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Director: Stan Winston
Writer: Mark Patrick Carducci and Gary Gerani (Story by Stan Winston and Richard Weinman)
Cast: Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, and John D’Aquino
Length: 86 min
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: September 9, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
- Pumpkinhead Unearthed: An hour long documentary chronicling the production of the film.
- Night of the Demon with Richard Weinman: Interview with Co-Writer Richard Weinman.
- The Redemption of Joel with John D’Aquino: Interview with actor John D’Aquino.
- The Boy with the Glasses with Matthew Hurley: Interview with Matthew Hurley on his time as a child actor.
- Demonic Toys: Featurette covering the Pumpkinhead toy lines.
- Remembering the Monster Kid: A Tribute to Stan Winston: Featurette paying homage to Winston, with those who knew him well.
- Audio Commentary with SFX team Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis, co-writer Gary Gerani, and filmmaker Scott Spiegel.
- Behind the Scenes Footage
- Still Gallery
- Original Theatrical Trailer
Stan Winston is a name that—in our circles—should need no introduction. He is the vision behind some of the most inventive and memorable SFX designs throughout most of the 80s and 90s. Earning his iconic stature with John Carpenter’s The Thing, Winston would go on to work on The Terminator Series, Edward Scissorhands, and Jurassic Park; earning 4 Oscars by the time of his death in 2008. While foremost a SFX guru, Winston tried donning a new hat with his 1988 horror film, Pumpkinhead, where he served as a first-time director. Despite an initial poor reception, the film has since gone on to become a cult hit, spawning numerous sequels and adaptations of varying quality. An almost mandatory fall film, Pumpkinhead has arrived on Blu-Ray just in time to be appreciated in all its original glory, thanks to Scream Factory; and, in SF fashion, there are plenty of treats to go around.
The film begins in a rural wooded village in the year 1957. A haze of bright blue fog clouds the darkened terrain, creating a surrealist nightmare out of the locale. Safe inside his cabin, Tom Harley closes his homestead in order to protect his wife and young child, Ed—there is a palpable fear in the air. Outside the safety of the Harley domicile, a man runs for his life through the labyrinthine forest, stopping outside of the Harley house. He pleads to Tom to let him in, shouting that he had nothing to do with “that” little girl’s death. There is no relief for this man, his fate has been set and Tom assures him that there is nothing he can do to save him. At this, the entity that has struck fear in the hearts’ of these people is revealed: the staggering demon-like being appears and—as Ed watches through his window—slaughters the doomed man.Cut to thirty some years later, Ed (Lance Henriksen) resides with his son, Billy, in small desert community, where he owns and operates a gas station and market. The sinister, soft focused veneer of the opening scene has all been swept away for a sharp and warm feeling. Life seems idyllic for Ed and Billy, that is, until a group of rowdy, rich city teenagers invade their peaceful space. Ed, having to run a delivery, leaves his son to man the shop, but not before assuring him that he must stay inside. But, when their dog Gypsy runs out after the teenagers—who are now jumping motorcross bikes in a makeshift course across from the Harley shop—Billy ignores his father’s wishes and goes chasing after. Running into the course, Billy is hit by a biker and severely injured. Fearing punishment, all but one of the teenagers run off, but by the time Ed returns home it is too late—Billy is past saving. Left with nothing, Ed is set on revenge, and seeks out a witch who is rumored to be able to conjure the spirit of the aforementioned creature, Pumpkinhead. In a state of bereavement, Ed defies the witch’s warning that no good can come from the revenge. Failing to heed her warning, the witch reluctantly agrees to help summon the creature. By the time Ed does come to his senses it is too late, the creature is brought back to life and begins wreaking havoc on the teenagers who took Billy’s life. Now it is up to Ed to stop Pumpkinhead before it kills them all, but that turns out to be trickier than imagined….
There is no denying that Winston was an absolute visual whiz. The world of Pumpkinhead is stunning. Winston has an astute eye for the dreadful and surreal atmosphere. With the exception of the desert terrain, the film looks intentionally artificial—doing little to cover the fact that the environment looks like film set. This is in no way a negative critique, as the artificial nature of the environment builds towards the film’s nightmarish quality. The film world is folklore incarnate. A chilling atmosphere that will be sure to leave its mark.
However, despite Winston’s eye for creation, his talents as a director aren’t so even. While all of the elements of the world in which Pumpkinhead exists look great, set in motion the film lacks a cohesive flow. Winston did not have a director’s mind, which causes the organization of shots to organize together in a poor manner. Because of this, the creature moves in a stiff manner, which undermines the film’s action and terror. There are a few very beautiful shots, and some creative framings, but, overall, the film suffers from spotty direction. It is easy to see why Winston abandoned directorial work—directing only one film after Pumpkinhead.
With that being said—and while the film is far from flawless—there is so much about Pumpkinhead that is worthwhile that it is hard to take too much stock in this criticism. If you can bracket a bit of awkward action and uneven tension, the film is certain to entertain. In spite of the initial reviews that panned the film’s acting, Henrikson is quite surprising in his role. He is very dedicated to his character and there is honesty and passion to his portrayal that is sometimes rare in these kinds of creature features. You believe in his bond with his son, and when Billy dies, you will no doubt feel his pain. In addition, while there isn’t a ton of blood and guts, the SFX design work looks great. The Winston SFX team only has one overarching problem; they borrow from their own work far too often. There is a common criticism hurled at Pumpkinhead, and it is hard to disagree with it—the creature does bear a striking resemblance to the Alien Xenomorph. But, when you consider the film’s meager budget and consider the numerous positives to the creatures, we can forgive this more minor point. After all, while there are a number of similarities, Pumpkinhead maintains enough individuality to be successful—and I am sure the waves of the film’s cult followers will agree.
Scream Factory has delivered Pumpkinhead in a superb fashion. Even with their good track record, when I heard that the film was being upgraded to Blu-Ray I wasn’t too sure what to expect. With the film’s low budget and exploitation of dark scenes with strong reds and blues, it seemed like they could be setting themselves up for disaster. We are happy to report that this was in no way the case, as the 1080p 1.85:1 print they acquired is beautifully maintained. There are very little signs of age related damage, colors are strong and dynamic, skin tones are natural, and there are, happily no noticeable attempts at digitally enhancing the picture. What we are left with is the sometimes soft and dark, sometimes bright and crisp, film that was released nearly 30 years ago—in all its flawed glory.
In terms of audio, Scream Factory has given the viewer the option of either a 5.1 or 2.0 DTS-HD MA mix. Both mixes exhibit a fine respect to clarity and fidelity, and there are no age related issues on display. It will boil down to a personal choice, whether you like 5.1 or 20, with this release, both are great options.
In terms of features, Scream Factory has gone well and above what anyone may expect for this release. There isn’t, nor will there be, a Pumpkinhead collection with a stronger attention to detail than what Scream Factory has given us here. Interview featurettes add up to about 45 minutes, and are comprised of actors Matthew Hurley (Billy) and Joe D’Aquino (Joel), and co-writer Richard Weinman—who even offers a glimpse at where the origin of Pumpkinhead lies. In addition, and by and large the best two features in the package, are Pumpkinhead Unearthed and Remembering the Monster Kid: A Tribute to Stan Winston—the latter emerging as a Diabolique favorite. While Pumpkinhead Unearthed acts a typical documentary style piece of interviews that gives us a look into the production of the film, Remembering the Monster Kid is a touching look at the life of a man who made the movies a little bit more fun. Here, people who were the closest to him reminisce about Stan, paying homage to one of cinema’s greatest SFX icons. Rounding out the package is a few small, but great pieces, including a Behind the Scenes look at working with the creature design; Demonic Toys, a featurette that chronicles the toy lines that resulted from the franchise; a stills gallery; original trailer; and a fantastic audio commentary with SFX team Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr., Co-Screenwriter Gary Gerani, and filmmaker Scott Spiegel.
If you are a Pumpkinhead fanatic, there is no question, this is an absolute must own. In addition, if you are one of the many that picks up every Scream Factory release, you won’t find yourself disappointed. For the rest of you, all we can say is that this release comes highly recommended. Pumpkinhead gives back what you put into it. If you try to take it too seriously, it will fail you; but if you sit back and have fun with it, you won’t be let down. Packed with over two hours of features, you are more than getting your 22 dollars worth here. In light of some of the recent unfair critiques hurdled at Scream Factory, it is releases like this that prove that the films and the fans come first for Scream Factory, and we are happy to see them continuing to go strong.