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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Pumpkinhead': So Many Writers, So Little Effect

January 17, 1989|CHRIS WILLMAN

The extensive writing credits for the horror film "Pumpkinhead" (citywide) read like a confusing textbook case of Hollywood ampersands and arbitrated punctuation: Screenplay by Mark Patrick Carducci with Gary Gerani, based on a story by Carducci and Stan Winston & Richard C. Weinman, inspired by a poem (!!!) by Ed Justin.

With no fewer than five writers involved, it's almost a cinch that the carefully crafted result of so many skilled hands at work will be juicy dialogue--such as "Don't go out there!" "Molly's out there!" and "God is the only thing that can stop what's out there!"

What's out there is not the Great Pumpkin, alas, but a 12-foot-tall demon that hisses and snickers before dispatching its teen-age victims. The creature in question gets its moniker from the "pumpkin patch/graveyard" in which its remains lie buried--that is, when it isn't being called forth and resurrected by the local Southern bumpkins, who occasionally dispatch Pumpkinhead on missions of vengeance with the help of a witch.

This loathsome evil spirit's head does not resemble any indigenous backwoods fruit, but its insect-cum-anthropoid form is suspiciously similar to that of the title villain of "Alien," albeit less slimy and more wrinkled. (Picture Sigourney Weaver being terrorized by a monster wearing Dustin Hoffman's old-age makeup from "Little Big Man" and you'll have the idea.)

The unpleasantness is set in motion when a pack of city kids visit the country to do some dirt-biking, and the most obnoxious of the boys, drunk, accidentally strikes and kills the young son of a local fruit-stand owner. (If nothing else, the film is an effective "Don't Drink and Motocross" public-service commercial.) The teen-agers flee the accident scene but soon their remote cabin is besieged by a rifle-resistant Pumpkinhead, turned loose by the distraught dad.

Eventually the picture turns into a morality tale about how revenge, once tasted, is not so sweet, as the father (played by Lance Henriksen, the helpful android of "Aliens") comes to regret the carnage he's set in motion. Even he can't undo the spell, though, and soon realizes that to do battle with the demon, he must literally do battle with himself. It's an interesting idea--though not nearly as interesting as it was 33 years ago in "Forbidden Planet," which had Walter Pidgeon engaged in much more compelling combat with his own id.

Stan Winston steps in as director (and co-scenarist) here after many years leading one of Hollywood's top special makeup effects units. Ironically, Winston shows a surer directorial touch with the early, more human scenes (especially those between Henriksen and son) than he does later with the spooks and scares, which are never even faintly frightening. He doesn't win any more points for having his creature followed by artsy mood lighting wherever it goes in the supposedly black night.

The one major departure "Pumpkinhead" (MPAA-rated R) offers from the supernatural-mass-murder-in-the-woods genre, for which some gratitude may be in order, is that its young actors don't engage in the usual illicit sex immediately before being punished with a gruesome slaughter. But neither do they read, uh, poetry--not even the alluded-to "Pumpkinhead, The Poem." All those writers and not even one pro-literacy plug?

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