Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pumpkinhead: Fine I Won't Talk About the Holocaust. But I'm Still Upset.

Even though I was afraid of most things horrific as a child, I do recall an incident of catching Pumpkinhead on TV one night when my sister and I were home alone. I remember laughing quite a bit although after re-watching it just now, I realized that I must have been secretly crying. Of course I'm assuming that only my sister was laughing and I was crying, prompting her to change the channel and resulting in the reason that I can recall very little about the actual movie...hmmm. As it turns out, Pumpkinhead is both funny and a little bit scary. But perhaps the most alarming aspect is that Pumpkinhead reminds us all of a time when teenagers were good human beings.

I hadn't expected the plot summary to be as it was. I just assumed Pumpkinhead was an evil monster with a pumpkin for a head who liked killing people and maybe on Halloween, sure why not? Pumpkinhead however, is a hellish beast that comes to life when awakened by an evil hag for the purpose of acting out other's revenge. Case in point, Ed Harley whose son is killed in a dirt bike accident by some teenagers. Desperate, he turns to the witch who awakens Pumpkinhead. Pumpkinhead wastes no time and starts killing the kids in no time flat. Ed, horrified at what he's done, sets off to put an end to the beast.

While watching Pumpkinhead this evening something quite unpleasant began to happen. I realized that I didn't want to see all those kids die because I didn't feel that they had done anything truly wrong. I felt like I was being forced to watch videos of...puppies dying. Except for the brother who actually was a dick--everyone else was kind hearted and capable of making the right decision. Suddenly they are killed rather quickly and in a terrible order I might add (Really? The nice brother is the first to go?)--and we start feeling very.....unsettled. Perhaps it's just me and my sensitivity, but I had a real problem with the fact that they weren't even given a chance.

You might be thinking, well yeah but isn't that how all horror movies work? Aren't the "teenagers" just being killed for no good reason? Yes. But how many of those teenagers perform outwardly benevolent acts before the killings? Typically we get teenagers who throw raucous parties, do drugs, drink beer and have sex while a child is drowning in the lake. Here, we get teenagers who stick up for the cute little hick with glasses, and try to save his life WHICH I might add, they probably COULD have done had Hickville USA had a working telephone nearby. But If you go over their actions prior to the accident, you find that they made the best judgment call available to them. They couldn't move the kid, didn't know where help was and left to find a phone--but left someone there with him. What would you have done?
Yes I suppose it all fits into the larger scheme of things in that revenge taken in the moment of loss is a bad idea and that the child was also killed for no apparent reason other than the fact that he was just too darn cute. But STILL. I really felt like I was watching a rated G version of Cannibal Holocaust. It just felt unpleasant to me. I like to see people get killed because they deserve it and this just felt all wrong to me. I'm sure it's very much intentional, and that the film from the get go is full of unpleasantness but there's still something oddly wrong about it.

It does however make me think about how back then, it was much more likely to have a group of teenagers that you did like. Nowadays it's pretty common to have an entire cast of teenagers that are worthless scum. But back then they were who we rooted for. Isn't it sad how times have changed?

If this film had to be remade which I don't think is a necessarily horrible idea, I would have to demand that they remedy the situation. Make the teenagers actually do something questionable. Having only the dick head brother do the unthinkable is interesting but the problem is that the other teenagers remain behind and do try to help. Sure, maybe Ed's eventual awakening about how wrong what he is doing is would be less obvious---but it's still possible! Make him flashback to how he felt as a little boy and seeing Pumpkinhead through his window. Make him realize that people do make mistakes. I feel like he still never even realizes that the kids did nothing wrong and that bothers me. I'm also continually bothered that we know nothing about Ed. Was he even the kid in the beginning? Who knows? What happened to him in his life? His wife died? Weird! It's all very glossed over.

I'm not saying that Pumpkinhead is a bad movie by the way. I quite enjoyed it, maybe even a little more than I thought I should. But I liked the idea of it and Pumpkinhead's face but not the unpleasantness of the situation. I loved that things were so apparently cliched and stereotyped. Dirty dirty hick kids, hags who really look like hags!
I loved how Pumpkinhead could easily pass for an alien
and how at first he was kind of cute.

But then...

Bleck! He fooled us all!

Even some of the kills were pretty accomplishing
but unfortunately, I was still upset over "the incident". There are a lot of flaws in the film but that I think may be the worst. There's also the burning question of how that accident could have possibly killed him. And also--why does he suddenly turn into a horrible looking doll?
Was he really too heavy for Lance to carry? While we're on the subject of questions, if there are only like 3 houses in the entire town. Why would the witch's house go unnoticed for so long? And could that hag be any uglier?
Oooh Pumpkinhead, you're a semi decent film but I'm just too damn perturbed at the decision to make these kids likable! You may have been trying to do something provocative but it just came off as messy and yucky.


ZedWord said...

Interesting review; not a perspective one often sees on this film.

I don't think I can agree with you, however. In fact, making the kids reprehensible and criminal will destroy the real point of this movie: violence and vengeance never solves anything.

You're supposed to feel bad for the teens because, well, they're human beings. I get why it may disturb you to see them offed for a simple mistake, but you're supposed to feel that way.

What's more disturbing is not that you thought the violence was wrong but that you didn't like WHO it was directed at. This implies that the violence itself is not the issue. Does anyone ever really truly deserve to die?

Your review seems to suggest that, yes, violence and murder is acceptable when it befalls "bad people." The message of Pumpkinhead, I think, is that violence is never justified. It is a monster without mercy that takes away your own humanity, regardless of what cause you think you are leashing it too.

And for that I think Pumpkinhead is one of the most important horror films ever made. To change its central premise will turn it into any other slasher film

That's just my two pennies.

Melissa Lynn Shell said...

I think it is Ed Harley's fault that pumpkinhead went after all the kids. If I recall the movie correctly, he was not there to see that except for the dumbass brother the rest of the kids were nice. When he showed up on the scene all he could see was that his son was dead and that it appeared all the kids were responsible since they were all together. He was so upset that he would not listen or see that not all the kids were responsible. So when he went to the Witch, his request was for all the kids responsible be killed and in Ed Harley's mind they all were. So since that was what was on his mind that is who Pumpkinhead went after.

By the way, I have seen the rest of the Pumpkinhead movies, and this was by far the best one.

Andre Dumas said...

Oh I definitely get it's message, I just feel like it was flawed in even having the dicky brother be there and not having him be more central in what was going on? I'm terrible at describing my thoughts, but it's like I got a strange vibe that although yes it was intentional to have the kids be mostly innocent, there's still that one dick kid who does seem to justify it? I don't know! I can't voice my frustrations, I'm eating Mango Sorbet.

But you're right. When I was trying to decide how to make the remake inside my head I couldn't really voice how to make things better properly and I realized there is no way to fix it because yes that is the ultimate message and feeling you are supposed to get.

All I'm saying is, it makes the film irksome to me. I'm not trying to say that making them do something bad would justify the death but I just get this incomplete feeling from it. That dickhead brother really gets my head in a knot. He may even suggest that the filmmakers too were grappling with the possibility of having at least SOMEthing legitimately bad be the cause of all this. I don't like him being there at all!

But I think I can agree with you mostly and do feel stupid. It's just my feeling and unwillingness to accept sadness and depression......darn nuts.

Strange Kid said...

This is definitely the most noteworthy of the Pumpkinhead series and though I think comparisons to the Holocaust (of any kind) might be a little extreme, I can see where you're coming from.

To me, Pumpkinhead is an awkward cross between Frankenstein and a "slasher" in the fact that the creature is essentially an unresolved metaphor for revenge, hatred, etc. I say unresolved because its motives in the film are really not fully developed or explained (at least not to the degree they probably could have been).

As much focus is given to the teenagers (who are admittedly nothing more than fodder), the film's plot really seems to revolve around Ed Harley and his moral struggles between the "evil" of his anger (ie: the monster) and the ability to forgive (ie: self-sacrifice).

Granted its been awhile since I've seen the film, but this is what I can recall the best. Great post, BTW.

matango said...

Interesting. I've never actually seen Pumpkinhead. Personally, I can't stand it when a horror movie asks me to want characters to die. I find that disturbing. (An exception is Crispin Glover's character in Friday the 13th Part IV, following his dance scene.) I'll have to check this movie out.

ZedWord said...

Hey, don't feel stupid. Your reaction to the film is completely valid. I'm going to have to revisit this film and pay more attention to that one teen.

Mark Hodgson said...

Last week I had very difficult time writing about a parallel dilemma - when children are the victims of the monster in horror films, and when it has been allowed in entertainment, wondering why we'd want to watch something that horrifying and depressing.

This and PET SEMATARY are both difficult to watch, being about vengeance (as usual), but also shwoing an uncomfortable amount of raw grief.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting post, Andre. You do bring up valid points, and I think that's why Pumpkinhead is a horrific movie. A child dies, a father's grief drives him to bargain with the devil -- two wrongs don't make a right, that's for certain. It's a reversal of roles -- we're supposed to feel sorry for the grieving father, but instead, he does something reprehensible that makes him the bad guy.

I also think this was made in the late 80's, maybe? when dumb teenagers were all the rage in movies (Friday the 13th) so they did get stereotyped a bit. But I have to say that I loved the witch -- loved it!

The Vicar of VHS said...

Nicole's right, imo--it's meant to be a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense, almost, with Ed an imminently good man who's driven to do evil in response to losing the one thing he loves. Making the kids more "deserving" of his vengeance would rob it of its pathos, imo.

I love the dark fairy tale vibe, and also the morality play denouement that drives Nicole's point home--that because of his own misguided quest for vengeance, now Ed is damned to be the NEXT Pumpkinhead, and serve the vengeful impulses of whatever poor sap summons him next.

And by all means, AVOID THE SEQUELS. I love Pumpkinhead, but there's no movie I actively, violently HATE more than PUMPKINHEAD 2: BLOOD WINGS--a movie that seems almost malicious in its determination to shit all over everything that made the first one great. :S

Marc Patterson said...

@ZedWord - I agree 100% with your first post, however I too will have to scrutinize a couple of these scenes a little closer now as a result.

@Andre - this was a rather interesting and unique post. An angle I wouldn't take, but also one I hadn't considered.

Pumpkinhead is by far my favorite Halloween film, not that this is inherently a Halloween film, but Pumpkinhead as a name tends to lump it into that camp.

As a dad I really understand the emotional intensity of what's happening here and given I was in Ed's situation I would do exactly the same. The rest of the teens are guilty because they are there. It's sins of the brother and blind vengeance being executed. As ZedWord also said - it's also a story that speaks of how pointless revenge is.

I also like the "dark fairy tale vibe" the film gives off, as Vicar so aptly puts it. A lot of gorgeous imagery and set design. Very spooky stuff.