Pumpkinhead (1988)
Pumpkinhead (1988)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 26 min.

Release Date: October 14th, 1988 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Stan Winston Actors: Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, John DiAquino, Kimberly Ross, Joel Hoffman, Cynthia Bain, Kerry Remsen




n 1957, Tom Harley (Lee DeBroux), his wife Ellie (Peggy Walton Walker), and their small son Eddie fortify themselves in their woodland cabin, protecting against the vicious attacks of a horrific creature. When Clayton (Richard Warlock) scampers up to their home in terror, begging for a place to hide, Tom turns him away, allowing the monster to tear the wretched soul limb from limb. Years later, Eddie (Lance Henriksen) is now an adult with a kid of his own, running a ramshackle grocery store off the highway, out in the middle of nowhere.

When six young adults roll into town from the city, intent on recklessly riding their dirt bikes in the hilly countryside, they accidentally kill Billy (Matthew Hurley), Ed’s young son. In a panic, two of them immediately flee; the others remain, a few wishing to go for help, and only one staying by the child’s body. When Eddie returns from an errand to find his boy dead, he’s overwhelmed. He turns to another local for help, Mr. Wallace (Buck Flower), who refuses to divulge the name of the legendary witch who resides deep in the forest. But one of Wallace’s sons overhears their conversation and guides Ed partway to the secluded home of Haggis (Florence Schauffler), a severely timeworn woman. The withered old crone can’t bring Billy back from the dead; but she can aid in revenge. Conjuring up from beyond, Haggis marks the teens for bloody vengeance by Pumpkinhead, an enormous beast that is partially linked to Ed’s psyche.

The lighting, cinematography, music, and eerie sound effects all denote a chilling ‘80s horror film; it’s appropriately atmospheric and has enough scares to be a competent piece of B-movie amusement. The creature effects are helmed by much of the team behind “Predator,” while the film itself is directed by legendary effects master Stan Winston. There’s clearly a focus on makeup, prosthetics, and gore, all of which hold up well over time. The shriveled hag is exceptionally creepy, while Pumpkinhead is a memorable lusus naturae – somewhat childlike in its awkward, deformed visage, lanky appendages, and labored breathing.

For a standard monster movie, entirely too much time is spent reaffirming Eddie’s love for his child, which is the slow, detailed catalyst for the witchcraft that summons Pumpkinhead. But it’s unnecessary, primarily because Henriksen’s character isn’t much of a protagonist; and the bloodthirsty monstrosity’s arrival is – almost exclusively – what audiences crave. As for the victims, they’re essentially indistinguishable from one another; three guys and three girls who barricade themselves in a cabin, hoping to delay a visit from the authorities – or worse. When Pumpkinhead finally appears, the targets are slaughtered quickly, with camera angles and sets obscuring any movement constraints for the oversized puppet – its facial tics and general articulations aren’t disappointing (a scene in a closet borders on genius). And when the few survivors are forced to plead to closed doors, recreating the opening scene, it’s undeniably satisfactory (though the final persevering characters aren’t familiar enough to care about). Unfortunately, toward the conclusion, further exposition is inserted to chronicle the legend of the behemoth, which again slows down the action. But that actually lends to Pumpkinhead’s return in several feature-length sequels (even if they were all straight-to-video).

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10