Horror lends itself well to locales off the beaten track. Backwoods towns straddle the border between old world and modernity, nature and civilization, making them ideal settings for superstition to thrive. And this kind of dark fairy tale atmosphere is what Pumpkinhead is all about.
The movie opens with young Ed Harley’s family refusing a panicked neighbor shelter in their home. The man runs off, only for Ed to witness his death at the hands of a monstrous creature during the night.
Decades later, Ed (Lance Henriksen) runs the town shop while taking care of his own son. The two are content with their simple lives until a group of teenagers looking for a cabin stop for supplies. One tragic accident later, and Ed is left with the lifeless body of his child and the memory of the creature he saw when he was just a boy.
There are definitely tropes present in Pumpkinhead. Half the movie actually plays out very much like a stereotypical slasher film. The teenagers are bumped off one by one in various awful ways. They run, the creature always catches up somehow… you get the idea.
However, what elevates this movie so much is the half centered on Ed Harley. Lance Henriksen puts in a hell of a performance, and the audience gets a good look at the grief and rage driving him to make the Faustian deal he strikes–as well as the guilt that follows. Ed doesn’t just get his revenge; through blood, he’s linked to the demon and forced to experience its killings himself. It’s a good twist and provides a strong enough reason for him to reconsider what he’s done.
As expected from Stan Winston (who also directed), the titular monster is great to look at. It’s easy to see shades of the classic xenomorph from the Alien films, but there are enough differences to keep the design fresh and memorable. The process Ed has to go through to summon it is pure fairy tale, complete with an ancient witch (amusingly named, “Haggis”) and an eerie pumpkin patch that holds unspeakable things. It’s a lot of creepy fun.
While not a perfect film, Pumpkinhead is a great watch for fans of the genre. There’s a good actor giving it his damnedest and a killer far more unique in design and origin than its more conventional slasher kin. Already something of a cult classic due to its many appearances on cable, I can only hope more people give it a look.