Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) is a single father running a small grocery store along the outskirts of town. He loves his little boy Billy (Matthew Hurley) and dotes over him incessantly. When a group of teenagers wander into town, motorcycles in tow, Harley senses trouble. Sure enough, an accident involving his son turns fatal. Devastated, our parent turns to a hillbilly family for help. Seems they know the whereabouts of a legendary witch who can unleash a vengeful spirit known as Pumpkinhead. Knowing he will never rest until something is done, Harley makes the necessary blood sacrifice, and unleashes the deadly demon. Little does he know that while his boy will be avenged, his own soul is in mortal danger.
Relying heavily on both rural folklore and yet another stellar performance from B-movie maverick Henriksen, Pumpkinhead is a near classic monster movie. Filled with mood and atmosphere, it only suffers from a limited production budget and Winston's relative inexperience behind the camera. Clearly, the F/X whiz understands the basics of the genre. We get voodoo black magic, late night visits to a fog-covered burial ground, the standard array of belligerent adolescents, and one helluva of a beastie. With its solid storytelling and attention to art design and detail, what we wind up with is an above average attempt at transcending the Greed decade's fast, cheap, and cheesy fright ideals.
It's impossible to say enough good things about Henriksen. He owns every aspect of this film, his emotional depth providing the sorrow, the rage, and the regret that comes with his actions. Though many consider him a sultan of schlock, the actor actually got his start in high profile fare such as Dog Day Afternoon, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Right Stuff. Yet thanks to his work with James Cameron (where, oddly enough, he met Winston), he has become synonymous with movie macabre -- and that really doesn't do him justice. As Ed Harley, Henriksen comes off as poor, proud, and protective of what he has. When his only child is taken from him, his reaction is so nuanced and natural that we'd buy any response -- including a 10-foot-tall terror sprung straight from his id.
While the teen characters are relatively interchangeable, Winston does a good job of balancing their carelessness with consideration. A couple of the gals even challenge the boys for their reckless ways. But once the title fiend is unleashed, the film has to rely on the customary shocks and nighttime action scenes to get by. It's a testament to Winston's inherent talent that he manages to pull them off with little logistical error. Indeed, without his participation behind the lens and Henriksen's in front, Pumpkinhead would have been a serviceable if subpar monster-on-the-loose exercise. But thanks to both of these certified creepshow legends, what could be corny comes off as horrific, and quite honorable.
Run time: 86 mins
In Theaters: Friday 13th January 1989
Distributed by: United Artists
Production compaines: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG), Lion Films
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Fresh: 12 Rotten: 7
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Stan Winston
Producer: Bill Blake
Screenwriter: Stan Winston, Richard C. Weinman, Gary Gerani, Mark Patrick Carducci
Starring: Lance Henriksen as Ed Harley, Jeff East as Chris, John D'Aquino as Joel, Kimberly Ross as Kim, Joel Hoffman as Steve, Cynthia Bain as Tracy, Kerry Remsen as Maggie, Florence Schauffler as Haggis, Brian Bremer as Bunt, George Buck Flower as Mr. Wallace (as Buck Flower), Matthew Hurley as Billy Harley, Lee de Broux as Tom Harley (as Lee DeBroux), Peggy Walton-Walker as Ellie Harley (as Peggy Walton Walker), Chance Michael Corbitt as Eddie Harley, Dick Warlock as Clayton Heller (as Richard Warlock), Devon Odessa as Hessie, Joseph Piro as Jimmy Joe, Mayim Bialik as Wallace Kid, Jandi Swanson as Wallace kid, Tom Woodruff Jr. as Pumpkinhead