The Film (5/5)
Great drama is based in great tragedy, great horror too. This goes back to the dawn of genre in literature as well as cinema. In the 80's, the decade Stan Winston crafted his debut feature Pumpkinhead, the cinema landscape was littered with fun escapist slasher horror and not many of the tragic monster features of decades past. Winston with Pumpkinhead created a film that is one part Southern Gothic, one part drama, one part body count horror film, and a good heaping dose of real monster cinema creating something that is both a throw back to the output of the heyday of Universal and something that fits extremely well with it's 80's contemporaries.
The film tells the story of Ed Harley played wonderfully by Lance Henriksen. A rural grocery store owner who one morning leaves his very young son, Billy, to mind the shop while he goes back to the house to pick up feed for a customer. While out a group of dirt bikers vacationing in the area hit Billy with one of their bikes while he was trying to retrieve his dog. The boy dies, and the Father seeks out the assistance of a local witch named Haggis, first in the hopes of resurrecting the boy, when that isn't possible he goes for the alternative bringing a monster he saw from his youth "Pumpkinhead" to life to enact vengeance on the people who killed his child. She brings the monster to life, but it is not without consequence as the monster rampages through the area killing the group, Ed experiences each death through Pumpkinhead's eyes. He is slowly turning into the next Pumpkinhead monster. Beginning to feel guilt for what he has done to these people, he attempts to stop Pumpkinhead before it can complete Ed's vengeance.
I first saw Pumpkinhead at around the age of 10 on VHS. The film excited my little horror loving heart, and I remember the film warranted repeat rentals from me for many years. I never did pick up the DVD, so the new Blu-ray from those wonderful horror loving folks at Scream Factory has been my first opportunity to revisit the film in quite a long time. In that time I have had my own kids, and although the idea of revisiting the film certainly excited me, I braced myself for the impact of the child's death on my now adult self.
I was warned by friends who had revisited the film recently, and in the last decade, that this once amazing film became an increasingly hard watch since the arrival of their children. Maybe it was the advance warning, or my familiarity with the film, but the drama of Lance Henriksen's Ed Harley losing his young son did not impact me in the way I thought it would, and yet watching it without my young monster fever, I was able to view his performance for what it was, and honestly it was probably the best single performance of his career (out of the material I've seen which is plenty). The rest of the cast is solid for the most part, but Henriksen's performance is a truly dynamic performance down to the most minor of facial ticks.
The direction from first time director Stan Winston is absolutely marvelous. The early scenes setting the stage look absolutely beautiful, and naturalistic lulling us into the rural environment of the story, and as the story continues on he manages to turn this rural setting into a wonderful atmosphere backdrop for the horror to take place within. He also allows the story and characters to develop at a nice steady pace, before allowing the monster out to do it's thing, letting us feel for both sides of the equation, and giving us a deeper sense of the characters than what we are given in most of the body count horrors of the day.
Of course, noting that Stan Winston is in charge of the film mention should be made of the FX artistry, and of course, the monster itself which looks absolutely superb, and is one of the greatest creature designs of the late 80's period. However, in all likelihood dear reader, if you are checking out this review, you have probably either viewed the film or caught a glimpse of the titular monster during one of your many sojourns into the genre, and have possibly come to this conclusion yourself. I will conclude by saying that Pumpkinhead in 2014 still holds up as a wildly successful creature feature, and one of the finest monster horrors of recent decades.
I haven't seen Pumpkinhead since VHS so any upgrade was going to please me, a little, however Scream Factory's 1080p AVC encoded Blu-ray transfer pleases me a whole Hell of a lot. The film is presented in it's native 1:85:1 aspect ratio, and is simply a stunning transfer, and is possibly one of Scream Factory's finest. The colors look fantastic, and bright, black levels are inky and deep, there is a nice amount of fine detail present, and a healthy, but subtle amount of film grain throughout.
Scream have presented the audio in DTS-HD MA 2.0 and 5.1 mixes in English (subtitles thankfully included). The audio is quite good for the most part with dialogue coming through nicely, as does the FX, and score.
Scream have loaded up their release of Pumpkinhead to the brim with loads of extra features. We get a commentary track with some of the creative time, a six part making of documentary called Pumpkinhead: Unearthed that runs nearly an hour, a BTS featurette that runs 7 minutes, an interview with the sculptor that crafted Pumpkinhead, a 49 minute featurette paying homage to the late FX giant Stan Winston, you also get a still gallery, trailers, and more.
Scream Factory have put out one of their finest editions yet with the Blu-ray release of Pumpkinhead. The A/V looks and sounds amazing, and the extras are informative, entertaining, and plentiful, and sure to please fans of the film new and old. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.