I Have Never Seen ‘Pumpkinhead’

By  · Published on October 31st, 2014

United Artists

Ashe never got to see a ton of modern classics from his youth, so we’re making him watch them all as a nostalgia-less adult. Check out the inaugural article for more info.

It’s Halloween! That means only one more Halloween movie for this year. Of course, I like horror so much I’ll probably watch more before too long. I may wait until after the holidays, at least. Maybe. Hopefully. Silent Night, Deadly Night and Black Christmas both sound pretty good for December, though…

Anyway, this week I watched Pumpkinhead, one of only two films actually directed by the legendary Stan Winston. (The other, A Gnome Named Gnorm, was a children’s film that’s largely forgotten, and that looks to be for the best.) The same Winston who created, like, all the best movie creatures, from the T-800 to the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, made his own monster movie. What could go wrong?

Surprisingly little! I know, I set that up like I was going to say it was awful. But it wasn’t! For a cheesy 80s B-movie, it’s surprisingly deep. It has good acting, at least as far as Lance Henriksen is concerned. The characters are a bit thin, but they actually develop! Kind of! It’s atmospheric! There’s just one little problem…

Let me back up and give a quick plot summary if it’s been a while since you saw it. Henriksen plays Ed Harley, a tough country dude who has a soft spot for his young son. When some city slickers come to town and accidentally kill his boy, Harley goes to a woods witch to get revenge, which comes in the form of a monster colloquially called “Pumpkinhead.” It’s a pretty basic setup with good southern horror themes. As a southerner, I say hell yeah.

And from there, the film explores themes that tend to go untouched in horror. Remorse, for example. Harley regrets siccing Pumpkinhead on the kids. The kids, even the asshole, Joel, feel remorse for killing Harley’s son. Bunt tries to redeem himself for leading Harley to the woods witch. It’s pretty rare to see characters with complex and evolving emotions in a silly monster movie, right?

Then it gets into territory that pretty much every horror flick ignores – the futility of vengeance. What’s that old proverb? A man who seeks revenge should first dig two graves? Not to spoil too much, but it definitely applies here. This is a movie about regret and making poor choices in the spur of the moment, then having to watch the damage those choices create. Yeah, I’m probably reading way too much into it, but the hell with it.

Now let’s talk about the bad part, the elephant in the room: this is a monster movie and the worst part is the monster itself. It’s bland, it’s uninteresting, and it apparently really enjoys grabbing people by their heads and just holding them up for a while. For a Stan Winston creation, Pumpkinhead himself is just… lame. Maybe he’d be fine in a movie with other monsters, but he doesn’t really carry this film by himself.

Everything else is pretty good! It’s not amazing, but it’s serviceable. But that monster? He’s an albatross weighing the movie down. It’s like a tale of grief and contrition dressed up in its best Southern Gothic clothes with a big shitty monster thrown in. It just kind of kills the film. If it had a better design, or even just a more interesting backstory, I think this film would have easily become a classic. But that dull, pasty scarecrow-esque thing brings the whole thing from maybe a 7.5/10 to a 5/10.

It’s so painful to see so many things right and then have that one mistake that brings down the Hindenburg. (Too soon?) They’re planning a remake, and I sincerely doubt they’ll get it right the second time around, but I suppose stranger things have happened.

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