An image of a terrified girl as a clawed hand scrapes her forehead.

Pumpkinhead: The Underrated Cult Classic

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It’s the time of year again where everyone revisits their favorite scary movies. One that may have slipped under your radar is Stan Wilson’s 1988’s cult classic, Pumpkinhead.

In the rural country, Ed Harley lives alone with his young son, Billy, where they run a small goods store that supplies the scattered surrounding farms. The doting father takes the boy to their store on a typical day for the pair, when a small party of teenagers stop in on their way to a nearby cabin they are renting for the weekend. Joel, one of the young men, is rude and mocking of  the locals, much to the annoyance of Ed and to the embarrassment of the rest of the group.

Before the city kids complete their shopping transactions, Ed realizes he needs to make a quick supply run and leaves Billy to tend to the shop. Before Ed can return, the boy is brutally injured in a freak accident caused by Joel. The kids cannot find a phone on the premises and there is no one nearby to seek help from, so they decide to leave the boy in the care of Joel’s brother in order to call for assistance. Ed comes back  to find his shop deserted and his son apparently lifeless outside with only Joel’s brother. The teenager attempts to explain what happened, but Ed is horrified and enraged, and takes the boy home where he succumbs to his wounds.

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Stricken by grief, Ed seeks the help of his neighbors to summon revenge from a spirit only known as Pumpkinhead. The elders of the community refuse to help, trying to convince Ed that the price for using such evil is too high, but Ed won’t be deterred and finally gets the information he needs from a local boy who isn’t convinced Pumpkinhead is real. Ed soon realizes that the cost of the justice he craves is far greater than he thought it would be.

On the surface, the movie is a typical creature feature film, with cruel and terrifying attacks. The acting is shockingly authentic, making Ed’s loss heartbreaking to witness, and the horror and guilt that the perpetrators endure is palpable. The creature’s seemingly unstoppable assaults are pitiless, and the spirit’s victims realistically convey how appalling each visit is.

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Underneath the cliche of Hillbillies vs the City Slickers, there are the heavy themes of the toll of true revenge, and the line between vengeance and justice. Despite being young and foolish, Billy’s unintentional killers are forced to fully face the consequences of their actions and know there is nothing they can do to take back their mistakes, while Ed is forced to understand how valuable human life is and what it means to take it.

Pumpkinhead is a classic that has managed to age well. It will give it’s watchers the jump-scares they signed up for, but will leave them surprised with how much the film makes it’s audience think and feel.

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