For this month’s second scary movie, I decided to revisit an old-fashioned monster favorite: Pumpkinhead. Directed by, and with creature FX by, the late, legendary Stan Winston, this movie starred Lance Henriksen, a familiar face from several big genre films of the ’80s (including Near Dark and Aliens), and some generic young victims. Henriksen essays the role of Ed Harley, a farmer and general store owner in a tiny mountain community. When his son is killed by a drunken show-off on a motorcycle, Harley tracks down a backwoods witch called Hagis and asks her to resurrect a local legend – a vengeful demon called Pumpkinhead. She does (after he digs up the beast in a pumpkin patch/graveyard even deeper in the woods), and carnage follows.
I referred to this movie as “old fashioned” for a variety of reasons: the “man-in-suit” practical effects, the Hammer-like feel of the witch’s cabin, and the unrelenting grimness of it all. Harley is the guy we’re supposed to sympathize with, and for a while we do; but once the monster goes after not only the shallow, selfish motorcycle rider who hit the little boy and ran, but also his friends who really tried to help, it’s not as easy. In the end, no one is happy.
Pumpkinhead himself works equally well when he’s kept in the shadows, as Winston does at first, and when we get lots of looks at him toward the climax. Credit not only the design of the creature but the job done by Alex Woodruff Jr., the man in the suit who brings real malice to the creature through his movements. Having this creature fully realized rather than a CGI creation added in later makes a huge difference.
The story is nothing new, and the acting, for the most part, is nothing special. But the great sets, the terrific design and execution of the monster, and some good directorial choices by Winston make this one a winner.