Saturday, September 6, 2014

Blu-ray Review: PUMPKINHEAD (1988) [Scream Factory]

Pumpkinhead (1988)

Buy the Blu-ray

The Movie

Stan Winston was a hell of an effects genius. I suppose that all the groundbreaking work that he did directing effects sequences for some of cinema's most memorable genre films gave him a solid knowledge of what goes into directing an entire film, too; because his one and only feature credit, 1988's PUMPKINHEAD, is a wonderful movie. Not only is it a great monster flick, but it also has well-rounded characters and an emotional backbone that will make even the toughest dudes among us teary-eyed. That goes triple for those of us with children.

The film's basic plot (taken from the official summary) is pretty easy to digest:
When a group of teenagers inadvertently kill his only son, Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen, Aliens) seeks the powers of a backwoods witch to bring the child back to life. But instead, she invokes “the pumpkinhead” – a monstrously clawed demon which, once reborn, answers only to Ed’s bloodlust. But as the creature wreaks its slow, unspeakable tortures on the teens, Ed confronts a horrifying secret about his connection to the beast – and realizes that he must find a way to stop its deadly mission before he becomes one with the creature forever.
However, while the essential structure of PUMPKINHEAD is simple, the movie itself doesn't just retread old ground. The monster, referred to as Pumpkinhead, was a brand new creation, and Winston's film, and it's special effects, are special enough that it is now considered iconic in horror circles; right up there with the classic monsters, some would argue.

But, PUMPKINHEAD isn't simply a creature feature... It's tagline touts that it's "A Grim Fairy Tale," and I would have to agree with that description. The movie is every bit the twisted morality tale that the best of the Grimm Brothers' work was, and it's accurate to say that the movie really feels like a dark Southern Gothic Fairy Tale, with a Cajun twist, in which the viewer is forced to ask themselves whether revenge is really worth the cost; in this case, your soul.

At first, it's easy to sympathize with Harley. The accidental death of his son is honestly one of the most painful moments that I've watched play out in a theater. However, as he becomes all-consumed with hatred and vengeance, we see a once proud and virtuous man literally turning into a beast before our eyes. And, as he does, the kids who are the target of his rage become scared, pathetic victims.

PUMPKINHEAD asks us to be careful what we wish for, and it does a damn good job at conveying its message. The film is dark and oppressive, and it uses its backwoods-swamp setting to great effect. The monster looks fantastic as it emerges to wreak havoc, and path it carves throughout the Cajun countryside is horrifically beautiful to look at. There really aren't many other creature features out there that look this, and that really is a credit to the late Winston and the crew that he pulled together for the film.

The performances are also quite good. Most notably, Henriksen is downright fantastic as Harley. In fact, during the moments where he is at his most rage-filled, he is a good bit more frightening then the giant creature doing his bidding. And I'll be damned if he didn't make me feel every bit of sorrow that his character experienced during the first act of the film.

Rewatching PUMPKINHEAD really makes me wish that Stan Winston had done more feature directing during his career. It's not just a great monster movie, but it's a great movie period.  I can't recommend it enough

Movie Score


The Blu-ray

PUMPKINHEAD makes its Blu-ray debut, courtesy of Scream Factory, in a features-packed "Collector's Edition" disc. The original key art is included on the revese side of the cover insert, while the slipcase features the brand new (and awesome) artwork featured on the front cover.

Video Quality (4/5)

The movie's 1080p AVC-encoded transfer looks damn good. While it's not a brand new remaster, it's definitely a large improvement over the old DVD releases of the film (the first of which wasn't even in Widescreen). Detail is good, colors are strong, and there are very few issues with it. Much of the film takes place at night, but the dark setting looks great here.

Audio Quality (4/5)

Scream Factory brings PUMPKINHEAD to Blu-ray with two main audio tracks: A nice DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track of the film's original sound mix, and the remixed 5.1 track that was featured on the previous Special Edition DVD. Both tracks sound great, and while the 2.0 track obviously is the go-to for purists, there is a lot to like about the 5.1 mix and the ambient sound effects that it uses to immerse the viewer. Pick your poison; either way, you should be happy.

Extra Features (5/5)

PUMPKINHEAD comes to Blu-ray with a great smorgasbord of extras. All of them are worth your time, and there is enough here to keep fans busy for hours. 
  • Pumpkinhead Unearthed (~64 min): A great, comprehensive documentary on the film that covers just about everything you might want to know. Carried over from the old Special Edition DVD, but presented here for the first time in HD. Easily the best feature on the disc 
  • (New) Remembering the Monster Kid - A Tribute to Stan Winston (~50 min): The other must-watch feature on the disc. This retrospective piece looks back on Stan Winston's life and celebrates it through interviews with many folks who knew him well. It's a great companion to the feature on Scream's recent LEVIATHAN Blu-ray.
  • Audio Commentary with Co-Screenwriter Gary Gerani and Creature and FX Creators Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis, Moderated by Scott Spiegel: Another carry-over from the old DVD. This commentary is still just as fun of a listen as it was when it was first released. Lots of great information, and Spiegel does a very good job of moderating.
  • Behind the Scenes (~8 min)
  • (New) Night of the Demon with Richard Weinman (~17 min): An interview with the film's co-writer.
  • (New) The Redemption of Joel with John D'Aquino (~15 min): An interview where D'Aquino discusses his character's story arc and why he must be punished by PUMPKINHEAD.
  • (New) The Boy with the Glasses with Matthew Hurley (~15 min): An interview with the actor who played the young boy in the film.
  • Demonic Toys (~5 min): A piece on some of the film's product tie-ins.
  • Still Gallery (~14 min)
  • Trailer (~2 min)

Final Thoughts

PUMPKINHEAD is a film that I have always respected, but in recent years, I've come to love it more and more with every watch. It's a fantastic monster movie, told through the filter of a dark fairy tale, with some very hard-hitting emotional beats and an amazing leading performance from Lance Henriksen. Scream Factory's new Blu-ray looks and sounds great, and it is jam-packed with wonderful bonus content that will keep die-hard fans busy for several hours. I was really looking forward to the disc, and there is no denying that it delivers. Easily worth the upgrade.

Highly Recommended!

Blu-ray Score


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