In a comedy, a fish-out-of-water story usually results in the character at first establishing themselves as an outsider, then coming around and embracing the habits of their new found surroundings. City dwellers learn how to accept small towns, small town people learn confidence in the big city, 'Crocodile' Dundee charms everyone, etc. In a horror movie, being a fish-out-of-water character means that something bad is going to happen and they and most of their group - especially if they are teenagers - are going to end up dead.
Teenager on a stick. Yum!
Pumpkinhead, directed by Stan Winston, sees a group of well-dressed (for the 80s), fun-loving, city dwelling teens arriving where they don't belong - a backwater location populated by poor, under-educated 'folk'. They are driving nice looking cars and towing expensive looking motorbikes, which is indication number two that they are doomed. One of those characters is also (surprise!) a complete jerk. His introduction has his friends in a separate car discussing just how much of a jerk he is, then it cuts to him in his expensive looking Corvette (a.k.a.the Douchebag mobile) demanding - not asking - that his girlfriend get him a beer while he's driving. That's right, he's a dick to his girlfriend and he's drinking and driving. That dude has officially informed the audience that his minutes onscreen are officially numbered because at some point soon he is going to meet with an unfortunate and grisly demise.
If I don't seem like a douchebag to you, just look at my ride!
The other teens are decent and while stopped at an isolated general store operated by Lance Henriksen, befriend his young son who is just minding his business playing with his dog when the jerk points out that the kid's glasses look like coke bottles (ok, now he's just ASKING for it). A hillbilly shows up in a pickup truck with 4 very dirty kids dressed in rags in the back who start picking on a sibling chanting something about how 'Pumpkinhead' is going to get him for stealing a ball. They freak out the teens and leave, Henriksen has to take off leaving the kid alone while two of the teens (jerk included) ride their motorbikes recklessly nearby. The dog runs after the motorbikes, the kid chases after the dog and then, well, bad things happen.
That cute dog and kid are going to be the death of you all.
This movie builds up multiple layers of impending doom thick with indication-after-indication that things are going to go to hell fast. It even gives us a glimpse of that hell in an opening prologue that has a young Henriksen watching as a hillbilly neighbor is mutilated by some sort of monster (yep, that would be Pumpkinhead). Pumpkinhead looks kind of like the alien from Aliens, so Henriksen just has the tap into his inner Bishop and deal with it. Yeah, not as easy as it sounds.
I can't tell, does he look happy or no?
So the jerk keeps the decent teens from helping the kid because he is on probation and doesn't want to go to jail, even going so far as to rip out the phone cord (its the 1980s, no cell phones) and locks two of his 'friends' in a closet. Henriksen gives one of them that stayed behind to help a look that could kill, then visits a haggard old woman who looks like a witch. Oh wait, she is a witch! Those teens (like we already knew) are officially screwed.
Be gooooood, then I'll rip your head off. What, you thought this was E.T.?
Pumpkinhead is unleashed, the teens are mutilated one-by-one, characters have a change of heart at the last minute (which doesn't really do them much good) and there is plenty of extreme lighting and fog effects to up the atmospheric tension.
We paid for those fog machines, lets use them!
It is a straightforward horror film complete with demonic creature (an effective one at that - the film is directed by Stan Winston after all), nasty backwoodsmen and teenagers lining themselves up to be killed. You don't really get to know any of the characters beyond a cursory introduction (although you do feel really bad when the kid gets hurt because they cast him really well) although I will give this movie credit for not just making the teens complete caricatures (even the jerk has his moments) and you do feel bad for them while you watch their heads getting ripped off. The ending solution is unique as well.
Stan Winston puts Pumpkinhead on a pedestal.
Scream Factory has given this movie their Midas touch on Blu-ray Disc, as well as the sequel - Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings - which is due out on October 21.
Buy those 'Pumpkinhead' Blu-rays from Scream Factory, or I'll use this!