Stan Winston is a legend. This is undisputed. The man was a master of practical effects. The stuff he did for both Aliens and Jurassic Park (two films you can definitely spot shades of here) are some of the most breathtaking works of imagination put to screen. So when I tell you that Pumpkinhead, his directorial debut, is pretty much a dud from the get go it shouldn’t tarnish the many, many skills the man had. Just turns out directing wasn’t one of them. Could’ve been worse: two years later we were blessed with The Adventure of a Gnome Named Gnorm.
What can you do?
THE QUICK SUMMARY: After a prelude where a man is horrifically killed after being refused sanctuary in a farmhouse, we jump to the present day where widowed Ed Harley and his son mind the local fruit stand in some back wood country town that felt more than a little demeaning in 1988, let alone now. A gaggle of teens arrive to pick up supplies for their camping trip and a jerk who couldn’t wait 5 minutes gets on his motorbike and winds up killing Ed’s son in a mishap, They bail, and Ed seeks revenge by visiting an old witch who calls up the titular monster, a demon crafted to get revenge for the one who invokes him. Man in Suit monster mayhem commences, and Ed has to decide if vengeance is really what he wants.
You can see Winston learned some tricks from his time on other, better movies. The set designs are great, and there are a few damn fine moments, such as when Lance Henrickson as Ed holds his dead son in his house, and the lights streams through in beautiful stripes. I think more than enough has been said about the practical effect of the Pumpkinhead monster (which bear a striking resemblance to the xenomorphs in Aliens) but what I don’t read or head as much about is how great the make-up and overall scenes with the witch are. Sure, Haggis is a terrible name for a witch, but those moments pack more horror and dread than any of the moments with the demon.It’s the one section of the film that really feels alive, and all credit to Winston for really wanting to craft a genre film like when he probably could have had his pick of things to direct. Like The Adventures of a Gnome Named Gnorm, for example.
The scenes with Pumpkinhead usually adhere to the “less is more” approach and in certain moments it’s really effective, like when one of the girls inside the cabin cross the room and in the background you can see the demon cross outside as well. It’s a quick moment, but super creepy. Another quick moment is when one fo the girls is pulled up from the roof. We see her lifted up by a huge hand, and the next scene is a quick shot of the cabin roof just as her legs flip over to the other side. Again – super creepy and tense, and sadly few and far between through the course of the move.
So sure, a dud of a movie but that’s not to say Pumpkinhead doesn’t have oodles of ambition. Part of the price Ed has to pay for the summoning of Pumpkinhead are visions of the murders. Realizing that the cost for vengeance is not at all from a distance he immediately tries to stop what he’s started – to no avail, of course. It’s a bold choice for a film like this in the 80s to really question and come on the more charitable side of revenge.
I just wish it had been better executed…maybe with Winston just handling the effects.