We're beginning our second week of our month-long horror movie marathon, and after spending a long weekend at ICON 43 in Cedar Rapids, it felt good to sit down on the couch with the wife and pop in the chilling classic Pumpkinhead.
Directed by special effects wizard Stan Winston, Pumpkinhead opens with a terrified family barricading themselves in their home as an unseen monster stalks and kills a man outside while the man pleads for sanctuary. Several years later, hard-working, rural grocer Ed Harley (played by Lance Henrikson) and his son are opening their store for the day when young tourists stop by for provisions. The tourists overhear some local kids teasing another with a sinister poem about "Pumpkinhead." When Ed leaves his young son Billy and their dog to mind the store while he fills a customer's order, Billy is accidentally struck by one of the drunk tourists riding a dirt bike. The tourists leave the scene (both to flee and seek help) while one stays behind, but his efforts are not appreciated by the grieving Ed Harley, who carries the boy's body away and seeks out an old witch in the mountains named Haggis. Unable to resurrect the boy, Haggis instead instructs Harley to dig up a corpse from the graveyard in the pumpkin patch. The witch summons the demonic entity of vengeance, Pumpkinhead, and the creature begins to stalk and kill the tourists. Harley almost immediately regrets his hasty decision and sets out to save the remaining targets.
This has always been one of my favorite monster films. I've watched the first sequel, but it did nothing for me. While the film's premise obviously sets it up for endless sequels, some stories are simply strong enough to stand on their own, and Pumpkinhead certainly does. The unquestioned, tender love that Ed Harley shows for his sweet, bespectacled Billy makes the boy's death all the more heart-wrenching, and Ed Harley's own inevitable fate just drives the tragedy even farther home with a nine-pound hammer. It makes you think, how far would you go for justice? What would you give to smite those who have wronged you?
The Pumpkinhead creature is just as creepy today as it was in 1988, especially when its appearance begins to hint at the ultimate price Harley has paid for his vengeance. Even creepier is the witch Haggis, who seems timeless, and one wonders just how long she has lived as steward to the undying creature.
I highly recommend this one. I found my copy on DVD at Walmart for a mere $3.74 last month. Do yourself a favor and go diving in the bargain bin, and watch Pumpkinhead with the lights off.
Click here to read the poem that both inspired and was featured in the film.