Comments Off on Pumpkinhead

What better way to kick off the Halloween season than with Stan Winston’s cult classic debut feature as a director, Pumpkinhead (1988). Winston, a master visual effects artist, has created a film where the special effects are perfectly folded into the aesthetic of the rural western American world of the picture. In terms of production design Pumpkinhead is a breathtaking feat of low budget artistry.

Pumpkinhead exists very much in the same kind of magical American folktale world as Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy (2018); the latter film is clearly heavily indebted to the former. In this milieu of dusty highways, autumnal woods, twisted trees, ramshackle shacks the story unfolds like an old horror comic with a brisk narrative economy where more is implied rather than shown.

Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) loses his son abruptly when a group of city kids descend on his little grocery store and accidentally kill his only child in an accident with their BMX bikes. The kids retreat to a cabin in the woods and Harley enlists an old witch to summon the avenging demon of Pumpkinhead to dole out justice where it is due.

The film plays like a morbid murder ballad with a fairytale twist. The witch’s hut looks decidedly German while the rural countryside evokes Poe. Interiors are lit with a radiant candle light of flickering orange colors; the daytime exteriors are tan and ripe with a dustbowl sensibility while the nighttime exteriors pulsate with a deep blue like some nightmare vision of a frightened child. It’s a terrible affecting world that the characters inhabit.

There is no real complex moral or political commentary in Pumpkinhead. It is a highly successful, highly stylized film that evokes the macabre and pinpoints the power of myth and legend more than it interrogates those concepts. How Pumpkinhead was a commercial failure I do not know. It is one of the great autumn horror movies of all time.