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A group of city kids go into the country to relax. While there, one of them is involved in a biking accident that takes the life of the son of the local storekeeper. In a fit of rage, the storekeeper has a witch unleash an unstoppable demon called "Pumpkinhead" to kill the group. When he realizes he's gone too far, the storekeeper attempts to save the kids, but is continually afflicted by visions of peoples' deaths through the eyes of the monster. Written by
"Pumpkinhead" is a really impressive creature feature.
Living with his son, Ed Harley, (Lance Henriksen) runs a grocery store that feeds the local community. When local college students Joel, (John D'Aquino) Chris, (Jeff East) Kim, (Kimberly Ross) Steve, (Joel Hoffman) Tracy, (Cynthia Bain) and Maggie, (Kerry Remsen) arrive to stock up for an upcoming trip, they accidentally kill his young son. Consumed with rage, Harley remembers a childhood legend about Pumpkinhead, a demon that rights wrongs, unleashes it upon the group. Marked by it's powers, the group is slowly killed off one-by-one by the creature, and take refuge in the woods. Seeing the error of his ways, he tries to protect the remaining members from the creature before it's too late.
The Good News: This is one of the greatest monster movies around. It is mostly built upon a three-prong aspect that is surprisingly effective and quite original. One of the things that lift it above the run-of-the-mill "outsiders in peril" flicks are the questions it raises about revenge and whether it is worse than the original offense. The fact that the original death was not caused deliberately is of absolutely no comfort. Given a certain set of circumstances, all of us are capable of violent acts against people we judge to have harmed us or our kith and kin. Vengeance is most often sought in the heat of the moment, and the perpetrator often later feels diminished by their actions, and Ed Harley is most certainly diminished by the end of the film. Wisely exploring this theme within the framework of a demon-resurrection movie is quite ingenious and really creative, showing a desire to make this above what it so obviously is on the surface. The second area is that the creepy atmosphere throughout, with lots of fog and transforming the forest into a realm saturated in perpetual blue mist, creates some very dark and very foreboding woods. This has one of the more unusual lighting techniques. In most films, you don't notice lighting. It is used to make scenes appear natural, scenes that would otherwise be too dark, or too similar, or in some way look odd. This, on the other hand, creates an effective, eerie series of backdrops that propels the title creature into his stalking scenes with a look that is both striking and incredibly moody, as it moves very stealthily along and always seems to be placed in front of blue lights and fog just to really give it that killer touch and there is surprisingly little effect to all the atmosphere. The third great aspect of the film is that Pumpkinhead is the physical manifestation of one of the most ugly and frightening things in the world, the human lust for vengeance. As such, the monster is not just a mindless killing machine and it savors every moment of its work, toying with its victims in a deliberate and sadistic manner before killing them. He likes to stalk and taunt and play with his victims like a cat. When two survivors are in the cabin, he holds of the head of a victim and smears it against the window. He lets a guy crawl away for a little bit, then steps on him and drags him back. In one instance, it pretends to have overlooked someone's hiding place, then suddenly turns and lunges. Awhile later, a seeming means of escape proves to have been discreetly sabotaged by the creature. The premeditated cruelty of these actions is all the more disturbing for coming from a source we know and even like. This makes it like Pumpkinhead has a personality and a wicked sense of humor. It's so refreshing to have a monster do something like that, and gives a whole new dimension to it. We become aware almost immediately that Ed and the creature are intimately linked: they both writhe in pain as it is resurrected. When the killings start, we "see" them through Ed's eyes. Most unnerving of all, as the desired vengeance is played out, the creature begins to look like Ed and he like it. It is Ed. Even better is that the movie probably features the best monster costume one can imagine. Never, ever does it even approximately look like a rubber suit. Between its expressiveness and fluid movement, and the fact that this knows exactly when to show and when to suggest, this thing has the most palpable presence outside of a bogeyman in one's nightmare. The look is quite original, as the creature is tall, with long talons ready to cut open flesh, and with the fact that it's so tall and gainly just adds to it's imposing stature. There is a lot to really love here.
The Bad News: There is only one problem here, and that is the gore is quite minimal and there isn't really any real gore in the film at all. There is some blood and some brutal kill scenes, but some more actual gore wouldn't have hurt. It would've made the kills all the more gruesome, and they're not being here is a big problem. Otherwise, this is a really spectacular monster film.
The Final Verdict: This could've been gorier, but it's still one of the best monster films from the time period, and considering what was going on in the genre at the time is no small feat. Seek this out if you're into these kinds of films or those that enjoy Henriksen's work.
Rated R: Graphic Language, Violence, mild drug use and the death of a child
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