Pumpkinhead (1988) Review: A Father’s Love
“A Grim Fairy Tale”
Synopsis: After a tragic accident, a man conjures up a towering, vengeful demon called Pumpkinhead to destroy a group of unsuspecting teenagers.
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Despite the silly name, Pumpkinhead is a creepy piece about the lengths loved ones will go to for revenge. The common trope of “city kids done bad” is elevated here by the sheer badness – the coeds accidentally cause the death of a young boy. Grief-stricken, the boy’s father Ed (Lance Henriksen) calls upon the powers of a mysterious old woman and a savage demon to avenge his child.
The first third or so of Pumpkinhead is quite well done. The father-son relationship between Ed and Billy is achingly sweet; the tensions between the city kids are enough to put the audience on edge. But once the main action begins, the movie stutters.
Although the effects were generally good – those for the demon Pumpkinhead (Tom Woodruff Jr.) specifically – the focus on the effects impacted the rest of the movie for me. While Pumpkinhead LOOKED good, it rarely came across as scary… meaning that too much of its screen time could be spent analyzing the creation rather than reacting to it. The tension from Act I could have been better sustained by keeping the creature hidden for longer, instead of resorting to frequent full body shots and silly noises. I also did not enjoy the manner the filmmakers chose to show Lance Henriksen’s bond with the demon.
As much as I was struck by the first part of the movie, the second part lowered my rating significantly. The first act of the movie could have led to a powerful piece; the remainder of the movie felt more like a B movie with better-than-average special effects. It wasn’t bad, but it was disappointing in the context of what could have been.
Pumpkinhead is still worth a watch. It was a sleeper hit from the ’80s that very nearly didn’t see the light of day – and we should be glad it did. I’ll always appreciate it for what it is, but I wish it had been better.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: B
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