Why Pumpkinhead is the perfect Halloween movie | EW.com

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Why Pumpkinhead is the perfect Halloween movie

(Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios)

Corin Hardy directed last year’s spooky, atmospheric Ireland-set horror film The Hallow and has a number of projects on the horizon, from Paramount’s mercenaries-on-a-mission movie Hellbent, to the long-awaited remake of The Crow, to his own, new, original monster movie. 

Hardy is also our first two-time Halloween movie-recommender. In 2015, he suggested readers check out Dan O’Bannon’s zombie film Return of the Living Dead — which remains a rock-solid choice, 12 months on — and this year he has been good enough to pen an essay in praise of the late Stan Winston’s 1988 creature feature, Pumpkinhead.

Take it away, Mr Hardy…

There’s a certain unique and mischievous atmosphere that comes with Halloween. For me, there is nothing better than that smell of the damp October leaves gathering on the pavement, the look of a freshly carved and flickering pumpkin sitting on a stoop, emanating it’s orange glow, or the warm feeling of shared unity that comes whilst watching a great fun, scary horror film with a bunch of friends and a possibly one or two bottles of deep-red wine…

I love most types of horror movie, but over the years I’ve noticed at my own Halloween Horrothons, how certain films really capture the essence of the Halloween atmosphere better than others. Some of the most potent examples that spring to mind include The Fog, The Omen, Return of the Living Dead, The Crow, Fright Night, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Creepshow 1&2… and always of course, Halloween. There’s hallowed ingredients in all of them that just works, every year…

But the film I want to mention is a perfect movie to watch on the sacred night, preferably armed with a steaming bowl of pumpkin soup and a room full of flickering candles. It’s perhaps a little lesser known than the above selection, a little underrated, and it was FX make-up artist Stan Winston’s directorial debut. The film is Pumpkinhead, aka Vengeance: The Demon, and it holds a special place in my orange, flickering, Halloween heart.

“For each of man’s sins a demon awaits…”

Pumpkinhead is a really solid, Southern-gothic flavored creature feature, that is creepy, monstrous, and perhaps most surprisingly, emotionally affecting as well. It also has a stand-out performance from the great Lance Henriksen. (I think it’s actually his best ever performance) as rural grocery shop-owner Ed Harley.

Stan Winston, who famously designed and created FX and creatures for Predator, Terminators, Jurassic Parks, and Aliens (and many more) spins an atmospheric, contemporary folk-tale that warns against messing with things you really shouldn’t.

There’s a touch of Pet Sematary in its fateful set-up and a smattering of Deliverance in its backwoodsy setting, when, following the tragic, accidental death of his beloved son, Harley is driven to seek out an ancient Witch who lives in a dark and dangerous forest, with the hope of supernaturally reviving his boy. But the old crone Haggis has other ideas, and knows of a dark secret lying dormant in a hallowed pumpkin patch, one that she thinks can help him in his time of need…

Driven by unquenchable grief, Harley raises the titular demon and unleashes Pumpkinhead to wreak vengeance upon his boy’s killers. But when he witnesses the terror of his ways, and attempts to stop the creature before it has completed it’s murderous tasks, Ed pays an even bigger price than he could have ever bargained for. Thinking about it, in Haggis’ gnarly, devilish conjurer, there’s perhaps a little connection to Robert Eggers’s folk-tale, this year’s The Witch, save for the 80’s saturated color palette that frequently balances fogged out blue-moonlight against flickering orange interiors – both of which only serve to make it the perfect color combination for Halloween!

Pumpkinhead is a straight and un-cynical story well-told, with decent performances throughout, shot in a gothic atmospheric setting that mixes real locations with stylized sets to good effect. Pumpkinhead is an iconic, darkly menacing creature, which I was pleased to see none other than Guillermo Del Toro tweet about as one of his favorite monsters, and he was lovingly created in the days before CGI using a mix of costume, animatronics and puppetry. Pumpkinhead also inspired both my decision to make my own contemporary folk-tale in The Hallow, but also try and keep my effects practical and grounded, though I had the opportunity to mix in subtle VFX and CGI to help create the illusion. At only 87 minutes, Pumpkinhead moves at a pace that will provide you with a perfectly spooky start to your Halloween evening.

You can check out more of Hardy’s Halloween movie recommendations at his website. And you can see trailers for Pumpkinhead and The Hallow, below.