No matter how many horror movies you’ve seen, there is always one you missed. To celebrate Halloween this year, Team Unwinnable sought out the monster movies they haven’t seen to find out if they are as good as everyone says. In part one, Don Becker took on John Carpenter’s The Thing. For part two, Dave Trainer watched [REC], Olivia Davis saw Prince of Darkness and Erik Weinbrecht gawked at Freaks! Gabba Gabba Hey! In part three, we got undead as Michael Sheridan checked out White Zombie and Chuck Moran played in the Dead Snow. This time, we call up some demons as Stu Horvath picks Pumpkinhead and Michael Edwards gets through Night of the Demons.
When I was a kid, there was a mom and pop video rental store nearby called Video Tonight and the vast majority of my youthful intake of horror and science fiction movies was courtesy of their VHS cassettes. Sometime in the latter months of 1988, there appeared in the front of the store a life-sized cardboard cutout of a demon advertising the upcoming release of Pumpkinhead on video.
I remember thinking it was strange that the monster’s head didn’t look much like a pumpkin at all (it isn’t even orange!) – but an incongruity like that wouldn’t stop me from wanting to see the movie. Getting my parents to rent it for me was another matter. For whatever reason, they just weren’t having it (they had a similar reaction to House II: The Second Story for some reason). Week after week, we’d pass that creature with its cruel talons and malignant smile and I was left to silently wonder what secrets Pumpkinhead held.
Now, decades later, I finally know. I was better off wondering.
Broken into component parts, it is hard to understand why Pumpkinhead isn’t a great horror movie. It has a great-looking monster, it has Lance Henriksen and it even has an interesting plot! Ed (Henriksen) is a poor farmer whose son is accidentally killed by partying teenagers. Distraught, he seeks the help of a local witch, who calls up the creature Pumpkinhead to reap bloody vengeance. The price is high, however, as the creature is bound to Ed – the only way to stop its murderous rampage is for Ed himself to die (OK, so it isn’t a mind-blowing story).
They say film is a director’s medium and it couldn’t be more true of Pumpkinhead. It is bland, boring, and mediocre because the director couldn’t inject any urgency into the material. The camera direction is pedestrian, scenes are lit monochromatically, and Henriksen’s is the only performance that isn’t ham-fisted. Past the death of Ed’s son, a genuinely disturbing scene, there isn’t an ounce of tension to be had here – these people are going to die grisly deaths, let’s just get it over with.
That director, alas, was special effects legend Stan Winston. The man behind the creature effects in The Monster Squad, Terminator, The Thing and countless other creature classics. Yet none of those are his most horrific creation.
No, that honor goes to his second movie: A Gnome Named Gnorm.
Don’t believe me? Look it up. While you do, I will be watching a double feature of The Mist and Cemetery Man to get my October back on track.
– Stu Horvath
When I was done with Kevin S. Tenney’s 1988 cult favorite Night of the Demons, I thought to myself, “How, even though I’ve never seen it, does it feel like I have on multiple occasions?”
That’s not a knock against it. This film succeeds at what it tries to do – it is ridiculous and entertaining and gory for most of its running time. When there aren’t naked people being torn limb from limb, there’s a fat punk dude named Stooge saying things like “Festering Fuckwads! You cannot take this bitch anywhere, man.” Also, it came out in the late ‘80s, it has a cast of people in their 20s and 30s playing high school students, it has cartoony punks and goths and jocks à la Return of the Living Dead or a Troma film and, like a lot of those films, it has Linnea Quigley losing her clothes at some point. It also has one of the craziest scenes involving lipstick and a breast ever, worth the price of admission!
The premise of the movie is that two friends, Angela (the goth) and Suzanne (Quigley, the ditz who is always looking in her compact,) are throwing a Halloween party at Hull House, an abandoned mortuary that’s rumored to be haunted or possessed or something. They invite a few other people, although it’s not too clear who are friends and who are not. There’s Stooge the punk, a jock, a virginal girl named Judy, an Italian stereotype named Sal, a black guy named Roger, a random couple and a frightened girl. But none of this matters – where are the demons?
The movie gives itself a decent amount of time to set all of this up, even throwing in an unconnected B-plot involving an old man, trick-or-treaters, apples and razors. There are scenes of hilarious dialogue exchanges delivered poorly by the cast and the occasional crude zinger delivered by Judy’s younger brother Billy in the opening scenes or by Stooge or Sal during the Hull House scenes. Also, Suzanne shakes her butt side-to-side for what seems like ten minutes during the extended dance sequence, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it looks like Quigley can only walk in a butt-fanning fashion like a duck, or she’s trying to vehemently dry it off by the fire.
Eventually Angela suggests they have a séance, where the demon of the house will be summoned by all of them looking in a mirror. It works, and through a comedy of errors, Suzanne is the first to be possessed. Hell breaks loose and people either become possessed or start lacking body parts. There’s also another extended dance sequence involving Angela and the Bauhaus song “Stigmata Martyr.” It’s kind of like gothic Flashdance and again is worth the price of admission!
Things are stacked against the survivors, and I’m not just talking about the shirtless demonic Linnea Quigley. The only escape is over a wall covered in barbed wire, and sunrise is hours away. I highly recommend fans of Halloween, gore, and silliness to check out Night of the Demons. Even the opening animated title sequence is entertaining!
– Michael Edwards
Tune in tomorrow for vampires! Ken Lucas checks out Lifeforce, Ian Gonzales buckles some swash with Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and Tim Mucci meets a bloodsucker of a different sort in Cronos!