[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 14 – [Happy 30th Birthday!] Pumpkinhead (1988)

Director: Stan Winston

Cast: Lance Henriksen, John DiAquino, Kerry Remsen, Jeff East

Screenplay: Mark Patrick Carducci, Gary Gerani

86 mins. Rated R.

 

Pumpkinhead felt like it was going to be a bigger thing. It felt like a franchise starter, and yet, the first sequel was more shoehorned in, and we didn’t get any other films until the SciFi Network released two sequels in the mid-aughts. Now, the franchise lays dormant, a mistake to be sure, even if the first film, which celebrates 30 years since its release today, has some issues to be sure.

When Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen, Hard Target, Mom and Dad) experiences a horrific personal loss due to an accident involving some teenagers on vacation, his anger and rage fuel him to search out a supposed witch in the forest by his shop. When Harley begs her for vengeance, the witch helps him call forth Pumpkinhead, a boogeyman of sorts who goes after the teenagers one by one.

First-time feature director Stan Winston (A Gnome Named Gnorm), known for his special effects work, capably directs this film with some nice cinematography and editing to hold it all together. One area where Winston fails is with pulling strong performances from most of his cast. Lance Henriksen is an exception here, and with his strong dedication to his character (he actually got fake dentures and designed the look of Ed Harley), he stands out here as a broken man looking for vengeance, and then, eventually redemption.

No, where acting fails is with these teenagers. I refuse to believe that anyone would hang out with Joel (John DiAquino, No Way Out, The 60 Yard Line) in public. This character, even before the reveal that he is a criminal, is just all-around an awful human being, and very out of place with the rest of the teens. The other performances from our teenage biker gang just do not work.

There’s some issues with pacing here, as it takes half the film to really get going. Once it does, it moves along quite nicely, but it just trudges along the first half. Editing saves it here as the film is a tight 86 minutes, but I feel like it can only do so much.

The visual look of the film is quite impressive. I felt while watching that I was a part of the world that Winston puts before the camera. The design and visual flair of the cinematography is quite special, and I cannot fail to mention the extremely unnerving titular creature, a demon personifying vengeance. The creature really helps expand the lore of the film quite nicely.

Pumpkinhead is flawed but still worthy of a nice trick-or-treat Halloween experience. The film is easily accessible and aided by some nice technical work. If you can get past some of the cringe-worthy acting, I think you can have a lot of fun here. Henriksen leads the pack here with an emotionally resonant performance that’s well worth your time.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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