In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Pumpkinhead on Blu-ray

Today, I've got a guest on deck. Here's Canuxploitation's Paul Corupe with the rundown on Scream Factory Collector's Edition Blu-ray of Pumpkinhead hitting the streets tomorrow. Take it away, Paul...

FX and makeup wizards Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Rob Bottin and Tom Savini all towered over 1980s genre film, helping to define the fantastic and grotesque in what we now realize was the last era for good ol' practical effects. Winston may have been the best of the bunch, an animatronics genius who broke out from the B-movie scene to work on blockbusters like Terminator, Aliens, Predator and Edward Scissorhands. Winston was even given his own shot at the director's chair with 1988’s Pumpkinhead, a sometimes middling work that impresses with its technical achievements while getting mired in muddy storytelling. A hit on VHS, the film now gets an impressive, feature-packed Blu-ray from Shout Factory's horror imprint, Scream Factory.

The plot, which seems to take several cues from Stephen King's novels, involves a huge magical creature that wreaks terrible vengeance to avenge an accidental death. Widowed farmer Ed (Lance Henriksen) is devastated when his young son Billy (Matthew Hurley) is hit and killed by a drunken dirt biker, one of a group of rowdy high school students visiting their rural area from the big city. Remembering something he saw many years before, Ed heads deep into the nearby woods to trade his soul in return for summoning the demonic Pumpkinhead, who tracks down and attacks the unsuspecting teens. But when Ed has second thoughts about his deal with the devil he attempts to undo the evil he has unleashed, which may be harder than he expects.

As you might expect from the directorial debut by an FX expert, Pumpkinhead's makeup, production values and overall craftsmanship are the film’s most successful aspects, with characterization and story sometimes falling by the wayside. Though undeniably a work of horror, Pumpkinhead is really a tragedy at heart—there's a sad tale in here under all the prosthetics and creature effects, from Ed and Billy's economic struggles, the accidental death, the sorrow of a father who has lost everything he had and Ed's ultimate remorse for what he has done. But despite a good turn by Lance Henriksen, the film's creators aren't well attuned to the dramatic aspects of the script, and the somewhat clumsy handling of the tale helps to sandbag much of the emotional resonance. This is a film that just never feels as involving and moving as it ultimately should be.

Matthew Hurley & Lance Henriksen in Pumpkinhead.

That likely won't matter too much to some viewers, who will thrill to the film's dark Gothic atmosphere and impressive practical effects. Just check out the creepy crone-like make up on Florence Schauffler, the old biddy who can call on Pumpkinhead, and of course the impressive, sinewy creature itself who stalks and shreds his way through the young cast, including one memorable kill where one of his victims is dropped from a tree. Winston fans and FX nerds will still find much to enjoy about the film, even if it doesn't showcase his work quite as well as bigger budgeted studio pictures that Winston built his career and reputation on.

Pumpkinhead has always been a minor studio horror classic of sorts, eventually spawning three sequels, but its treatment on DVD was spotty until a MGM released a 2008 collector's edition. The Blu-ray is a notable improvement on those previous versions, with a nice sharp image that really shows off the film's largely unheralded cinematography. This version also carries over some of the features from that 2008 release. Aside from the usual trailers, stills and behind-the-scenes footage, you'll find Pumpkinhead Unleashed, an hour-long doc on the making of the film, as well as a commentary from Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis, who join co-screenwriter Gary Gerani. It's an interesting chat, if a bit effects-focused, but should please those looking for more details on the birth of Pumpkinhead.

Shout has also included some additional material on this new release. There's a handful of interviews with some new faces, including producer Richard Weinman, star John D’Aquino and the bespectacled Billy himself, Matthew Hurley. But the real jewel is Remembering the Monster Kid: A Tribute to Stan Winston, a 50-minute homage to the man behind the film, who passed away in 2008. The interviewees, mostly fellow effects artists Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr. and Shannon Shea (as well as appearances by Pumpkinhead actors Lance Henriksen and Brian Bremer), offer a heartfelt look at Winston's personal life and wide-ranging influence, making it clear that Stan Winston Studios is more than the vision of one man, but a team of craftsmen who continue today to carry on the singular vision of one of the greatest movie magicians of our time.

Director & FX guru Stan Winston.

Though not one of Winston's most indelible efforts, Pumpkinhead is still notable because it represents perhaps his most clear vision of the fantastic on film, supported here by a nice selection of contextual extras. Ed should have been more careful for what he wished for, but it looks like those who held out hoping for a definitive release of this VHS horror mainstay finally have what they desired for so long.

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