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.
—By Ed Justin
This was one review copy I desperately sought out and not because I wanted to see the new transfer Shout! Factory had done. Well, I mean, yeah, that was part of it, and I’m betting it looks sweet, but what I wanted more was an excuse to put all these memories I have of this movie into some kind of coherent narrative.
So for those just interested in my assessment of the disc’s specs and special features scoot all the way down to the bottom, all others who want to take a trip back to the late 80s with me as I wax nostalgic about the many times this came in and out of my life, before learning about the disc, sit back, grab a brewski and allow me at the controls of your way-back machine.
The year is 1987, the month is September, I was 18 and only 4 months out from my high school graduation. As I mentioned in my Leviathan (1989) review I stayed on top of new movie releases by watching Entertainment Tonight, which I cannot believe is still on, and generally every approaching Halloween season they would do a segment on the new horror movies hitting theaters. It was during this ’87 episode where I got my first taste of Stan Winston’s movie, showing the scene where the demon shows up at that abandoned and nearly torn down church where two of the kids and a local holed up, but since I had never seen anything like this Pumpkinhead before what I thought I glimpsed wasn’t really the truth of the matter. What I thought I saw was a demonic monstrosity brandishing a wicked looking sickle as it lingered at the top of this great staircase. In reality what I mistook for a sickle in its grip were its actual fingers. And there was no great staircase, it was standing in the doorway of that ruined church, but my mind interpreted the whole location as something else.
I remember being disappointed the next month when I didn’t see a commercial or a trailer or anything about the movie. I do recall sharing what I saw with Chris, the only friend I had managed to retain from high school.
It’s not until early 1989 when I start hearing about the movie again, this time through Fangoria∗. Even though Fang did a total of five issues on the it I only have two of them and issue #80 is the one I remember the most. I can’t recall if I ever saw any of the earlier ones, for my Fangoria collecting was sporadic back in high school and a few years afterwards. This was long before I ever got it in my head to subscribe and would only have access to the issues my local bookstore would get and they wouldn’t necessarily get every month’s.
But seek out issue #80, it’s written by the late Mark Patrick Carducci, one of the two screenwriters (the other is Gary Gerani) who fleshed out the concept and then added more flesh to it once Stan Winston became the director. It’s basically those three men we have to thank for creating this iconic movie demon and Carducci goes into detail in this issue on it’s distribution problems, along with how the concept came to him, etc.
It’s also got some great photos that instantly caught my attention. It was my first real look at the movie and the demon itself and I remember being very excited to see this flick some day.
And when did I eventually see it?
Summer of that same year.
The year Tim Burton’s Batman was taking the nation by storm.
I saw it on cable, but before then, oh, maybe a week before that airing I was down at the mall in one of the record stores perusing the VHS tapes they had on this one wall and I came across the movie and thought, ‘oh, yeah, that’s gonna be on next week.’
When that airing came around I shoved in a tape and recorded it—loved the movie instantly—but the next morning when I went to watch it again the recording looked like shit. It was a Maxell tape and I recall Maxell tapes being of substandard quality, but I normally didn’t use them for recording. I can only assume my parents had bought me a pack on the fly when I needed some more.
Up till then I never bought any movies on VHS, I just recorded everything from cable thinking the quality was the same so why would I eve need to buy them? It was that Pumpkinhead recording that finally taught me there was a difference. I so wanted this movie on a better tape that I instantly thought of that VHS I saw at the record store and even though this was my day off from work I knew I was going to go down and buy it.
I remember driving a little faster than normal too, imagining someone else stumbling upon the movie because of last night’s airing and snatching it out from under me. I even walked a little faster than normal into the mall and down to the store when I got there. My first scan of the VHS wall yielded nothing and I remember saying to myself, ‘okay, I know it’s here, I’m just not seeing it yet.’ I went row by row this time, meticulously looking at every title and nearly jumped out of my skin when I finally saw it. It was $19.99. I remember all tapes back then were either that or $14.99. I doubled checked my wallet again to make sure I had enough and walked up to the check out. I don’t think I breathed normally, until the dude bagged the movie and handed it to me. I remember feeling immensely relieved when I walked out of that store with a mint, mass-produced, VHS of Stan Winston’s movie.
When I got back into the car I took it out of the bag and looked at the cover. Yes, the VHS of this movie always had one kick ass cover. And that’s how I got into collecting VHS movies. I generally got over a hundred dollars in my paycheck and calculated I could buy roughly four movies with it and did so every other week.
These next two memories have no sequential order, though, if it means anything, this one may have come first. It’s when me and Aaron, a friend I had back then I didn’t typically hang out with, but for some reason I guess, Chris didn’t want, or didn’t have the time, to join me in seeing Batman. So long ago I can’t remember why I asked Aaron if he wanted to go. It was an afternoon showing and I called him up before I came down to pick him up.
I banged on that door loudly for, like, ten minutes, and I was getting pissed. I mean, I just called him up and spoke to him? Where the hell was he? Surprisingly the door wasn’t locked so I took it upon myself to go in and head up to his room. Found him sound asleep on his bed, and he was so deeply asleep I had to shake him to wake him.
We headed out but I always suspected he took something or got high after I called him. Anyhow while we were in line getting tickets I told him of Pumpkinhead and he replied he had a friend who may have seen the movie in New York, he said the plot sounded familiar but it was being shown under a different title. I told him about the alternate title, Vengeance: The Demon, and he said, yes, that was the movie his buddy saw.
Now Chris comes back into the picture. We were checking out this new video store in the next town and we came upon the VHS cover of Pumpkinhead sitting on the shelf. Don’t know if any of you remember but back then VHS rental stores used to just put the empty VHS cover on the shelves and if you wanted it you took it up to the register and turned it in for the actual video tape. I picked it up, held it out to him and said, “You wanna see a really awesome movie, rent this one.”
He took it, peered skeptically at the cover and told me, “Yeah, but the monster in these movies never look as awesome as they do on the cover.”
I replied, “Trust me, Chris, this one does.” I then told him I had already seen it. He was still skeptical and we walked around the store a little longer. This trip was mostly for him; he was dying to rent something new. Eventually he rented it and another movie. I can’t remember what that other movie was.
A week or so later, when we hung out again, this time at our local hang out, Village Pizza, he quickly told me how awesome the movie was and we discussed it at length for a while that night.
Good times, man. Good times, indeed.
For those not privy to the pleasures of Pumpkinhead allow me to educate you poor bastards on what this movie is about. If you’re sensitive to spoilers I recommend then you stop reading because I’m going to be doing some spoiling.
Thanks to James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) and Lance Henriksen’s role of the android, Bishop, in that film, the actor was propelled into the big time. I remember after that seeing him in three movies in a row that I liked. The first was Near Dark (1987), the second was The Horror Show in spring of ’89, and then finally Pumpkinhead on cable that summer. He easily became one of my favorite actors and in Pumpkinhead he plays backwoods dweller, Ed Harley, who has a son named, Billy, and a dog named, Gypsy. He makes ends meet running this local foodmart on the side of the road, but from what we see in the prologue, Ed’s been haunted by something he saw when he was a kid. Looking out the window he saw a monster! He saw Pumpkinhead! He saw Pumpkinhead killing a guy!
And when Pumpkinhead is set loose everyone knows it. You stay inside for the night and let no one into your house, not even the guy the demon is hunting, ’cause Pumpkinhead only kills what he’s been sent after… and anyone who gets in his way. So, stay the fuck out of his way.
Cut to a group of vacationing kids heading down the same road Harley has his store on. Kids at the time I was not familiar with, but am now due to having seen some of them in other flicks and even forgetting one of them was in the most famous flicks of all.
Jeff East plays Chris in the movie but I forgot he played teen Clark Kent in Superman (1978), and according to the back of the DVD cover of Pumpkinhead was also in Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing (1981). Yeah, I guess he was. I still haven’t revisited that movie yet.
Cynthia Bain, whom I’ve never seen in another movie since, plays his girlfriend in the movie, Tracy, but according to IMDB I may have . . . in Tobe Hooper’s Spontaneous Combustion (1990) but have very little recall of it, and she’s also done a lot of television before and since.
Actors Joel Hoffman and John D’Aquino play brothers, Steve and Joel, respectively. Steve’s the “good, little brother” while Joel is the “older douche” who’s been in trouble with the law before. Hoffman I’ve only seen once, in Jim Wynoski’s 1988 remake of Not Of This Earth, and D’Aquino I instantly recognized when he became a part of that 1993-1996 series, SeaQuest DSV.
Kerry Remsen and the late Kimberly Ross play Steve and Joel’s girlfriends, Maggie and Kim. From what I see on IMDB Ross has had the second shortest career of these kids (Hoffman being the first) with only 10 other appearances in TV and movies. The movie, Death Street USA, in 1988 seems to be her last and I was shocked to find out she died in 2006 from breast cancer. Regarding Remsen, another actress I can’t remember from anything else, IMDB says she was in A Nightmare On Elm Street 2 (1985), Ghoulies 2 (1988) and After Midnight (1989) as well as some TV shows I used to watch. I’ve seen those movies and some of those TV shows, but cannot remember her from any of them. This movie is the only thing she stands out for me in.
All the kids are relatable and likable, well, not D’Aquino’s character in the beginning. You get the obvious sense he’s a douche and then after they stop off at Harley’s store he displays more douchy behavior culminating in the very act that gets Pumpkinhead set loose upon them.
Taking their dirt bikes out into a field next to the store, Joel and Steve, race around until an accident gets Harley’s kid out there with them and run over. Panicking the other kids take off to the cabin they were originally headed for while Steve stays with the dying kid until Harley returns.
Later on Billy dies in Ed’s and he goes in search of this witch everyone knows of up there in thar hills that has the power to conjure up this demon of vengeance. It’s not until Pumpkinhead is set loose that Ed realizes there’s a hidden price he’ll pay for his vengeance. And you know what say about that, when you go in search of revenge you dig two graves. One for your enemy and one for yourself. The demon and the man are now linked and very time the demon kills, Ed psychically sees and feels it, and as things get worse the demon’s visage begins to resemble Ed’s and Ed begins to exhibit demonic tendencies.
One of the things that makes this flick unique is half way through the “resident douchebag” of the group actually grows a pair and decides to own up to his transgression, and I was amazed I ended up hoping he might actually survive. It’s a very excellent performance by D’Aquino for he makes you hate then then genuinely like him later on.
The movie is stylishly filmed and comes with a spectacular creation by FX artist Stan Winston’s crew. At its core it’s essentially a man-in-a-suit but what makes it truly stand out is that it’s augmented with animatronics in the face and hands, extensions in the arms and legs that give it towering height, and a matching physical performance by Tom Woodruff, Jr., that easily cements into the pantheon of iconic “monsters” from the 80s we still can’t get enough of.
As far as I can tell Pumpkinhead was released two previous times on DVD, a bare bones one in 2000 and a special edition in 2009. As of this past September 9th Shout! Factory’s genre arm, Scream Factory, as finally welcomed this cult classic into the warm embrace of blu-ray. Take note there is no remastered DVD. Shout!/Scream generally does this when the DVD version is still in circulation.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition—2.0/5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audios—English subtitles only.
This is the best I have ever seen this movie. So much so I noticed for the first time ever that the vest Jeff East wears throughout the film is vented in the back and on the sides. Detail and color are amazing; didn’t have a problem with either audios either.
All the extras from the previous 2009 special edition have been ported over including the commentary with co-screenwriter Gary Gerani and Creature & FX Creators Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis, moderated by Scott Spiegel:
- Pumpkinhead Unearthed (1:03:59 in HD): To accent those two previous Fangoria editions I previously mentioned, if you want to know even more about the movie, watch this doc.
- Demonic Toys (4:50): Sculptor, Jean St. Jean discusses sculpting Sota’s huge action figure of the demon.
- Behind-the-Scenes Footage (7:11): From studio to the set see how Winston’s crew built and operated the demon.
- Still Gallery (13:39): 102 photos, most I’ve never seen before, of stills, behind-the-scenes, posters, memorabilia and production design shots
- Theatrical Trailer
And here’s the new stuff!
- Remembering The Monster Kid: A tribute To Stan Winston (49:11)
- Night of the Demon with Richard Weinman (16:29)
- The Redemption of Joel with John D’Aquino (14:02)
- The Boy with the Glasses with Matthew Hurley (14:30)
The tribute to Stan Winston doc is even better than the talk Gillis, Woodruff and Shea did on their Leviathan (1989) featurette, which all three are back to do again, along with Henriksen and Brian Bremer who played backwoods kid, Bunt, in the film. I imagine there’ll be a third one about him on Scream’s Invaders From Mars (1986) blu next year, which I cannot wait to see.
The interview with Richard Weinman is a good companion piece to the Mark Carducci’s Fangoria #80 article in that he goes into more detail as to how the concept of Pumpkinhead came about and more about it’s distribution problems. It’s also clear he’s not a fan of those SyFy channel sequels.
Matthew Hurley, who played Ed Harley’s doomed child, mentions in his interview he never really saw and understood the movie until he was 12. John D’Aquino mentions in his talk that when he and Jeff East first met they did not get along, and even came to blows in the auditioning process. He now runs a school for young actors.
This movie was catching lightening in a bottle. If you’ve never seen it, or have never seen any of these extras, you’ll come away with the sense that every one who participated in this flick was the right person for the job, which goes further in showing you how this movie became the cult classic that it is. And like all most movies of this ilk sequels inevitably get made, with the hope that lightening could be caught again. It wasn’t. To date there are three in existence and while I have very little memory of the second one I do recall the stories and the setting with the two SyFy channel ones being somewhat solid. I mean, at least, they stuck with the folks in the back country.
What I take issue with, though, on all three is the portrayal of the demon. In those follow-ups he got reduced to being a simple man-in-a-suit; I was never impressed by any of them, and in fact turned off by how he was created at the most rudimentary level in the SyFy ones, even being inevitably rendered in the channel’s typically crude CGI at certain points.
Recently news broke that one of the producer’s from those SyFy sequels is planning on doing a remake, which, if it’s done in the same vein as the latest movies, will be the final nail in Pumpkinhead’s coffin.
Okay, here’s my recommendation for anyone who wants to take a stab at the Pumpkinhead mythology, first off I recommend buying this blu-ray and watching the movie and all the extras, then pay close attention to the end of the movie. There are three survivors, Bunt, Tracy and Chris. Don’t do a remake, do a sequel to the first film with those three as your main characters, in fact, Bunt all grown up should be the sole focus, which I think he was in one of those SyFy channel movies. Even try to get the original actors back. Then go to Amalgamated Dynamics, these are the guys who created the demon in the first film, and get them to re-create him for the sequel. And finally if you’re going to use CGI, do it right. For me personally, I don’t care how great a story is if I see a crudely made CGI monster, I’m out. There’s a monster movie that was made in Ireland called, Grabbers (2013). Go watch that film. The CGI creature in that movie is convincingly rendered. Why? Because the filmmakers took a whole year in post-production to get it right.
There I’ve said my peace.
Now, if you live in Canada and don’t want to buy this movie at Amazon up there, you can get it at BOULEVARD MOVIES (Hard-to-find horror movies, cult classics, sci-fi and exploitation films on DVD and Blu-ray). They ship worldwide and you can buy it right here.
Last but not least here’s a slideshow of rare photos Fangoria unearthed back in March of this year.
∗ Pumpkinhead was covered in these issues: #68, p.32-55 (M. Carducci & G. Gerani); #69, p.44-47 (S. Winston); #70, p.44-47 (FX Crew); #80, p.30-33 (Carducci) and #257, p.76-82 (retrospective).