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PUMPKINHEAD

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Lance Henriksen, John DiAquino, Kerry Remsen
Director:  Stan Winston
Audio:  Dolby Surround
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  MGM/UA
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  86 Minutes
Release Date:  August 1, 2000

Film **1/2

Pumpkinhead is a good old fashioned monster movie, and the directorial debut of Hollywood’s legendary and Oscar winning creature man, Stan Winston.  As expected, when he creates a monster, it’s a memorable one.  Pumpkinhead is definitely the kind of thing you DON’T want to see when the lights go out.

The best horror stories are often the simplest, and this one embraces that tradition, playing out like a “rural legend” about an avenging demon in the heartland.  When storekeeper Ed Harley (Henriksen) finds his little son killed in an accident caused by some “city folk” who were drinking and having an impromptu motocross, he seeks the help of a backwoods witch.  The creepy old woman can’t bring the boy back from the dead, but she can make revenge possible for the anguished father. 

Against his better judgment, he goes to a particularly surreal and frightening cemetery and returns with a strange, deformed body he exhumed.  His own blood is used to bring the demon to life.  Pumpkinhead is reborn…a huge monstrosity that awakens to exact revenge on “bad ‘uns”. 

But the revenge turns out not to be so easy on Ed.  His life force has joined with the creature, so whenever it brutally murders, he experiences the horrific deed himself.  We later learn that the demon also shares Ed’s experiences, a point that proves important to the film’s climax.

In the meantime, the city folk, which are pretty much just a frightened group of youngsters, try to hold up in a cabin and stay alive.  But Pumpkinhead is coming to pick them off one by one, and it won’t be so easy to stop him.

Overall, this is pretty standard faire made a little bit better by Winston’s extraordinary design of the creature, which I think has to be considered one of horror’s most memorable images.  It’s tall, grotesque, with long spindly arms and claws and a mangled, twisted skull. 

This is what Ed has to confront when he can’t stand the horror he’s unleashed any longer.  He’s lost his soul in resurrecting the demon, and he’s ready to lose his life to put him back where he belongs.  The film’s ending offers a nice ironic twist, and a memorable final image to linger with you through the end credits.

Video *

When I first got into DVD, one aspect excited me the most.  Sure, I was thrilled to have digital quality picture and sound, bountiful extras, and a format that would last well into the next millennium, but more important to me than all of these was simply the ability to finally enjoy ALL of my movies at home in widescreen (when applicable, of course).  And every time a company offers me a movie that SHOULD be in widescreen but isn’t, it makes me furious.  MGM/UA once again proves they’re no friend of the DVD fan by offering Pumpkinhead in standard format only.  Sure, it’s just a horror film, but other companies like Anchor Bay manage to treat their horror collectors to the best the format can offer! 

This has to be the same video transfer struck for VHS, and lack of widescreen aside, it’s hideous.  Colors are muted and faded from start to finish, and images are soft and lacking detail, making the film look muted, dingy, murky, and at least ten years older than it actually is.  The print also suffers from noticeable dirt and debris, as well as some graininess inherent in darker shots.  Certain images have been slightly compressed along the horizontal axis to make up for the lack of widescreen, meaning that what you see in frame is a tad elongated, like an El Greco painting.  It’s not extreme, but certainly noticeable, and most importantly, certainly avoidable.  The rural settings provide for mostly earth tone colors, and if you want a good comparison, check out Warner’s DVD of Deliverance, which is a decade older but boasting much brighter and more realistic coloring, with sharper and cleaner imaging.  This disc is an inexcusable nightmare.

Audio **

The Dolby surround mix is adequate, keeping most of the action in the forward stereo stage.  There’s not a lot of dynamic range at play…strange for a horror movie…but dialogue is always clear and audible, even if audio effects aren’t as strong as they could have been.  A fair listen, nothing more.

Features *

Only a trailer.

Summary:

Is Pumpkinhead the real monster, or is it the lack of consistent quality DVD’s coming from MGM/UA?  The film may be a good enough scare ride for an evening’s entertainment, but this unbelievably poor disc is enough to strike terror into the hearts of digital fans everywhere.