3 Things I Learned Watching ‘Pumpkinhead’

1) It’s sometimes best not to look too deeply into coincidences

Two days ago, I posted a review of Big Bad Wolves, a movie about a man seeking vengeance for the death of his young child. Today, I am writing about the next movie I watched, Pumpkinhead, about a man seeking vengeance for the death of his young child. There is no way for me to analyze this coincidence without coming out feeling really bummed out so I’m not going to bother.

2) Making a movie badly isn’t necessarily the same thing as making a bad movie

There’s a lot to like about Pumpkinhead. The creature design is unique and creepy, the setting is an interesting exploration of backwoods American mysticism, and the relationship between Ed (Lance Henriksen) and his son, who, of course is named Billy (Matthew Hurley) is genuine, loving, and affectionate. It all comes together to make a “good” movie but that doesn’t mean it’s put together terribly well.

Distractingly, Pumpkinhead is filled with moments where you can see the strings. For example, even if we ignore the bad acting of the teenagers , most of the attacks by the titular monster are shown by the character being lifted off-screen into the air, as though the creature was playing a literal claw game where human victims are the prize. Instead of feeling terrified, we’re taken out of the moment.

3) Just because it isn’t your fault doesn’t mean it isn’t your responsibility

To spoil the plot a little a lot, Pumpkinhead is about Ed, whose son is killed when some teenagers accidentally run him down while messing around on dirt bikes. In order to get his revenge, Ed goes into the woods to find a hillbilly witch who knows how to summon a demon-of-vengeance named Pumpkinhead. The demon proceeds to torture, brutalize, and murder the teenagers, who nearly all abandoned Billy instead of stopping to help.

Throughout the movie, we are reminded to take responsibility where it may be warranted, regardless of fairness or fault. We are meant to understand that Billy’s death is caused by a series of unfortunate events, in that he ends up in the path of the dirtbikes because he’s chasing his dog, who’s chasing a ball. It’s an accident but the teenagers’ doom comes about from their inaction, which itself stems from a lack of sense of responsibility. As far as most of them are concerned, the accidental nature of Billy’s death means there’s no duty to help, there is only the duty of self-preservation. When Ed seeks out the witch, he doesn’t do so just because he is grieving his son, he does so because “they left him.” Their punishment is not simply for what occurred but also for their calloused reactions.

Ed, too, learns a fatal lesson about responsibility. In his anguish, he unleashes a demon, likely imagining that his grief would absolve him of responsibility for the slaughter. Instead, he magically witnesses each of the demon’s murders, feeling pain and guilt with every torturous death. In the end, Ed takes responsibility for the demonic anarchy he has wrought, sacrificing his own life to protect a few remaining survivors from the monster.

Ultimately, Pumpkinhead teaches that once we become aware of a situation, a duty to care is created. Neither grief nor technicality is powerful enough to make that responsibility go away.


Dylan Clark-Moore is a podcast creator and blogger at NetFlakes. You can find him on Letterboxd and Twitter.

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Pumpkinhead is also available from Amazon.

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