31 Days of Hell: A Southern Gothic Creature Feature: Pumpkinhead (1988)

Pumpkinhead (1988) is definitely an underrated jewel of a horror film. It was directed by Stan Winston, who was famous for his fantastic work as a special make-up effects artist. He did the effects for several iconic sci-fi and horror franchises to include the Terminator series, Predator, Jurassic Park and many others. He won four Academy Awards for his contributions for the film industry. Pumpkinhead was his directorial debut, and while it's not a perfect film by any means, it is incredibly gorgeous visually and the creature effects are amazing.

The story is set in the deep south in a somewhat desolate rural area. Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) owns a small store and lives in a small house close by with his young son. A group of city folk come to his store to buy supplies for their motorbike excursion and an accident befalls the boy. Ed decides to avenge this wrong by summoning an ancient evil known only as Pumpkinhead. This film starts out more as a "creature feature" and by the third act it morphs into standard slasher fare as the monster stalks and kills its victims.

Surprisingly, Pumpkinhead's cinematography is beautiful and it was helmed by DP Bojan Bazelli, most recently known for his work on A Cure For Wellness (another exquisitely shot horror film). The camera pans slowly along verdant green vistas and the indoor scenes are awash with diffused sunlight pouring through the windows. Later on, when Ed visits the local hillbilly witch, her abode is all fiery oranges and reds, her profile seemingly backlit by the flames of hell itself. Pumpkinhead itself is a marvel to look at, though it is hidden in the shadows for much of the film. Its tall gangly form teeters on impossibly slender legs and it is some of the best animatronic/suit work I have seen in a horror film. I expected no less from Stan Winston, but it's very effective in instilling a sense of fear.

Where Pumpkinhead falters is in its acting and writing. Henriksen is by far the best actor and he does well as the frantic and murderously vengeful father. All of the rest of the actors are B movie level, but it doesn't pull down the overall quality too much. I did laugh at some of the hilariously overacted yokel characters that give the backwoods rednecks from Deliverance a run for their money in the stereotype department. The climax feels rushed though the ending is chilling and satisfying. I find this to be the case a lot of with effects-guys-turned-directors--they don't have as good a grasp on the implementation elements of movie making and focus on style over substance. That being said, this movie is still above most of its peers and worth a watch by all horror fans.

--Michelle Kisner