Pumpkinhead has long shown up on lists of “classic” must-watch horror films for Halloween but I hadn’t really given it a chance since it never really seemed all that interesting. What is Horrortoberfest for if not to watch random movies that I wouldn’t otherwise, though? The basic plot of the movie is that a rural man’s son is accidentally killed by some tourists from the city. To get his revenge on them , he turns to an old witch that is said to have forbidden knowledge and mystical powers. She helps him by summoning up a demon of vengeance that the locals refer to in their legends as Pumpkinhead.
The movie hits a lot of the classic notes for the horror tropes. You have the city teens in the backwoods, a trip to a remote cabin, and you even get a children’s rhyme about the main villain (which I personally love when they put into movies). However, the movie actually ends up deviating from the standard in one significant way that makes it so much better. The tourist teens aren’t all total assholes. You actually have 5 good people that want to do the right thing and then 1 stupendous piece of shit (the one that hits the kid). The rest of the people want to help and try to call for an ambulance after the accident but basically get taken hostage by Joel, the asshole, because he doesn’t want to go to jail.
A lot of these types of films would end up being more of a vengeance fantasy wish fulfillment where the monster punishes the wicked. Here we instead see what happens when blind anger and a need for vengeance end up hurting people that are otherwise innocent. Even Joel ends up saying that he is going to do the right thing and turn himself in right before the attacks start happening. I like that instead of there being a cautionary tale aimed at teens to be good or bad things will happen, like in most slasher or revenge movies, it decides to be a cautionary tale to those that would strike back at people that have hurt you. The ending even shows that giving in to that need for revenge just ends in a cycle of violence that doesn’t end when you want it to.
As far as the actual monster goes, I liked the design of Pumpkinhead but that’s probably because it is basically just a beige Xenomorph from Alien and even uses some similar audio effects for when it is on screen. The name Pumpkinhead is actually kind of unfortunate since it does fit the setting but also makes it so that you can’t really take the character seriously when just looking at a movie poster or rental box. The one really good design idea on it was giving it a more human-looking face which meant that it was able to give more relatable expressions, such as smiling when someone tries to stop it. The way it plays with the victims and how it expresses itself actually makes this big hulking monster seem very childlike which adds an interesting twist.
Pumpkinhead is by no means an amazing film but it isn’t terrible. The acting is solid enough if the rural accents on some side characters tend to be a bit much. It’s a little dark, lighting-wise, so actually encourages watching with the lights out. I can definitely see why it would be one that gained some traction as something to watch on Halloween with friends, pumpkin tie-in notwithstanding. It’s not scary enough that any of your weaker constitution friends would be having nightmares or leaving the room because of it but it also isn’t boring so people who enjoy the genre can still have fun with it. I give it a 3 out of 5 with the provisional recommendation if you’ve seem to exhausted your “party horror” go to list.