If you’re a child of the 80s or 90s, it is safe to say that you grew up with the work of Stan Winston. His work in the 80s – from The Terminator to Aliens, Predator and The Monster Squad – not only helped to create spectacle, it practically defined it. And this is all before his studio helped to bring dinosaurs to life in Jurassic Park. But, as pertinent to our childhood and to film history that this legacy may be, it almost always leaves out his directorial output – which is admittedly rather minimal – the best of which is Pumpkinhead, and it may be one of the better things that his name is attached to.
Unlike the above mentioned titles, I did not grow up with this one. That isn’t to say that I didn’t see it at a young age. I was probably 12 or so when I first saw it, mainly due to my local video shop having the eye catching one-sheet for its sequel adorning the wall of the horror section – but it was certainly not lumped into the same category as his other work, and for obvious reasons. Pumpkinhead is not a big movie by any sense of the word. There are no real stars to speak of – I know, I know, we all think that Lance Henriksen is a star – and it has no legitimate source material, the real selling point here is the creature and it shows.
Pumpkinhead gets its title from its titular creature, which we all know by now and any advertising materials at the time of its release made rather clear. Did anyone expect that the directorial debut from the guy who was responsible for creating Predator and The Terminator would do anything less? The story is pretty bare bones and works as a simplistic albeit rewarding dose of Americana folklore: a farmer (Henriksen) conjurs up the titular demon to avenge his son’s death at the hands of reckless youths. It basically boils down to a revenge tale, with a healthy amount of lore and witchery to shake things up. And really, it’s all just an excuse for the creature to look awesome when killing a bunch of punk kids.
Despite the creature being the main attraction here, Winston does craft a solid horror flick in nearly every regard. I’m all about atmosphere with my scares and Pumpkinhead – though never being legitimately scary – does have some to spare, with many of the outdoor scenes taking place at night and the audience never being completely aware of what’s happening. He also wisely keeps the creature reveal, at least the full creature reveal, for a ways into the runtime. It may be obvious why people are watching Pumpkinhead for the first time, but Winston at least gives them a reason to return to it. This isn’t an overly gory flick either, it has violence for sure and things do get a bit nasty towards the end but it’s surprisingly tame for the time it was made and is far less aggressive than its sequel. I have not seen either of the DTV titles from the past few years and can’t say that I intend to – making it feel almost as if it was initially targeted at a younger demographic, if it weren’t for all of that cussin’. It’s not a perfect movie and, honestly, if it weren’t for the creature being as well designed and utilized, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun as it is. Still, it has never gotten the fanfare that it deserves nor has Winston gotten enough recognition for it. Hopefully this release changes that.
Scream Factory bring Pumpkinhead to Blu-ray for the first time with a very nice 1080p transfer with nice blacks and bright colors. I was surprised at how good the night scenes looked here – of which there are a lot – and that’s where the contrast really shines. It never gets overly noisy, while retaining the look of the 35mm on which this was shot, and no excessive DNR or other restoration artifacts are present. One of the better transfers that I’ve seen from Scream Factory lately.
Audio fares nicely too, with Scream Factory offering a new 5.1 DTS-HD MA track alongside the original 2.0. I seriously love that they’re including original audio with these and not just the new HD tracks, allowing the purists to view it as originally intended and giving those with robust sound systems what they paid for. I sampled both and they are solid all around. I’ll always personally opt for the OG design, but that’s my preference and no matter which way you sway here, Scream Factory have you covered.
And now the supplements. Good lord, they’ve gone all out on this one. I’ve given Scream Factory some flack for not always going the distance with some of the touted “Collector’s Editions,” but they’ve really done their work here. We get a commentary track with a couple of the creature designers and the screenwriter – Stan Winston unfortunately passed away a few years ago – and things are always kept lively and fun, with a lot of anecdotes and history shared. If you don’t get enough on that track, we get an over hour long making of documentary titled Pumpkinhead Unearthed that’s full of interviews and behind the scenes footage, essential stuff here. There’s a nearly 50 minute long tribute to Winston titled Remembering the Monster Kid which is very touching and likely to bring a tear to many fans eyes during its run-time, a few more interviews that total almost an hour together, and another short behind the scenes featurette. Seriously stacked stuff. And it also includes a DVD of the feature for equal measure.
If you like Pumpkinhead at all, this is an essential release. If you’ve never seen it, there’s no better way to be introduced to it. Go get it.