Director: Stan Winston
Writers: Stan Winston, Mark Patrick Carducci, Gary Gerani
Starring: Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, Cynthia Bain, Joel Hoffman, Kerry Remsen, Kimberly Ross, John D’Aquino, George ‘Buck’ Flower, Florence Schauffler, Brian Bremer, Matthew Hurley
You ever hear of Razorback Hollow? There’s an old graveyard way back deep in them woods. Mountain folk used to bury kin in there, kin they’s ashamed of.
In my youth I always found myself attracted to the supernatural, I could not get enough of those Time/Life “Enchanted World” book series. I would read up on every ghostly tale that I could get my hands on but due to the region of the United States that I live in I’ve always enjoyed the stories of creatures and the haints, as my Great Grandmother used to call them, that roam the South. Now I do not want to give you readers the wrong impression of where I’ve had the pleasure of living for all my life but when you get a chance to watch Pumpkinhead, I can honestly tell you that I knew people that looked exactly like the Wallace family in that film, I went to school with them, and they most certainly lived off the beaten path. When I was picked up by bus to go to elementary school every morning we traveled down a winding path for about thirty minutes to reach them. It is now paved of course and they straightened the roads but at that time it was strictly dirt and gravel and was almost a constant dusk due to the tree canopies that blocked out most of the sun. It is called Wolfdale now but when I was young it was widely know as Wolf Holler…because wolves used to come down from the mountain in the old days apparently. So I can tell you true that when my father and I sat down for the matinee screening of Pumpkinhead one Saturday at our local theatre we kind of felt like some of the extras looked very much like our neighbors down in the Holler!
We start the film in the middle of the night at the Harley farm in 1957 where something is about to go down as Tom Harley has just loaded his shotgun. His young son, Ed, is at his bed praying with his mother, Ellie, while his father looks outside, clearly agitated. As young Ed slides under the covers, Tom goes outside and rolls up the window on his old truck and locks it. A storm seems to be brewing as Ellie tucks her boy in and looks out the window, she is also worried about something, and we see Tom secure their lone plow horse within their barn. As he returns to the house, Ellie clearly frightened asks if she should be worried but Tom doesn’t say anything.
We switch to a man running as if the devil himself were on his heels through darkened woods, we get a close shot of his face and see he has been wounded, deep scratches mar his features. The man makes his way through a cornfield before losing his footing and then screams as something yanks him though the rows of corn by his feet. Inside the Harley homestead, Tom and Ellie are sitting by their fireplace, Tom staring into the flames while Ellie mends . Young Ed lays awake and listens intently to the growing noises from outside.
All three of the Harleys then jump as the man who we saw being chased appears on their porch and begins to bang on the door, he identifies himself as Clayton Heller and he begs for Tom to open the door. As Clayton pleads on the outside, Ellie is torn as she wants to desperately help the man but Tom firmly reminds her that it has nothing to do with them. You can tell Tom is upset about this as well and we must assume that Clayton was a friend or at least close neighbor. Young Ed bolts up from the bed terrified at what is happening and when Ellie goes to comfort him, he asks why they cannot let Clayton in, his mother merely responds that they can’t, they just can’t.
Tom gets up from his chair and cocks his shotgun, demanding that Clayton get away from his door and to get away from him and his family. Clayton begins to sob at the door and tells them that ‘it’ is coming and he also adds, “I didn’t kill that girl…they say I did Tom but I didn’t!” Tom then threatens to shoot Clayton if he doesn’t leave his property, which Clayton wisely/foolishly then decides to make a run for it.
Clayton doesn’t make it very far before he is set upon by Pumpkinhead, the man is lifted bodily in the air by one leg and swung over and over into the sides of a gulch. We get a few brief glimpses of the creature and it has a bulbous shaped head with lots of pointy teeth and it seems to be enjoying itself as it tortures the man, you can almost make a big smile on its face. From within the Harley homestead we see that young Ed has climbed out of bed and is looking out his window…in the moonlight he watches as Pumpkinhead with Clayton in one hand, shakes his prey like a rag doll.
We then find ourselves in present day, present day being 1988, and Ed (Henriksen) is burning off some brush on his property with a small flamethrower. After finishing up his work and cleaning up he makes breakfast for his little boy, Billy (Hurley), who seems intent on feeding it on the sly to his dog, Gypsy. It is never said what has happened to Ed’s wife but I can only assume she passed away some years before. As Ed finishes up his bookkeeping where the two can go and open up their little roadside store, Billy presents his father with an oven baked clay figure on a string necklace (Henriksen and Hurley have such a wonderful chemistry in these opening scenes, which is important as it anchors the emotions for Henriksen’s character for the rest of the film).
A little after opening the store we are introduced to some college kids from the city as they are making their way to a cabin for a vacation. Steve (Hoffman) and his girlfriend Maggie (Remsen) are traveling in one vehicle with dirt bikes on a trailer along with Chris (East, hey it’s young Clark Kent from the Superman movie!) and his girlfriend, Tracy (Bain). In front of them in his sports car is Steven’s brother, Joel (D’Aquino) and his girlfriend, Kim (Ross). It is evident that Joel is pretty much a complete jerk hole as he not only call his girl, bimbo, but when he sees Billy, who wears glasses, he smarts off about him wearing coke bottles.
Tracy and Chris start to talk to Billy and play with Gypsy while Steven and Maggie go into the store to buy some snacks. Joel unties one of the dirt bikes and begins to tear up the little hills around the back of the store. At this point we are introduced to the Wallace clan (No relation to the Scottish warrior) as their Grandfather, Mr. Wallace (Flowers) visits briefly with Ed inside, he is there to pick up his feed which Ed admits to having left at his place. Ed promises to deliver the feed to Wallace’s front door before dark. Outside the store we see one of the Wallace children try to steal a ball andis ratted out his elder brother, Bunt (Bremer), and his siblings (including a very young Mayim Bialik before her Blossom days) surround the boy mob style as they begin to taunt him with a creepy rhyme:
unless you are 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 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.”
Tracy becomes scared by the rhyme herself and perhaps the childrens’ behavior, yelling for them to quit it. Bunt gives the ball back to Tracy and loads up his siblings in the back of their old flatbed truck, before Mr. Wallace exits the store and they drive off. At this happens Steven decideds to race his brother on his own dirt bike and they tear up the area as their friends watch on.
Ed calls in Billy and Gypsy to the store, telling them to stay there while he goes to collect Wallace’s feed. After he leaves though, Gypsy escapes outside and past the group of onlookers, Billy runs after his dog, though Maggie tries to stop him, and is struck down as Joel’s dirt bike hits him accidentally after a jump. Joel showing yet again he is a jack wagon gets in his vehicle and roughs up Kim when she tries to protest. Maggie freaks out as Steven and Tracy try to help the hurt boy, Chris runs to the store and finds out there is no phone and the group decides to try get help by using the phone in the cabin. Steven volunteers to stay with Billy while they go to call for help.
Ed arrives back at the store and when he calls for his son, he stops because he realizes he cannot hear the sound of the bikes any longer, exiting his store he sees Steven waving him over and rushes to his son’s side. This scene is so incredibly powerful that it gives me goosebumps. The look that Ed turns and gives Steven as the young man tries to help is blood curdling, there is just so much hate in that glare (Just to go on how great an actor Henriksen is, make sure to pay attention to how he reacts when he realizes he cannot hear those bikes anymore!).
Finally, dear readers, the review stops here. You’ll have to see for yourself where Ed turns to for vengeance he believes he wants and what it shall cost him and those he feels responsible for his wrath in the end!
Stan Winston did a fantastic job in his first directorial debut and the cast really nails their parts perfectly for this dark supernatural tale. Those involved elevated what should have been a strictly B picture, like the sequels that followed, to something really special and unique.
I give Pumpkinhead a solid five pumpkins out of five…just as long as those pumpkins don’t come from that graveyard in Razorback Hollow.