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    Horace Cordier
    Senior Member

  • Pumpkinhead



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: September 9th, 2014.
    Director: Stan Winston
    Cast: Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, John DiAquino
    Year: 1988
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    One of the more interesting aspects of continuing to watch and love the horror films of our youth as we get older is the effect of how our life experiences tend to change our perceptions. I noticed this recently when revisiting THE EXORCIST. While I've always appreciated Friedkin's pure mastery of craft in the film, the central message relating to faith and the terrors of demonic possession never particularly moved me. It was a funhouse thrill ride of a film. Yet, as I watched it the last time, the scenes of the priest dealing with his dying mother suddenly struck me with real emotional force. Due to personal circumstances in my own life, these scenes became something new and powerful for me.

    Which brings us, strangely enough, to Stan Winston's PUMPKINHEAD.

    Edgar Allen Poe once famously said "The death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world." I'd venture that the death of an innocent child ranks not far behind. But while the use of children in peril and as ghosts has been utilized by many horror films, the theme of parental rage and remorse over the death of a child far less so. This is partly because most horror films tend to deal in less "adult" themes, and partly due to genre conventions. PUMPKINHEAD - with it's grief-stricken father and overweening sense of cruel fate and obsession becomes part of a strange group of films with Lars Von Trier's ANTICHRIST and the Stephen King adaptation PET SEMATARY as its closest spiritual cousins. And while I've never lost a child I certainly have a far better idea of the horrors that entails now than I did as a twenty-something watching PUMPKINHEAD looking for some monster action.

    Single father Ed (Lance Henriksen - in a career high performance) and his sweet young son Billy (Matthew Hurley) live alone out in some unnamed backwoods county. While we never learn what happened to the mother we assume it was something tragic. The bond between father and son is established quickly on screen. Ed is kind, patient and gentle with his boy. Ed pays the bills by running a small local general store and one day, due to a snafu with a customer's delivery, he's forced to leave his son unattended while he makes a local trip. Meanwhile, some young people are visiting the area and carrying on poorly by drinking and racing motorbikes in the woods. When Ed's boy is tragically (but accidentally) killed, a series of bad decisions leads to disastrous consequences for all concerned.

    These hills hold a dark secret - one that Ed knows all too well. There is a witch living in the area that has the power to bring forth a mythical demon of vengeance. That demon is the titular Pumpkinhead (briefly made note of in a prolog) of the film's title. When one of the young people tries to cover up the crime but fails, and Ed finds out, he's hellbent on revenge. His grief and rage are so overwhelming however, that he's blinded to the consequences of his actions. He goes to the witch and strikes the deal. Pumpkinhead is unleashed.

    Screenwriters Gary Gerani and Mark Patrick Carducci were total "monster kids" weaned on the legendary Forry Ackerman's "Famous Monsters Of Filmland" magazine and it shows. They understand that for a film like this to work you need a first rate monster. Pumpkinhead himself is as distinctive as The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Having the brilliant Stan Winston to bring him to life was a stroke of good fortune. The twin great strengths of PUMPKINHEAD as a horror film are its strong emotional core and its terrifically realized monster. Henriksen is fantastic as Ed. You feel his pain and understand his motives. You know the whole thing will almost certainly end in terrible tragedy, but he's got your sympathy from scene one. The kids are (with one exception, and even he is somewhat redeemed later in the movie) more victims of circumstance and bad luck than anything else. The scene with the witch is dripping with atmosphere and genuinely creepy. Winston was one of the titans of creature design and he impresses with Pumpkinhead mightily. While traces of the monster from ALIEN are definitely visible, the head and facial design are utterly distinctive as is the body movement. Winston's decision to shoot key sequences of the film in low light and swirling mist adds immeasurably to the impact. While the creature may be on one level a tool of righteous vengeance what it really is at heart is pure evil. Evil that needs blood - and if it is from the morally tainted, pure or misguided makes no difference.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Scream Factory drag PUMPKINHEAD out of the Blu ray patch with a pretty impressive AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1 widescreen. Large portions of the film were shot in low light however, so it is very important to note that the kind of fine detail often visible in HD isn't going to be all that plentiful here. Also, color filters and tinting are present throughout the film further tamping down the detail. It makes for some marvelously atmospheric sequences but anyone expecting a razor-sharp image throughout will be disappointed. A quick glance at the daylight footage shows that this a true and accurate transfer to the original elements. Grain is also in normal proportion and black levels are commendable. Softness is present but true to the source and fine image detail correctly visible when the backlighting or setting allows it. This is a careful, well-done transfer and a significant upgrade to the DVD.

    Audio is provided via a true to the theatrical release DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix and a very strong DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix for those that aren't wedded to the original audio track. I actually recommend the remix for its discreet but effective use of LFE and overall boost to the sound fx without getting gimmicky or muddying the sound field. Both tracks are well balanced in regards to dialog, ambient sound and audio fx as well.

    As far as the extras go, Scream have provided a very stacked release here. All of the extras from the previous (and heftily loaded) DVD SE are here as well as some new goodies. The main course is a multi chaptered hourlong documentary originally seen on the DVD that hits on every aspect of the film from genesis to construction to release to its later success as a home video cult item. Screenwriter Gary Gerani is a highlight of this piece. An enormously likable and sensitive guy, he talks movingly about his co-screenwriter and friend Carducci as well as walking us through the germ of the film's idea. Other highlights include actor Henriksen and many of the production and marketing folks involved.

    The next treat - and a new one - is "Remembering the Monster Kid: A Tribute to Stan Winston." This is a 50 minute piece that pulls together a bunch of Winston co-workers and fx team members as well as people like Henriksen that worked with him. It's a strong tribute and definitely worth the time. Actors John D'Aquino and Matthew Hurley also sit for shorter interviews in standalone segments that are quite interesting. Both of these guys were absent from the original SE DVDs retrospective so it's nice to see Scream and Red Shirt Pictures (Scream's often used extras providers) fill in some missing pieces. Story writer Richard Weinman (a slightly shadowy figure in PUMPKINHEAD history) surfaces for a brief but enjoyable chat that talks a bit about the film's roots in a poem by author Ed Justin as well.

    Their is also an audio commentary with the aforementioned Gerani and fx guys Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis. The track is moderated by fan/movie producer Scott Spiegel who does a decent job. There's some informational overlap with the other special features and a slight tendency towards the mildly chaotic in the track but it remains a very worthwhile listen for fans.

    Beyond these items a short (under 5 minutes) bit on some of the toys marketed and related to the movie is included. A 7 minute piece focusing on the creature effects is here too and is fascinating - with the only let down being how rough some of the archival SD footage is. Finally you get a theatrical trailer and hefty still gallery.

    The Final Word:

    One of the best films of its type and simply a great monster movie, PUMPKINHEAD gets a lovely release with Scream Factory's collectors edition. With terrific A/V and plentiful and informative extras, this one really is a can't miss for both known fans and those looking to check out a classic creature feature with real heart.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!


























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