PUMPKINHEAD Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Directed by Stan Winston
Written by Mark Patrick Carducci and Gary Gerani
1988, Region A, 86 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on September 9th, 2014
Lance Henriksen as Ed Harley
John DiAquino as Joel
Kerry Ramsen as Maggie
Jeff East as Chris
Kimberly Ross as Kim
Cynthia Bain as Tracy
Joel Hoffman as Steve
Florence Schauffler as Haggis
George “Buck” Flower as Mr. Wallace
Ed Harley runs a local grocery in a rural community about a dozen miles from anywhere. He leads a simple life and minds his own business, raising young Billy. When a group of vacationing teens accidentally causes the death of his son, Ed is blinded by rage and is determined to avenge the boy. There is an old witch the locals only speak of in whispers, and it is here the grieving father seeks solace. She tells him it is not possible to raise the dead, but agrees to summon a vengeful demon named Pumpkinhead, if that is what Ed really wants. His emotional pain gets the better of him and bad decisions are made, mistakes the poor bastard will regret for the rest of his life.
Pumpkinhead marks the directorial debut of the late, great Stan Winston (A Gnome Named Gnorm), whose artistic vision and stylistic choices in this picture make me wish he had lived long enough to direct more films. Working closely with Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (King of New York) and Production Designer Cynthia Kay Charette (The Offspring), the set-pieces range from rustic country homes to a foggy pumpkin patch and later a dilapidated church. All feel organic and natural as the titular beast stalks his prey bathed in a bold color palette of primarily orange and blue. Winston does an excellent job establishing his characters and the environments before unleashing the monster, and once the mayhem begins, he keeps things moving at a decent pace.
Screenwriters Mark Patrick Carducci (Neon Maniacs) and Gary Gerani (Vampirella) expand upon the ideas present in Ed Justin's poem “Pumpkinhead”, and create a character drama that is equal parts morality play and monster movie. Some of the central themes include taking responsibility for your actions and living with the consequences of the choices you make. Our protagonist is a man who has lost what little he had and then lashes out in pain against those he believes responsible. The script takes a dark turn in which the summoner is forced to bear witness to each vengeful act as the monster kills everyone in its path, indiscriminately, and there are no clear victors by the end of the film.
Lance Henriksen (The Horror Show) carries this picture effortlessly as Ed, a decent man caught on the worst day of his life. The rugged actor is given a rare opportunity to show his sensitive side in the early scenes with his son Billy (Matthew Hurley), and these are some of the strongest character moments the actor has ever had in his lengthy career. Henriksen manages to keep the role sympathetic even once Ed becomes hellbent on revenge, and also as he is filled with regret for the mayhem he has invited but is unable to control. The supporting cast features a few familiar faces, including the incredible George “Buck” Flower (They Live) in a small role as Mr. Wallace, the local farmer who discourages Ed from visiting the old witch. Legendary stuntman Dick Warlock (Michael Myers in Halloween II) appears in the film's prologue as the doomed man begging for help, and Jeff East (Deadly Blessing) is Chris, one of the more likeable teens in the group of moving meat puppets.
Pumpkinhead, the creature, is the real star of the film, however, and following a full career in effects work, Winston knows how to put the character front and center. This is a menacing demon that never speaks, it doesn't crack jokes (a dreadful trend that sank many genre films in the 1980s) and it doesn't fuck around with its intended prey. It moves with the focus and determination of a giant shark and is every bit as deadly. The film suffered a poor theatrical release, but found new life on home video and eventually spawned three shoddy sequels that nobody asked for, or, in hindsight, probably regret asking.
Video and Audio:
Pumpkinhead is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and to put it simply, the transfer looks terrific. This is a very atmospheric film featuring many sequences in stylized colors (either orange or blue) and an equal amount of time in low-lit areas. Colors are rich and flesh tones balanced and natural, while there is plenty of detail between light and dark sequences.
There are two audio options provided here, but the DTS-HD 5.1 mix is the way to go. There are some nice directional effects and a surprisingly active low-end rumble in some of the more intense monster mayhem. The original stereo track is given a DTS-HD 2.0 presentation that is respectable and both feature clean dialogue free from distortion.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
To celebrate the film's twentieth anniversary in 2008, MGM released a Collector's Edition DVD loaded with special features. Now, Scream Factory brings the title to Blu-ray and carries over all the previous content and delivers a few new goodies for fans to enjoy.
The audio commentary featuring f/x artists Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis, joined with co-screenwriter Gary Gerani, is moderated by super-fan Scott Spiegel (Intruder) and is quite entertaining. A lot of ground is covered here and Spiegel does a nice job keeping things on track. One bit of useless trivia for genre fans, the vacation house in this picture is the same filming location that appears prominently in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.
The excellent Pumpkinhead Unearthed (64 minutes) retrospective documentary benefits from a new HD picture upgrade and it remains a solid example of how great a product the team at Red Shirt Pictures can deliver. The usual gallery of cast and crew members are rounded up for interviews and the piece is filled with great information, but what sets this apart is the structure. The production is traced in chapter form from the origins through filming and ultimately the botched release, but the piece as a whole is told as a story and each chapter is thoughtfully laid out to present just enough information before moving on to the next participants. Definitely worth checking out.
New to this release is a tribute to the late Stan Winston, titled Remembering the Monster Kid (49 minutes). Friends and co-workers reflect on their time with the man everyone agrees was beyond gracious and inspiring. This is a nice companion piece to the Monster Melting Pot segment on the recent Leviathan Blu-ray release.
Co-writer and Producer Richard Weinman shares a bit more info on the poet Ed Justin, whose work inspired the movie, in the featurette Night of the Demon (16 minutes). He also offers a glimpse at the difficulties adapting the material and how certain problems were handled during production.
Up next are a pair of new interviews with actors missing from the larger documentary and it is nice to have their thoughts on the film included here. Matthew Hurley reflects on his time as a child actor in The Boy with the Glasses (14 minutes) while John DiAquino reveals his take on the role of antagonist in The Redemption of Joel (14 minutes).
Returning from the DVD release is a short look behind the scenes (7 minutes) with video shot through pre-production and on the set during filming. Picture quality varies, but it is a nice peek at the work that went into making this film.
Demonic Toys (5 minutes) is a brief segment on the second wave of marketing that resulted from the title creature becoming a cult favorite among fans. Sculptor Jean St. Jean discusses his work creating the model of the monster.
A collection of publicity stills offers a look at the marketing for the film.
Trailers for Pumpkinhead and additional Scream Factory releases round out the special features on this disc.