Starring Lance Henriksen
Written by Gary Gerani, Mark Patrick Carducci
Directed by Stan Winston
After his young son is accidentally killed by some teenagers, Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) visits a witch who conjures up the spirit of Vengeance, the demon.
Keep away from Pumpkinhead,
Unless you’re tired of living,
His enemies are mostly dead,
He’s mean and unforgiving,
Laugh at him and you’re undone,
But in some dreadful fashion,
Vengeance, he considers fun,
And plans it with a passion,
Time will not erase or blot,
A plot that he has brewing,
It’s when you think that he’s forgot,
He’ll conjure your undoing,
Bolted doors and windows barred,
Guard dogs prowling in the yard,
Won’t protect you in your bed,
Nothing will, from Pumpkinhead.
One of my favorite horror films of all time is Pumpkinhead. Directed by special effects genius Stan Winston, this is a mean, sharp horror film that demands to be seen. This probably has the best creature work I have ever seen in the character of Pumpkinhead himself, and it has only gotten better with age. In a time when all movie creatures are CG, it is refreshing to see a creature brought to life through practical effects. Yes, this film was released in 1988. Honestly, it is better now than I remember it being. I have re-fallen in love with this film.
Ed Harley is a single father with a young son. From the beginning of the film, he clearly loves his boy and dotes on him something fierce. Ed and his son run a small grocery store on the side of the road. When some city kids headed to a cabin in the woods accidentally run over little Billy Harley, Ed is grief stricken. He seeks out a witch who summons Pumpkinhead, the demon of vengeance, to extract revenge on the city kids who inadvertently killed his son. Soon, though, Ed comes to his senses and realizes that what he did was wrong. He then joins with the survivors to try to stop the demon.
Lance Henriksen. He is the linchpin that holds this whole film together. Sporting backwoods garb and buck teeth, he is the epitome of loving father. He has also never been better than he is in this film. I have been a fan of Lance since seeing this film. I saw this before I saw Aliens or Near Dark, two other amazing performances, and will watch anything the man is in. To this day, if I see Lance Henriksen on the cover of a Blu-Ray, I will watch it. In fact, I watched the TV show Millennium religiously and am dying to see Harbinger Down. He is also one of my Underrated Actors.
When I was in high school, I lived with my father and step-mother. We lived in the country, about five miles from the nearest town. At night, when it got dark, it got really dark. Sounds were amplified. A coyote howling a couple miles away could sound like it was in the back yard. My father and step-mother were both in the Air Force Reserves at the time, and one weekend a month they had to go to base. On one of those weekend nights, a friend and I were just hanging out at my house. As the night wore on, we decided to watch Pumpkinhead. I had seen the film before, but he never had. I told him that it wasn’t particularly scary, but was a damned good movie. We watched the film. After the film, he decided it was time to head home. As I walked him out to his car, there was a rustling in the corn field next to the driveway. We both freaked out. He jumped in his car and took off like a bat out of hell. I started walking quickly towards the house. The rustling grew louder as I neared the door and my footsteps grew quicker, a borderline full scale flee. I heard the rustling stop. I turned towards the field, my hand on the doorknob, my heart feeling like it was about to pound out of my breastbone. What did I see? Our dog coming out of the field, his tail wagging. Yes, watching Pumpkinhead had scared the living crap out of us.
Nostalgia can be a cruel mistress at times, especially when it comes to films. Most of the time, when you watch a film you loved as a younger version of yourself, you find that it does not hold up and you are disappointed. Other times, a film you disliked as a child will be a magnificent achievement as you age. This film, which I liked a lot as a younger man, actually got better over the years. I was actually blown away by how good it was. While I remembered every beat of the film, having seen it numerous times, it is only as I’ve aged that I appreciate the subtleties of performance and production design.
Obviously, Lance Henriksen was a revelation. So was Lee DeBroux as Tom Harley, Ed’s father in the opening of the film. He is simply amazing in the small part he has in the film. You honestly believe that he knows what is out there and has to go against every fiber of his being to leave that man outside to the mercy of the demon. You can tell he wants to let him in, to help. But he has to worry about his wife and young son. In the interest of saving his family, he has to leave the man to die. I couldn’t even imagine having to make that decision, but I can appreciate the choice he made, and if ever faced with a choice like that, I hope I would have the strength to NOT help and, in turn, save my family.
The production design for this film is also magnificent. From the subtle details of the claptrap town in the mountains to the witch Haggis’ swamp cottage to the burned out church, this film has atmosphere in spades. This is thanks to the production designer who really gave this film a unique feel. It is simply gorgeous.
Of all the horror films that came out in the ’80’s, this is by far my favorite. A dark, compelling story bolstered by a unique and terrifying creature and held up by the strong performance of it’s lead creates a trifecta of horror film making. If you have never seen this film, see this film. It is simply amazing. There is a reason that people know who Pumpkinhead is.
***1/2 out of ****
BIZZAM!! Fun Facts!
- Gypsy, Billy’s dog, is also the same dog from Gremlins.
- This was the film debut of Mayim Bialik, of The Big Bang Theory. See if you can spot her. She is rather young.
- From IMDB: This film, orphaned by the bankruptcy of De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, eventually garnered a spotty release when acquired by United Artists, which tested the film under the alternate title Vengeance – The Demon.
- If anyone wants to curry my all time gratitude and favor, you could send me a theatrical poster of this film!