Pumpkinhead (1988) Review by RevTerry

A fable is a story that uses some kind of natural or supernatural “thing” to prove a point. To teach a lesson or give you something to ponder. Life lessons wrapped in a talking plant, a tricky spider or some other entertaining shit, like a wise old mini corn dog that gets passed from generation to generation. The fables we hear as kids are passed on by our ancestors, sometimes through verbal communication alone. Hopefully we are currently laying the groundwork for tomorrow's stories about how not to be a jerk, or at the very least giving some kind of substitute. We can only hope though, I don't think future generations will look towards the gripping yarns behind each week's randomly selected stock photo meme and its many adventures as “wise” lore but then again the future could be just one big ass continuous meme for all I know. But for me that role falls on cinema. I learned several of life's lessons reading between the lines of my favorite films. Unfortunately due to Hollywood business logic, editing, money and other inherited movie elements a lot of the film industries moral messages can be muddled in the end result. While it may be that some of us take something even from even the thinnest of film works, the mediums of passing time may not be so gentle. There are some obvious exceptions to this, who's format or story telling seem to transcend generational change. First to come to mind would be The Twilight Zone, a staple as far as education goes at my house. As well as a horror flick that that for me covers many of the basis needed to become a fable and brings with it the dusty aesthetic, the 80s dark fantasy Pumpkinhead (1988).
Pumpkinhead, based on a spooky poem by Ed Justine, was the first film directed by special effects great, Stan Winston. Already a genre legend in big budget films, he had been instrumental in bringing life to The Predator(1987), the classic crew of Monster Squad(1987) and the titular space menaces of the atypical sequel Aliens(1986) before jumping into directing. After completion in 1988, the film was bounced from its bankrupt production company De Laurentiis Entertainment Group to United Artists under its original name Vengeance: The Demon where it finally slipping out for a limited run in 1989. It didn't do great on release but has gathered a cult following since, due in no small part to star Lance Henriksen's continued blessed presence in horror/scifi.
The story starts with a flashback of little Ed Harley, who from his bed witnesses the shunning of a scared man's pleas for help by Ed's father. Even after being threatened with a shotgun the man continues his banging before being killed in some gruesome way mostly off screen. Jumping to the future Ed has grown up and, a father himself, runs a dusty ass general store in the middle of nowhere, where does business with families of mountain people and such. A crew of young adults arrives to film their “talented” motocross star (John D'Aquino) ride around in a circle on a hill or something and they take some time to engage in a few moments of culture shock with the Eds son and the dirty ass hill kids. Ed promises to bring a forgotten product by a customer's abode and leaves Jr.() to run the shop. Ultimately in his absence, the kid walks in front of the douchey ass dirt-bikers tire during a lackluster tantrum laced bike trick. The asshole has some priors with the law so he decides to bounce on the dead kid, leaving some of the slightly more level headed 20-somethings to deal with the whole thing. When the Ed returns to some random dude cradling his dead son he scoops up the body, throws out some deadly ass eye daggers and heads straight up to the mountain people’s house to ask for directions to the local witch doctor. Unfortunately, his son has passed the point of return but he is instead offered a consolation in the form of the revenge-dealing demon known as Pumpkinhead(the same one from the opening flashback). We all learn a good lesson on not being a dick and some bike safety, then some fools get fucked up by a monster. Afterward, we all learn another good lesson about revenge being not as cool as you originally thinks it's going to be when you are all pissed off and shit.
The film is well put together, dark and, in a way, classic in its storytelling. The plot is generally coherent and keeps a consistent flow, never really caving under the weight of its emotionally driven arch. Scenes are dusty, lit with oranges and yellows working with the slight twang of the soundtrack to give it a rustic feel. Winston's style definitely picks up of a few tricks from the directors of films he had assisted on and unsurprisingly he knows how to use the creature effects effectively. The movie’s title monster holds up to this day, it's creepy movements and detail rival my last few CGI laden theater trips. The practical work and shooting allow the creature to be fully seen in some shots without the chronic loss to its bite that other films have suffered. Dialog has some goofy ass moments as per par with the genres accidental catch phrasing of that time. The whole gives you enough in all to make the dramatic, dark emotion work without sacrificing its status as a fun gory horror film. Some good kills, no nudity unless you count sexless revenge demon crotch.
Lance Henriksen really sells it, sporting fake teeth and his tormented stare. Henriksen or as I called him for many years Frank Black, has given a lot to the Horror and Sci-Fi genres and continues to take roles in trashtastic flicks to this day. He is kind of the trustworthy but gruff uncle of horror and this performance is a good example as to why. The classic but engaging character development is driven by Henriksen's portrait of a tortured man relatable in his mistakes. The rest of the cast works well for their given roles. Kerry Remsen another horror regular is among the “guilty” in her most developed role, that I can think of. Rumor has it that the directors kids make a cameo as some of the dirty ass hill people. The worst of the acting comes from the various speaking children roles in the cast but that's pretty normal, as kids usually suck in movies, horror especially( no offense Matthew Hurley). 
Pumpkin head has all the makings of an old school,don't be a dick or die, fable. Arguably more effective than some of the most famous of fables as far as scaring kids into being better people plus with it's got a more straightforward message and Lance Henriksen. I can only hope that future generations will continue to benefit from its teachings because the world could use a few more lessons on not succumbing to reactionary emotion and  just generally not being a assholes. 
 1h 26min | 1988

Director: Stan Winston
Writers: Ed Justin (poem) Mark Patrick Carducci,Stan Winston,Richard Weinman (story) Mark Patrick Carducci, Gary Gerani(screenplay)

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