Revenge just brings more pain—and very cool monsters

Revenge just brings more pain—and very cool monsters

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: As part of our two weeks of Halloween-related content, we offer five days of monster movies. 

Pumpkinhead (1988)

Deals with the devil prove damning in Pumpkinhead, one of the few directorial efforts from special-effects and make-up maestro Stan Winston. Working from a script based on an Ed Justin poem, the film plays like a feature-length EC Comics story. It’s awash in lurid orange-reds, deep blue-blacks, and enveloping fog, while also fixated on blood rituals done by candlelight, eerie old hags with supernatural powers, and satanic monsters with a taste for revenge. In this case, the beast is Pumpkinhead, a legendary fiend resurrected by a weathered, stringy-haired witch at the behest of rural store owner Ed Harley (a fantastically severe Lance Henriksen) after his son is fatally run over by motor biking Joel (John D’Aquino), the hotshot leader of a group of “city folk.” Though it’s an accident, Ed responds to this tragedy—and the fact that most of the kids responsible fled the scene of the crime—by resurrecting Pumpkinhead from a nearby pumpkin-patch graveyard so that he might punish these interlopers for their lethal transgression.

Boasting a whole community of caricatured mountain-dwelling hillbillies, Winston’s horror film is pure pulp, and he shoots it accordingly, employing spooky shadows and exaggerated angles to give the material a delirious cornball-mythic aura. Pumpkinhead isn’t subtle, but it has a campfire-tale quality—amplified by its moonlit forests and rustic cabins—that’s endearing. That goes for Winston’s beast as well, a towering, gangly creature (sometimes a puppet, sometimes a man in a suit) with long talons and sharp, pointy-edged limbs. Pumpkinhead looks like a variant of H.R. Giger’s Alien, except that Winston gives him his own malevolent personality via a sinister smirk that suggests he relishes the pain and suffering he causes not only his nominal victims, but also—because they can see through each other’s eyes, and feel each other’s pain—Harley as well. As the final showdown with Henriksen’s grieving father proves, that devilish delight comes from the knowledge that vengeance dooms both victim and victimizer.

Availability: Pumpkinhead is available on DVD in several different editions, for rental or purchase through the major digital services, and to stream on Netflix.