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Pumpkinhead: An Underrated Franchise

Pumpkinhead 1988. The year of my birth. In other horror news, it was also the year that Pumpkinhead received a limited theatrical release in The United States and foreign markets such as France and Germany. The horror feature, a collaborative effort from Stan Winston, Mark Patrick Carducci, Richard Weinman, Gary Gerani, and based on the poem by Ed Justin, made such an impact on movie goers that it would eventually receive a much wider release a few months later.

Pumpkinhead‘s story begins when a local storekeeper (played by Lance Henriksen, also from Aliens) loses his son in a biking accident brought on by a group or rowdy out of towners. Driven to near madness by his anger and grief, he seeks out a powerful witch with the ability to resurrect the blood thirsty, mammoth sized demon known as Pumpkinhead. Pumpkinhead slashes his ways through the group of kids while the storekeeper – known as Ed – can only look on in terror. Realizing that he has made a horrible mistake, Ed then decides it is his duty to help destroy the monster by any means possible.

This movie was made on a medium sized budget compared to other horror titles, but it came across more as an independent feature. While that may have been a hard pill to swallow for the average viewer, Pumpkinhead‘s biggest strength – the emotional bonds between characters – is what really struck a cord with the masses. This wasn’t your typical creature feature where some mutated beast attacked at random and was stopped by a big brained biologist. This wasn’t the typical cinematic experience where people were gutted without reason and without connecting with the audience. No, Pumpkinhead brought something new to the genre by introducing likable characters, even the villains themselves, and showcasing the hardships of love.

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Love. It’s something you don’t expect to see in a horror film, especially thematically in a story about a giant demon ripping apart defenseless teenagers. When you think about it, love isn’t one sided, and Pumpkinhead showcased the many decisions and emotions that course through a person’s body when they are in love. From a father’s love and grief for his child, to the hopeless love of the young, and even the love between Pumpkinhead and the witch (what little there may be), Pumpkinhead used this strain of emotion to make a killing at the box office and almost doubled its original budget.

As is common with movies in an film genre, if there is money to be made then a sequel will be made too! Although, it wasn’t until six years later that Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings made its way to fans of the first flick. This go around, Pumpkinhead would seek out and destroy another group of hormone driven teenagers as well as the group of tormentors that murdered his son (yes, Pumpkinhead’s son) nearly 35 years earlier. Once again, vengeance and ever lasting love were linked together to create another great horror flick. This one is actually my favorite in the franchise. Despite positive reviews, Pumpkinhead II did not fair so well based on direct-to-VHS sales, though a PC game was released.

Pumpkinhead2The franchise would sit dormant again, this time for a whopping twelve years! Two new Pumpkinhead movies were shot back-to-back and scheduled to premiere – where else? – on the SyFy Network (at that time it was still SciFi). Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes abandoned the themes from its predecessors and lent itself to the new movie making innovations in Hollywood. In this feature, Pumpkinhead is summoned by townsfolk to seek revenge on the local mortician who has been stealing organs from their loved ones’ corpses and dumping their bodies into a lake after he receives payment for them. Pumpkinhead III is noteworthy for the return of Lance Henrikson and for providing a viable way to actually kill the vengeance demon himself.

If you ask me, Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes is probably the most interesting entry in the saga, but at the same time it is also the worst. The scenery – set throughout England and Romania – looked to be out of date, appearing to have clothing and houses from the 1940s despite being set in the present time. Also, I distinctly remember a scene where Pumpkinhead is jumping from roof top to roof top as a complete (and might I add, horribly made) computer generated image. The loss of practical effects in favor of CGI was such a big loss to the masters at work here and the CGI bits were cringe worthy.

The second film in the franchise reboot, Pumpkinhead: Blood Feud, was released only four months later in 2007. Writer and director Michael Hurst was able to bring the series back to what it was meant to be, focusing again on the dangerous mix of vengeance and love. All the while Pumpkinhead IV is set in the not so distance past, deep in the woods of the United States, and focuses on a Romeo and Juliet type of story. Two hillbilly families are at war over a disagreement about a car (yes, just a car) that happened many years ago. Of course, a boy and girl from both tribes are madly in love. When the girl dies due to the feud, her family summons Pumpkinhead to exact their revenge on the other side.

It was nearly seven years ago that Pumpkinhead IV received its television debut. In a market surrounded by horror film remakes, I’m glad that the Pumpkinhead franchise isn’t the latest series to receive an official Hollywood remake. I would much rather see another new entry, a new story in the Pumpkinhead saga then be forced to watch a “reinvisionment.” Besides, a Pumpkinhead remake would not be as successful as Friday the 13th or Evil Dead because, as the title of this post states, Pumpkinhead is one of the most underrated series of all time…yet it is undoubtedly one of my favorites.

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Written by Michael Therkelsen

(Senior Editor)