matthew Hurley). Living alone, the pair are all they’ve got and keep to themselves. Then one day, a group of teenagers looking for a good time stroll into town and a terrible accident kills Billy. In his rage, Ed remembers of a mythical demon from his youth called the Pumpkinhead (which gets it’s name from the pumpkin patch it lays buried in). Before long, Ed’s summoned the demon to reap revenge and it begins a rampage of merciless violence, hunting the teens one-by-one. It becomes increasingly apparent however, that the creature and Ed are linked in more ways than one. And as Ed’s rage turns to remorse, he’ll learn the true cost of vengeance.

Inspired by a poem, the film doesn’t do anything to rewrite genre conventions, but executes them in a very satisfying and entertaining way. All the classic horror staples are here, including a witch, some interesting mythology, a demonic boogyman and even some hillbillies, but they’re all here in service to a great story as opposed to just generic lip service. Far removed from the shock cinema of today which consists of just one consecutive scare after another, the film takes it’s time to build a story and characters, holding of the creature carnage off until the third half to build atmosphere and a set of characters with well-rendered moral burdens. It’s a story that’s just as interested in the consequences of it’s character’s actions than it is with providing creature scares, leading each character at one point to come face to face with the decisions they’ve made. As such, characters are allowed to grow and if anything, the story ultimately becomes one of redemption. For a film about conjuring a demon, it never feels unnecessarily dark or brutal despite it’s fair share of violence, instead maintaing a steady balance between of genre fun and compelling story elements.

pumpkinhead_1Of course you can’t talk bout the film without mentioning it’s titular star, and he’s a good one. Smartly only seen towards the end of the film, its towering, grotesque appearance is worth the wait as it sneers and extends it’s elongated digits amongst it’s prey to thrash or throw them about with horrific abandon. The way Winston slowly reveals the creature allows it to pop in and out sometimes when you don’t expect and a few times silently to add tension. The design by Tom Woodruff Jr, Alec Gillis and others makes for a creature that looks like a tiny dinosaur with reptilian features which mostly still looks good today thanks to some excellent practical effects. Like the best creature features, the film is a good case for the importance of old fashioned special effects, and coupled with a tragic backstory, makes for a mean and multidimensional monster.

While it might be a little tame for goreheads, Pumpkinhead is one of the better films of it’s kind, transcending typical slasher roots for something with a bit more depth and class. In addition, Lance Henriksen is great to watch, bringing a genuine sense of pain and conviction to his role that makes the story stick. With the film’s mixture of creepy visual style, smart FX and, it’s surprising that Winston didn’t helm more films in the genre. At any rate, Pumpkinhead’s another great notch in the FX artist’s esteemed legacy and is still fun to watch after all these years.

P.S. Here’s a great article about the making of the creature.

Crome Rating: 3.5/5

Re-watching the film recently, I had forgotten how stylish and atmospheric it was, and that’s exactly what artist PJ McQuade decided to explore in this poster. I love how skewed the composition is, recalling the film’s more surreal, disorienting elements and the desperation of its characters! In addition, PJ’s done up some prints! Visit his Etsy right now to snag one, and his Website or Twitter to stay in tuned with whatever he’s got next!

pj_McQuade_pumpkinhead_full pj_McQuade_pumpkinhead_detail2 pj_McQuade_pumpkinhead_detail13″ x 19″ / Giclee / 300 gsm archival inks / One inch white border / Hand signed and numbered / Edition of 35 / $45

Come back next week for another horror retrospective! Also check out our previous October installments featuring The Relic with art by David Moscati and Splice with art by me!

SG