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Growing up in the nineties, when Pumpkinhead was deemed iconic enough to stand alongside Michael Myers and Norman Bates, the film garnered something of a status as one of those great 1980s horror films. Since then, attempts to launch the movie into a franchise have fizzled out and the movie is now more regarded as a minor cult classic of the era, not that well-known outside of the horror fandom. This is something of a shame because “Pumpkinhead” really is that good.
The tagline referred to the movie as a “grim fairy tale.” The intentionally fable-tastic tone is used a bit to excuse the script’s shortcomings. The story of a group of city kids coming to the country, accidentally killing a poor store owner’s son, and the demonic wrath that follows is simple as simple can be. The teens are all, at best, sketchy character types. You’ve got Jerk-Ass, who’s insistence on not taking responsibility for the manslaughter at least spurns on the carnage. He’s got a Little Brother (Moral Alliance: Mostly Good.), a Girlfriend (Spunky, just shy of bitchy), Christian Girl, Nice Girl, and Nice Guy. Of those last three, Christian Girl is easily the best performed, while the two heroic teens aren't developed much beyond disagreeing with the other characters. It’s not completely unreasonable to say that these kids exist just to start the plot off and to get slaughter.
As good as Henriksen is, the real star of “Pumpkinhead” is the monster himself. The film was directed by the late, great Stan Winston, a creature effect artist who I’ve always loved. His make-up team, the same team that made iconic characters in “Aliens,” “Predator,” and “The Monster Squad” are the ones responsible for Pumpkinhead. It’s a great design to star, a creature reptilian and demonic, humanoid but alien. It doesn’t quite fall anywhere on the recognizable animal scale. It looks so damn amazing. This is why CGI can never top practical creature effects: Pumpkinhead looks and moves like a living thing. More then that, it has a personality. The suit actor brings even subtle cues to the monster’s personality. He can snarl or have a sinister little smile. He does things like play with a victim’s corpse, taunt them, carve a cross in their forehead. This is the same reason why Freddy Krueger and Frankenstein’s Monster endure. They are clear, obvious, fully formed personalities. Anyway, I’m rambling but it’s fair to say Pumpkinhead is one of my all time favorite movie monsters.
The fable tone successfully comes through several times. The opening sequence, of a child seeing something horrible he can’t really understand, sets the tone fantastically. The ending brings an ironic, mythic quality to the film. “Pumpkinhead” is one of those movies I like more every time I see it. It’s easy to pick apart the movie’s flaws but it’s successful qualities are hugely endearing. [8/10]
The Mummy’s Hand (1940)
By 1940, Universal was in the monster business. Maybe “Son of Frankenstein” did really great at the box office. Either way, sequels were now a part of the business plan. “The Mummy” probably wasn’t the easiest film to sequelize, which the studio writers got around by not making a sequel. “The Mummy’s Hand” is about a completely different new set of characters. Imhotep gives way to Kharis. While the original film waited until the halfway point before explaining the character’s origins, this film opens with a lengthy, ten-minute long monologue/flashback. Using extensive stock footage of the first movie, we are given the down-low on how Kharis became an immortal mummy, the whole Tana Leaves plot device, the limitations on the number of leaves he can drink every night before becoming uncontrollable, what he’s protecting, who the people watching over him are, and the importance of the full moon. Got all of that?
The film is unmitigated pulp. Egypt is presented as full of starving, would-be archeologist, desperately searching for funding for digs in the desert. Lantern-jawed scientist Steve Banning and his shyster, bumbling sidekick/comic relief Chick quickly stumble upon a major discovery, get denied funding from the museum (Which is, of course, in on the conspiracy.), before securing funding from an amusingly goofy magician and his skeptical daughter. At the forty minute point in this hour long movie, our gang finally makes it out to desert, quickly uncovers the princess’ tomb, and the mummy’s wrath is unleashed. The shambling, rigid, highly flammable creature manages to claim two lives before the high priest bad guy decides he wants to kidnap the magician’s daughter/love interest lady and perform some sort of ancient rite on her. The comic relief proves himself surprisingly useful, we get a screaming babe tied to an altar, some more talk about Tana leaves, and Kharis goes up in flames. All’s well that end’s well.
The Invisible Woman (1940)
Considering the premise means your protagonist is naked for most of the movie, it’s not surprising “The Invisible Man” was quickly retrofitted for (by the standards of the time) naughty comedy. “The Invisible Woman” is unrelated to the previous two films. Its set in America and, instead of the result of a mad scientist and his sanity-disabling mixture, invisibility is caused by an electric device invented by John Barrymore’s absent-minded professor. Runway model and potential feminist Virginia Bruce uses her invisibility to get revenge on her sexist, obnoxious employer. All of these escapades are funded by not-quite-a-millionaire-any-longer playboy John Howard, much to the chagrin of his slapstick prone butler Charles Ruggles. Alcohol is quickly found to prolong the invisibility effects. There’s some nonsense about gangster trying to steal the equipment. The Wicked Witch of the West has a cameo.