Posted in '80s, Horror, Hotties, The Reviews by - October 29, 2013

Black magic, revenge, and regret play out in unpredictable intervals of slaughter when a demon named Pumpkinhead unleashes unholy terror on unfortunate teenagers in the haunted backwoods of Nowheresville, USA. Pumpkinhead the movie, like Pumpkinhead the monster, is a blood soaked allegory about choices and consequences. This style-heavy directorial debut from special effects wizard Stan Winston screams through dusty desert side roads, cursed pumpkin patch cemeteries, decrepit witches’ cabins and all hell itself before resolving in a writhing pile of broken humanity. Our journey includes all of your favorite stock characters who show up just in time to meet untimely ends. There is gore, there’s a monster and most horrifying of all: there is a lesson!


‘Stay in school, kids’ -Pumpkinhead

Our film starts off in the midnight backwoods of 1957 as an eight-foot silhouette guts a man in front of a wide-eyed child. Flash forward to “the present day” and that boy is now grown (Lance Henriksen) with a son of his own. They live a quiet, happy life together running a gas station in the middle of the desert. The plot kicks off when a carload of city slicker teens en route to a wild party stop in and Henriksen’s son is tragically killed by one of their drunken dirtbike stunts. In response, Henriksen flashes back to the gory visage he saw as a child and enlists the aid of a witch to summon the vegetable-faced spirit of vengeance, Pumpkinhead!





While the title character of the piece is responsible for a good deal of shamelessly sadistic murder, he isn’t the bad guy. There is a nameless witch who lives alone in a rotten cabin crawling with snakes, spiders and rats. She casts spells with blood drawn from the hand of a grief stricken man and the corpse of his son, but she isn’t the villain. We have an arrogant coward who kills a child as a result of his own drunken hubris but he isn’t the worst of what’s out there. In this way the film delivers a conflict that feels cursed as opposed to pointing at a man with a machete and saying, “You see there, that is evil, cursing you.”

We’re told that Pumpkinhead is not a Christian demon from a biblical hell, but something darker and more primal. As we watch in horror while the teens are picked off one by one, and Henriksen devolves from a sympathetic father faced with loss to a desperate victim of his own hate, we start to understand the true depths that might birth such monsters. Henriksen’s performance is the rosetta stone that ties the philosophy, slaughter, demonic melon based hell beast, wretched witch and the sick twist of the ending together. In order to carry a film filled with so many disparate themes you need someone who can convincingly bear the weight of these concepts on his back and more importantly across his face. In 1988 cinema midnight, there was no man more suited for that job than Lance Henriksen.


‘Hey, girl’

Lance Henriksen has never been a young man who enjoyed a happy ending. He’s eternally 40 years old, leather-faced, bad-assed and destined to die in the most metal ways possible, be it dismemberment by a alien queen, 2 self inflicted gunshot wounds to the head, AK-47/shotgun blast by a future cyborg or immolation by sunshine. A lot of people have asked where Lance Henriksen got the scar on his cheek and the answer is: “Shut up or he’ll hear you.” You never want to attract Henriksen’s attention because the man is incapable of eye contact without optic blasting poison tipped daggers through your soul.


Or he just used Pumpkinheads skull as a bong.

Pumpkinhead is the perfect vehicle for Lance’s glances, grimaces and winces. The man can act but he doesn’t have too. I suspect that no matter what the part, he shows up at the audition shakes hands with the casting director, smiles and nods politely as they explain the plot and motivation of the character. Then when it comes time to do the read through he puts his script down and throws them one of these:


‘You’re hired, how much do you want? Oh god, please don’t hurt us’’

Henriksen fronts a film that is a violent contrast to the mindless slaughter and schlock of mid-late 80’s slash and trash films. While horror and monster tropes do some backseat driving, story is behind the wheel with philosophy as navigator. I won’t champion this as a cerebral tour de force but I love its dedication to the Twilight Zone/Outer Limits school of horror that is heavy on the meta with blood and guts to spare. It warns without preaching and ticks along tightly; it’s a movie about a monster that is not just a monster movie. As a sincere meditation on dealing with the consequences of your actions—be they revenge or hubris—the film makes a statement that ethics and morals don’t have to come from a sacred rulebook and it does all of this with a panache and spectacle that is all done in camera, in between the lines and with Lance Henriksen’s  face full of in your face performances.

Jimmy Andreakos
This post was written by
Goth as I wanna be.

3 Comments on "Pumpkinhead"

  • Tanya

    A lot of people have asked where Lance Henriksen got the scar on his cheek and the answer is: “Shut up or he’ll hear you.”


  • Kelly

    I just watched this movie for the first time last week. SO SINISTER. Loved it, and loved your review.

  • Jimmy Andreakos

    Did you know that this film started off as a fan fic about Linus actually meeting the great pumpkin?

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