This shocker is suitably stylish, eerily mythical and thoroughly entertaining
Stan Winston’s fan-cherished creature-feature sees one of the most memorable monsters of the 80’s take a bow, and the film is a true showcase for old school FX-wizardry.As an 80’s semi-classic creature-feature, Pumpkinhead enjoys a cosy cult appeal that remains undiminished today. When his son is killed by dirt-bikers, Lance Henriksen’s rustic redneck seeks the assistance of a rural witch in order to get some payback. But this fable of demonic revenge and retribution insists that hard justice demands a high price.Thus, when she summons up the titular, and nostalgically iconic beast to hunt down the guilty, nobody gets away unscathed. A simple fable of unwitting Faustian deals done down in the swamp, Pumpkinhead offers up shivers and squeals aplenty, but the best thing about this demented hokum is the poignancy and resonance of Lance Henriksen’s marvellous performance.
The directorial debut of FX wunderkind Stan Winston, this 1988 shocker is suitably stylish, eerily mythical and thoroughly entertaining. The monster, itself, is a joyous combination of then state-of-the-art animatronics and the traditional man-in-a-suit, and makes for a wonderfully rendered cinematic menace. The story is beautiful in its simplicity, drenched in redolent atmosphere, gleefully dark and mean-spirited and contains a handful of spellbinding moments.
Though of greatest note is Henriksen - most genre-buffs revere him, of course, but it is remarkable how, even in a whimsical horror folly such as this cinematically neglected cauldron-nugget, he goes above and beyond the call of duty. With just one look of colossal grief and non-negotiable rage combined into a single expression as he cradles his dying son in his arms, he breaks the heart and fills you with utter dread.
The real genius of this film, therefore, is not the creature, as magnificently malevolent as it is, but the memorable melancholy with which Henriksen imbues his tortured character. If this was all it had to offer, I would still recommend Pumpkinhead to anyone with even a passing interest in the genre. But then, even with its rather swift running time and desultory descent into standard stalk ‘n’ slash, Winston’s film has much more to offer in terms of atmosphere, visual style and a dark, demented sense of humour.
But, beyond a barnstorming performance from Henriksen, who absorbs the character of the bereaved father with customary intensity and magnetism, and a truly memorable pumpkin-patch hag-witch, the film suffers from pacing issues, hackneyed teen protagonists, highly repetitive and disappointing kills and a remarkably swift series of moral turnarounds bestowing it a somewhat choppy momentum that doesn’t quite deliver on such a spine-tingling premise.
Although I admire how Winston remained economical with the plot and set-pieces, without sacrificing any artistic flourish, I wish the film had more blood and spit to bolster its unearthly rampage. Over much too quickly, Pumpkinhead is still deliciously dark fun, and surprisingly emotional too.
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