Sneaking in just under the wire, Pumpkinhead came out a couple of months after Michael Myers returned in 1988, sealing its fate as a product of the 80s. Sure, it has nothing to do with one of horror’s favorite holidays; it barely references pumpkins at all. But let’s face it. The mere suggestion that there might be some possible link to the holiday is most likely going to draw fans. Hell, Pumpkinhead even has a damn creepy witch!
On top of that, the first movie stars Lance Henriksen. Little did they realize the jump they were getting on making this a 20-year franchise and a SyFy Network bonanza, from the cheesy monster to the in-house cast member. And that’s exactly what they did almost two decades later.
The original movie doesn’t waste time in showing us Pumpkinhead, who looks pretty much like a “horror-fied” version of Alien. The pointless prologue kicks us back to 1957, with some dude begging to be let into a cabin while being chased by Pumpkinhead, swearing he didn’t kill some little girl and doesn’t deserve to be punished. So, the bottom line is, Pumpkinhead is a vengeance demon you summon when you want to get payback for wrongs committed. Every movie has the same exact plot.
In the first movie, it’s single hillbilly dad Lance Henriksen who loses his little son to a bunch of city kids on motorcycles. Lance brings his son’s body to a gnarly witch living in a gnarly cabin in the gnarly woods. This we-otch knows how to summon Pumpkinhead from his grave to get vengeance for Lance. It’s kind of like the Blair Witch Pet Sematary. Pumpkinhead’s grave is on this sort of pedestal—and there are actually a couple of pumpkins around his burial plot! Not much of a pumpkin patch, but it does lead to the Great Pumpkinhead rising up. Linus is vindicated at last.
In the end, Pumpkinhead runs through fog machines and eerie lights, accompanied by this rattlesnake sound, hacking up the city folk. Meanwhile, poor Lance learns the price he has to pay for summoning the creature; he feels the pain of every murder! To confuse matters, he also feels any pain Pumpkinhead feels! WTF? This is the most unsatisfying revenge EVER.
PUMPKINHEAD 2: BLOOD WINGS (1994)
The scariest thing about the first sequel is the subtitle—the connotations make my mind go THERE. Yuck. This time around, we get a whole new legend about Pumpkinhead, flashing back to 1958 this time. A deformed freak…I mean, a poor, misunderstood boy with a tragic physical flaw…is brutally tortured and dropped in a mine shaft by a bunch of cute 50s guys, while the woman who is supposed to be his guardian fails miserably at her job.
Cut to the modern day, there’s a new sheriff in town, and his daughter gets involved with the judge’s bratty son (the kid from Return of the Living Dead III) and his friends. In a very I Know What You Did Last Summer move, they cream the witch with their car. Only this time, it’s a different witch who isn’t half as scary as the original. They go to her cabin in the woods to see if she’s okay. There, they find her Book of Shadows and a vial of cursed blood, and decide to fricking summon Pumpkinhead for the fun of it (um…you’re not exactly the ones seeking vengeance you buffoons). In the process, the bratty guy “accidentally” sets the witch and her cabin on fire.
The pedestal burial plot is gone in exchange for a sort of pentagram circle on the ground. Pumpkinhead is back, but he’s actually out for vengeance for the poor deformed boy who died in 58. So he sets out to kill the dudes who dropped the poor deformed by down the shaft when they were young and beautiful. Along the way, Pumpkinhead stumbles upon Linnea Quigley because, well, she’s a b-movie scream queen who’s willing to show her tits. Not to mention—we now have cast members from 2 different Return of the Living Dead films in one movie.
The only reference to a pumpkin this time comes from a ceramic jack o’ lantern that falls off a shelf outside the cabin in which Linnea is fucking a big fat hairy bear man. Sexy. And speaking of hairy bears, Bill Clinton’s brother Roger appears in this film as Mayor Bubba. Really. That’s his name.
This sequel amps up the gore, has plenty of strobes and fog, and introduces the infrared Pumpkinhead P.O.V. But the film is ruined by a sappy subplot involving the sheriff’s past encounter with the poor deformed boy.
PUMPKINHEAD: ASHES TO ASHES (2006)
12 years later, it’s easy to drop the designation of 3 from the film’s title so you can pretend part 2 never existed. This one is pretty much a direct sequel to the first film…with Lance Henriksen’s return! He’s a ghost trying to warn one of the kids from the first movie that he was meant to die (sadly, not the same actor), and his time will come at the hands of Pumpkinhead (who, sadly, doesn’t have infrared vision anymore).
This one really brings Pumpkinhead into the modern day. There are human organ thieves, a drug dealer, a sleazy hotel, and some awful CGI (Pumpkinhead actually scales buildings now). Don’t worry. Pumpkinhead does get some good old rubber costume screen time as well. But he left his fog machine and strobe light disco show in the gay 90s, so the atmosphere isn’t up to snuff.
On the bright side, the pedestal burial plot reappears, and it’s actually referenced as a pumpkin patch. The original witch is back, looking as creepy as ever.
Plus, there’s some really funny redneck dialogue, like:
“Did Pumpkinhead say anything?”
“Say anything? He didn’t stop to chat! He just killed people!”
Other bright moments include Pumpkinhead making good use of his tail to kill people, and an awesome body toss scene after a bunch of drug paraphernalia explodes. And, since Doug “Pinhead” Bradley is in this film, if you watch close enough, you’ll actually see a stack of Hellraiser boxes sitting on a shelf in an office! How awesome would a Pinhead vs. Pumpkinhead movie be?
PUMPKINHEAD 4: BLOOD FEUD (2007)
When I saw the subtitle of this one I was thinking, what the hell is this? The Hatfields vs. the McCoys? Holy shit. IT IS. And they’re dealing with a whole Montagues and Capulets issue as one daughter and one son from each family sneaks off to fall in love. Things get really bad when the Hatfield boys see their little sister getting nailed by a McCoy boy. They get their revenge—which means, the lone McCoy boy needs some help getting his revenge on them. Witchy poo! Where are you? We got some work to do now….
Meanwhile, Lance is still hanging around as a ghost, trying to warn everyone, including the witch, how to stop this franchise…I mean, Pumpkinhead…once and for all. You’ll be happy to know while Pumpkinhead isn’t buried up on the pedestal plot this time, his grave is surrounded by pumpkins. You’ll be sad to know Pumpkinhead gets more CGI so he can now jump through trees. You’ll be satisfied by some grisly gore, most of it involving bear traps. And yet you’ll be rolling your eyes at the constant, repetitive dialogue when the Hatfields and the McCoys bicker. Just shoot each other already and save Pumpkinhead the trouble.
In a very curious twist, not only does Pumpkinhead have a bit of infrared POV like in the second film, he is also dragged down a well that looks much like the mine shaft from part 2. So here’s hoping we get a part 5 that pretends that parts 1, 3, and 4 didn’t exist.