One night in 1957 rural Nevada, little Ed Harley was preparing for bed, but didn't understand why his parents were behaving so anxiously until there was a hammering at the front door. It was an acquaintance of Ed's father begging to be let in, but he was told to go away in no uncertain terms; wondering what was going on, Ed sneaked a peek out of the window to see a huge figure picking up the man on the brow of the hill... Move forward thirty years and Ed (Lance Henriksen) is a widowed father of small son, but he will be seeing that figure once more...
Pumpkinhead was the directorial debut of special effects wizard Stan Winston, the man who had helped to make Aliens and Predator such successes, but it was not to hit the giddy heights of those blockbusters, despite some fair reviews at the time it was (belatedly) released. Of course it featured an elaborately conceived monster, but disappointingly the creature didn't have a pumpkin for a head as its name implied, although it did look suitably fierce. After that prologue, you had to wait quite a while for the monster to reappear, as well.
Oddly, the film was based on a horror poem by Ed Justin, although it isn't presented in an especially literary fashion. Winston was one of four writers contributing to the script, though despite this the story doesn't exhibit much in the way of originality, settling in after a long build up to be a fairly traditional, supernatural stalk and slash, perhaps less violent than some of its fellows. The alternative title was Vengeance: The Demon, for it's revenge motives that power the overall narrative.
Revenge for what? Well, Ed lives with his son running a store in the middle of nowhere, and one day a group of young people (read: potential victims) from the city drive up to try out their dirt bikes on the surrounding landscape. They are all very interchangeable and personality free, apart from one of them who is marked out as a nasty piece of work from his first entrance (drinking and driving!). One thing leads to another, and when the little boy wanders after his dog into the path of a motorbike, tragedy ensues.
The aftermath of this incident is actually handled with unexpected tenderness, but Ed is not about to forgive the townfolk so easily, especially considering they all scarper but one hapless chap left behind to break the bad news. As they argue in a nearby holiday cabin, Ed in his grief and fury is visiting the local witch to summon Pumpkinhead, so the rest of the film is caught up in the youngsters attempting to avoid their fate. Interestingly, once Ed has realised what he has unleashed, he is filled with remorse and endeavours to send the demon back from whence it came - but there is, naturally, a catch. It's very gloomy looking, and the creature may be a good one, but despite a refreshing lack of jokiness Pumpkinhead is rather colourless of its type. Music by Richard Stone.