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Pumpkinhead Collector's Edition

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Release Date: 
1988
Studio: 
Scream Factory
Genre: 
Monster
Format: 
Blu-ray
Region: 
A
Aspect Ratio: 
1.85:1
Directed by: 
Stan Winston
Cast: 
Lance Henriksen
Jeff East
John D'Aquino
Kimberly Ross
Joel Hoffman
Movie: 
4
Extras: 
5
Bottom Line: 
4
Video: 
Click to Play

The legend behind the brilliant FX work in The Terminator, Aliens, Predator, and Manimal (okay, maybe not so much the latter) Stan Winston was known as one of the hardest working and most colorful characters in the industry, and his Stan Winston Studios was the go-to for anyone looking for the era’s best practical FX magicians. In 1988, the FX maestro was handed the reins to Pumpkin head; his very own monster movie!  While it was no surprise that he and his team delivered in terms of sheer spectacle, the biggest revelation was the fact that this film made by a man known primarily for his monsters turned out to be so downright human.

Pumpkinhead opens in 1957, with a young Ed Harley cowering in his bed while his mother and father batten down the hatches in anticipation of the arrival of something truly frightening. Soon, a howling wind whistles through the cracks of their ramshackle cabin and the distant sound of screams ring out in the night. There’s a pounding at their door; a friend of Ed’s dad – wounded and terrified – begging for protection from the unseen force that’s stalking him. Ed’s dad warns him off, telling him it’s too late for him, and, with that, we hear the shrill cries of the man as he’s thrown like a ragdoll through the woods. Just as the man is in his death throes, Ed sneaks a peak out of his window, and it is then that he sees it – the legendary vengeance demon known as Pumpkinhead.

Flash forward thirty years. The widowed Ed (Lance Henriksen) is now the proprietor of a roadside country store, which he runs with the help of his young son, Billy (Matthew Hurley). When a gaggle of “city folk” stop in for supplies for their trip to a nearby cabin, brothers Joel (John D'Aquino) and Steve (Joel Hoffman) decide to take their dirtbikes for a ride while their friends Chris (Jeff East) and Kim (Kimberly Ross) socialize with the Wallace kids while their Pa (George “Buck” Flower) goes inside to pick up his feed from Ed. Ed informs Wallace that he’s forgotten the feed up at the house,  but promises to deliver it to his door before the day is out. While the city teens are still BMX riding in the nearby hills, Ed leaves little Billy and his dog to mind the store while he goes off to get Wallace’s feed. However, Billy’s dog runs off and Billy chases after him, right into the path of Joel’s bike.

While Billy lay dying, Joel panics and flees with his girlfriend, Tracy (Cynthia Bain) while Chris, Kim, and Steve’s girlfriend, Maggie (Kerry Remsen) drive off to phone for help, leaving Steve to sit alone with Billy’s body until Ed returns. Overcome with grief and rage at the loss of his son, Ed decides to make a pact with a local witch to summon the beast from his youth to carry out his vengeance for him, and it’s not long before the careless city folk begin paying the price for their misdeeds. However Ed soon regrets his decision and tries to call off his deal with witch, but learns it’s too late for that, forcing him to take up arms in hopes of stopping Pumpkinhead and saving his own soul.

The star of Pumpkinhead is obviously the titular creature, and it’s among one of Stan Winston Studios’ finest creations. From its towering stature and amazing articulation to its expressive and evolving face, the beast truly looks and feels like an organic being and not just a well-sculpted latex and actuator-filled concoction. As I said at the outset; no one would expect any less from a monster movie helmed by the master of making monsters. However, Pumpkinhead actually proves to be much more than a simple monster movie, instead playing out like a rich and atmospheric southern gothic fairy tale, bathed in creeping mists, long shadows, and a gold-hued palette that, like all good southern gothics, gives the viewer a palpable sense of the film’s sweltering locale that’s evident from the moment we see a shirtless Ed drag his kerchief across his brow.

The emotional center of the film is, of course, Henriksen, who is given ample room to roam by Winston, obviously having earned the trust and respect of his director. Henriksen’s performance is one of the better ones you’ll see in the genre, as he balances rage and grief with a sense of spiritual duty to do the right thing, even though he does so with an obvious reticence. He still believes that these city folks deserve to pay for what they’ve done to his boy, but, as he says during a particularly convincing breakdown in front of the witch who summoned his avenger, “not like this”.

Pumpkinhead wasn’t a box-office success, but it went on to earn a huge cult-following, and, befitting its stature in the genre, Scream Factory has given this film a spectacular collector’s edition treatment on Blu-ray.

The film is presented in a very impressive 1.85:1 transfer that perfectly replicates the southern gothic aesthete, with warm golds and reds dominating the daylight and interior sequences, and cool blues and deep, velvety blacks in the latter night segments. The film has a gauzy, stylized look overall, but that is a byproduct of the era, and, while it does soften the image at times, there’s still a surprising amount of fine detail evident throughout, especially in close-ups of both the human and inhuman performers.

Of the two audio choices –both stereo and 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio tracks – the former stood out as the more dynamic and balanced one, but the 5.1 track is no slouch, offering some impressive directional effects and a touch more by way of immersion.

As with all of Scream Factory’s Collector’s Editions, Pumpkinhead comes in an embossed slipcase, and features a reversible cover, with one side featuring the original poster art while the other side sports a fantastic new illustrated design by Justin Osbourne. The set is also loaded with bonus goodies, including:

Commentary  by FX artists Tom Woodruff Jr., Alec Gillis,  and co-screenwriter Gary Gerani

Pumpkinhead Unearthed (HD) — A lengthy, multi-part documentary that covers everything from the film’s inception to the finished product and audience reaction.

Remembering The Monster Kid (HD) — A fantastic overview of Stan Winston’s career featuring interviews with various co-workers and people influenced by the man’s work.

We also get a few short interview segments including The Boy with the Glasses (HD), with actor Matt Hurley, who played the ill-fated “Billy”; The Redemption of Joel (HD), which features John D’Aquino reminiscing about his work on the film, and Night of the Demon (HD), which is another remembrance piece, this time featuring producer Richard Weinman. Rounding out the extras are a collection of FX oriented mini-docs (HD),  a stills gallery (HD), and the film’s trailers (HD).

Pumpkinhead is a really impressive and delightfully old-fashioned monster movie that is equal part Universal Monsters and southern gothic fairytale. It’s a beautifully shot film, and Scream Factory’s feature-laden collector’s edition Blu-ray will surely be the definitive edition of this cult-classic for years to come.

Highly recommended! 

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