Monday, October 31, 2016

31 Days of Horror- Day 31: Pumpkinhead (1988)

(dir. Stan Winston)

United Artists/MGM

When a father loses his son to a group of careless young adults, he raises the demon Pumpkinhead to exact his vengeance.

Special effects wizard Stan Winston only directed two feature films, Pumpkinhead and A Gnome Named Gnorm. The latter I haven’t seen and probably never will, but if the former is any indication of Winston’s skills as a director then it’s a shame he didn’t have a longer career as a horror filmmaker. All of the careful detail and eye-catching design that Winston put into his creature creations over the years is evident in his filmmaking too. The film’s lighting and use of shadows is a character of its own, creating a film that looks like a southern gothic fairy tale. The same detail goes for his casting choices, which are a celebration of a cinematically under-represented population of America—families who are remnants of the dustbowl, backwoods folks who aren’t inbred cannibals but people just trying to get by, people with their own folklore and legends. Pumpkinhead is horror by way of Norman Rockwell.

There are so many tales of vengeance in horror movies, but Pumpkinhead never loses sight of the personal, even once the bloodshed begins. The personal stakes of the movie are clearly defined by Lance Henriksen’s performance as Ed Harley. We feel the love for his son, and we feel the pain of his death. His desperation to find a way to exact vengeance allows for the film’s quick pacing to work. Even more effective is the fact that Ed is allowed to be a firsthand witness to the vengeance he wrought, seeing and experiencing Pumpkinhead’s exacting kills on those who wronged him. Through this, Pumpkinhead allows the viewer to find sympathy in the victims. These characters aren’t simply dumb teens, but real human beings who have real emotional reactions. Winston doesn’t spend his time constructing variations of kill scenes like a slasher movie, but instead uses this time to shade these characters and explore the ramifications of irresponsibility. The monster (and what a great monster it is!) may be the selling point but the emotional stakes are what keep me coming back for repeated viewings.

Scare Factor: 2/5 Pumpkinhead has an emotional weight to its narrative, a great creature, and a compelling lore that’s a perfect cap to the Halloween season. If it’s gone under your radar then it is surely worth a watch, especially on tonight of all nights. Happy Halloween!

And that’s it for this year! Thanks for reading and if this month was your introduction to the blog, be sure to stick around for full reviews of this fall’s awards contenders and blockbusters.

Lastly, if you’ve yet to get your fill of horror, I co-wrote a list of The 100 Best Horror Movies of the 2000s (so far) so be sure to check it out and browse the site!:

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