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‘Pumpkinhead’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 18, 1988

The Halloween season seems to inspire filmmakers to offer a celluloid version of trick or treat, and so what if we always know which it's going to be. For instance, "Halloween IV" opens soon and if there were a Friday the 13th in the month, you can bet we'd be up to Part 13 in that series.

Which brings us to "Pumpkinhead" -- not the first, and probably not the last horror film inspired by a poem (by Ed Justin, just in case you're wondering). However, it's writers Mark Patrick Carducci and Gary Gerani who come up with portentous lines like the one spoken by that dummy in the group of city-slicker dirt bikers we suspect are going to disappear, "Ten Little Indians"-style, once they get into "Deliverance" country: "If you want to stay here and play with the vegetable, that's fine."

Don't they know that a vegetable is going to come and dice them up? Of course not, even if we do.

Ol' Pumpkinhead is a close relation of "Boogeyman," conjured on demand by those who have been wronged. In this case, the conjurer is Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen), whose son is accidentally killed by a dirt bike; the rider already has a drunk riding charge on his sheet so he ramrods his companions into abandoning the boy rather than trying to save him. That gets Ed mad.

Typically hollow and patchy, the script is low par for the course, the acting close behind. Where it's a cut above the rest is in the work of Yugoslavian cinematographer Bojan Bazelli: His outdoor shots, both day and night, are superbly lit and cleanly shot, as if this were an A film. And with Marcus Manton's crisp editing, "Pumpkinhead" looks three times as good as it is.

As for ye olde demon, he's not, unfortunately, a real pumpkinhead (this one isn't played for intentional laughs). Actually, he looks like a cross between E.T. on a runaway steroids program and an alien from "Aliens," not surprising since first-time director Stan Winston won a special-effects Oscar for that movie. Unfortunately, Pumpkinhead moves a little like Manute Bol heading upcourt, and you can't help thinking that if his victims couldn't outwit or outfight him, they should have been able to outrun him. But that would be logical.

Despite its R rating, there are few of the gross-out effects we'll undoubtedly be getting with "Halloween IV." This film surprises mostly because it's so well made. But that leaves you with a more relevant question: Why polish a rotten vegetable?

"Pumpkinhead" is rated R and contains some low-level gore.

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