Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pumpkinhead (1988) Review:

Stan Winston, among many professionals going into the film business of creature effects look at his works for guidance. There is no doubt that Mr. Winston was one of the elite of his time when it came to making creatures in cinema. Surprisingly, this particular horror film is Stan Winston's directorial debut and although he isn't an actual story telling visionary like Stephen King or Clive Barker, it is clear that he tried to make it match to the other forms of horror that were already released. Unfortunately, the demon Pumpkinhead is probably one of the lesser-known horror villains in recent memory. If anything, it is a well made guilty pleasure horror film for most.

Hold that boy Lance!
The story is about widower countryman Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen), a loving father who's son Billy, means everything to him. One day when a group of traveling city kids pass by and accidentally kill Billy, Ed calls upon a demon named Pumpkinhead to take his vengeance on the people who killed his son. But that's not all, apparently with resurrecting this creature come some extremely unpleasant side effects. Which in fact, these side effects can get kind of confusing. It's not to say that the writing is bad but there wasn't any clarification on what was happening with these "side effects". Plus, there was a character in the film that could have explained this. It's not like no one knew how Pumpkinhead does his work. Other than that, the writing is fine.

Even for the slew of no name actors that took part in the film give believable performances. When the city kids realize they hit Billy, the nervousness and tension feels real between all of them. Also what's cool is that Jeff East, the actor who played Young Clark Kent in Richard Donner's Superman (1978) is in here too. Lance Henriksen no doubt puts in a good performance as the emotional father who grieves over the only thing that meant something to him. Perhaps what gave this film an interesting edge is that the location isn't the normal setting. The story takes place on rural landscape. Nothing feels cleanly - yeah sure the setting wasn't clean in Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) either, but it was only in certain places. Here, everywhere feels dirty, inside and out. It's a different feel that most horror films don't have anymore.

This pretty much goes hand-in-hand with set decorator Kurt Gauger's work, which gives the backgrounds a very dusty rural feel. Helping that feeling come around full circle is Richard Stone's score to the film. He doesn't create a main theme, but his incorporation of instruments that sound like they belong on a farm match the setting and images with ease. He even includes some emotional tunes. However, his ability to help bring out the horror elements to the film is underdeveloped. Thankfully, Pumpkinhead himself looks like a force that shouldn't be messed with - especially for 1988. When the cicadas sound, you know he's around. Although according to sources, that Stan Winston didn't have any time to inject his input into the concept, the design of Pumpkinhead is somewhat of a knock off.

Ok maybe not totally the same as Alien (1979)
but there are noticeable similarities
Much of the structure looks similar to that of the Alien (1979) franchise - which Winston did work on. I guess it's difficult to come up with a design to a creature called Pumpkinhead. It is a little off putting. As for gore goes, the death scenes are in the middle. Some can be graphic while others are cut too early to determine whether it was. Adding to the sometimes hard to see visuals are the dual color tones that are frequently used; dark blue for the wilderness and orange red for the inside of houses. I don't know if there's a deeper meaning to it but it may make viewers wish that there were more of a color palette to the film. Unfortunately, with all these factors accounted for, the actual terror factor of this film is quite low unless you are extremely young or you're not a horror fan in general. It's still a good movie but it's not scary like it could've been.

Even with creature effects master, Stan Winston directing, Pumpkinhead rarely scares. That's not to say it isn't entertaining though. The performances are believable, the sets feel real and the creature itself is presented professionally.

Points Earned --> 6:10

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