PUMPKINHEAD: A Gruesome Fairy Tale

Pumpkinhead. 1988. Directed by Stan Winston. Screenplay by Mark Patrick Carducci & Gary Gerani; from a story by Carducci, Winston, & Richard C. Weinman, based off a poem by Ed Justin.
Starring Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, John D’Aquino, Kimberly Ross, Joel Hoffman, Cynthia Bain, Kerry Remsen, Florence Schauffler, Brian Bremer, George ‘Buck’ Flower, Matthew Hurley, Lee de Broux, Peggy Walton-Walker, Chance Michael Corbitt, & Dick Warlock.
De Laurentiis Entertainment Group/Lion Films
Rated R. 86 minutes.
Fantasy/Horror

★★★1/2
Pumpkinhead-1988-00-44-21Stan Winston’s debut feature, Pumpkinhead, is an all-time horror great. If we want to get real serious, it’s a dark fantasy; a mix of fairy tale-like elements and the terror of the horror genre, with a slasher setup. Doesn’t always hit the right notes, at times there’s a bit of heart lacking when Lance Henriksen’s not onscreen, giving it his best. Winston does fantastic work as director, as do the special effects team behind him to help with his vision. But it’s the story, above all, that matters most.
There are many ways to examine grief and loss, especially if we’re considering the revenge angle. Tons of films in the genre tackle revenge in a variety of different ways, from the tired rape-revenge horrors, to the old man action vehicles brought to new life most recently by Liam Neeson. Plenty of choices available.
Winston, along with his fellow writers, worked off a poem by Ed Justin and imagined a terrifying entity, the titular creature, who becomes the symbol of misguided revenge, after a quaint family man named Ed Harley (Henriksen) loses his boy to a careless accident, and calls upon its powers to get vengeance for him against those responsible.

Youre a fool, Ed Harley.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 3.12.16 PMThe grieving process is a tough one, no matter the circumstances. Losing a loved one, a young one at that, to a tragic accident due to the careless attitude of another individual is emotional brutality at its worst. Supernatural horror here work as a remedy for such traumas, though one acting like a double-edged sword: revenge and justice for the bereaved, as well as more anguish and torment of a different sort altogether, a deeper existential angst than before.
In this light, Pumpkinhead also becomes a Southern Gothic mixed with folk horror, about the ghosts and the violence of the past coming full circle to roost in the present day, too. There are many fairy tale qualities to the story. The entity Pumpkinhead is similar to a creepier character out of an old book – a worse version of Rumpelstiltskin, or a darker genie from the Middle Eastern story of Aladdin; and to boot, it’s murderous. As it is in fairy tales, the monster comes to represent a flaw in humans, exaggerated and turned into the horrific, living embodiment of that flow.
Here, the thirst of blood for blood, a primal urge in us, our primitive self, to get vengeance when we’ve been fatally damaged by the awful death of a loved one. The story is a blood-soaked, Southern fried Brothers Grimm tale.
Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 3.59.06 PM

God is the only thing that can stop whats out there

A scene that’s wildly interesting is when Pumpkinhead picks up the raggedy wooden cross. It smashes the cross. And with this act, the fairy tale monster enters the territory of an unholy creature. Not only does it – by virtue of its existence, its coming into being out of a will for vengeance, an eye for an eye – question a lack of justice in the universe, with violence of its own, it also, ultimately, questions God.
This comes to all the questions many of us have asked before, in our own lives. Why does God let good people, children, die? Why doesn’t God actually punish those who deserve it? Well, Pumpkinhead acts as a malevolent God, one that is entirely out of control from the power of anyone who summons it, taking on a new life until its bloodthirst is quenched, and every last bit of vengeance doled out. By destroying the Christian iconography, smashing the cross – and, might I add, loving every minute as it does – the monstrous entity kills God, the belief in him, announcing itself as the new, brutish God.
Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 4.07.31 PMThere’s a bit of creature feature-slasher mashup going on, which is fun at times. Sometimes the pacing could pick up, though the film’s only 86 minutes, so regardless it’s a quick ride. The shining point, aside from the monster’s eeriness, is Henriksen. He always adds an air of excitement to anything he’s in, to this day. A quality actor who probably doesn’t actually get the credit he deserves, no matter if he’s still getting plenty of work in his later years. His role as the grieving father is perfect, he embodies the full spectrum of guilt, regret, and pain that’s required; beyond that, offering a performance that will move you alongside all the horror of the story.
Pumpkinhead could’ve been a bit better. But, there’s so much to love, anyway. All the themes swirling around are reined in well by Winston, whose directorial style is very atmosphere heavy helping along the dark fantasy feel of the film. Others feel differently, and that’s fine. I personally enjoyed Pumpkinhead, it looked cool in nearly every last frame where we saw it, plus some of the kills were outrageously cool!
You need to see this if you haven’t, and Halloween is PERFECT timing. So toss this on, get a couple friends, have yourself an enjoyable night. This provides good imagery, creeps, an interesting plot rooted in the world of fairy tales and the Southern Gothic, sure to please most horror lovers out there.

Advertisements

I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE & Justice in the Real World

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. Directed & Written by Macon Blair.
Starring Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy, Devon Graye, Christine Woods, & Robert Longstreet.
Film Science/XYZ Films
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
img_0007Ever since seeing him in the fantastic indie Murder Party, Macon Blair draws me to his work. Just a couple years ago Jeremy Saulnier went ahead and gave him the spotlight in the story of amateur but passionate revenge, Blue Ruin, and last year Blair also turned up as a neo-Nazi with a heart still beating somewhere deep down in the immensely impressive Green Room.
A year after, Blair comes to us via Netflix with I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, starring Melanie Lynskey (who along with her role in “The Birthday Party” from anthology horror movie XX is experiencing a big surge in her great career) and Elijah Wood. Channelling energy no doubt gleaned from his time working in front of the camera for Saulnier, Blair writes and directs like he’s been doing it for ages. The pacing, the directing, his tense, darkly comic, and at many times his cathartic script all make for an inventive debut feature. Even better, the timing of this film is on the nose; when North America’s been gripped by a steady stream of hate billowing out of the aftermath from the 2016 U.S. elections. I don’t think Blair anticipated such relevance, and wanted to just make a solid crime-thriller. Despite authorial intent, his work feels perfectly at home in this world heading on from 2017, surely expressing the feelings of many Americans in the story’s reluctant yet driven to the brink protagonist.
img_0008Everyone is an asshole. And dildos.”
The opening moments are awesomely comic and dark, as well. From an old lady’s vulgar last words to an awkward parking lot encounter, a look of existential frustration on the face of our protagonist Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) as oblivious shoppers cut in front of her in the cashier line or don’t bother picking up items they knock off shelves, to dog shit left on her lawn and a random man in a bar ruining the latest book in a series she’s reading – Ruth’s introduction to the viewer is a concise explanation of the film’s title. Watching her life in these short, informative bursts during the opener is a proper visual thesis.
Blair’s story is at once familiar and totally unique in its own skin, as we see the age old tale of person pushed to the limits of what their humanity and pride can tolerate. Ruth refuses victimhood any longer. After suffering the myriad of small injustices offered by the world on a daily basis, she snaps when a truly shitty act of criminality forces her past the point of silence, towards reclaiming her life via vengeance. Only, as in real life, the film shows us how even well-intentioned revenge doesn’t always go as planned. Perhaps the greatest aspect of I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is its dedication to reality, in that it refuses to deny the messiness of being human.
img_0009Ruth: “What are we doinghere, this world?”
Tony: “Trying to be good. Or be better.”
A large focus of the plot becomes the idea that, in today’s society (and for a long time), the focus lies more on what a victim must do to prevent being victimised, rather than preventing and punishing criminals properly. We see this particularly in the case of rape victims, which contemporary internet culture and social media has made even worse, as women who’ve been sexually assaulted and raped often hear what THEY should have done instead of society working on the men who commit such atrocities.
For instance, the police officer assigned to Ruth’s case all but refuses to take her seriously. All because she left her door open. This is just about the epitome of the idea that victims are treated like they’ve done something wrong. The cop keeps bringing up the fact she left the door open, so it negates her troubles; there are better things to do for cops than worrying about people who are asking for it. And that’s the bottom line, that the police, sometimes, would rather blame someone for what they did to supposedly bring on the crime than do work to find the criminals responsible. Because sure, she left the door open, that’s still not an invitation to be robbed – robbery is still illegal – exactly how a woman getting too drunk or wearing sexy clothes is NOT an invitation to assault or rape or anything else. Not sure if this is what Blair was getting at. Regardless, he gets to the heart of the issue with Ruth’s journey towards civilising her small pocket of the world. And further than that, how the police won’t help and make it harder for her to find justice, we see how many people in this crazy world are pushed to take matters into their own hands and find vigilante justice.
img_0010There’s so much, too much, to love. A scene involving an old man pawnbroker morphs from a hilariously sneaky scene into something more surreal, slightly horrifying, though entirely funny in a grim sense. Then there’s one bloody, climactic moment of pure violent madness before the last few scenes that works wonders. Continually, from plot events to bloody violence, the film sticks to the idea of real life. Events occur as in real life: spontaneous, weird, ugly, brutal. The plot heads in unexpected, dangerous directions, as Ruth winds up from where she’d ever anticipated at the beginning, reflected in the blood and cracked windpipes and stabbed stomachs Blair offers up on screen.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore has everything I expected. One of the most fun, and equally wild, film experiences I’ve had over the past year, definitely a contender for the films I love most at the end of 2017. Lynskey is pitch perfect in the lead, both innocent and strong in her own right, flanked by Elijah Wood in a role he owns; the others in the cast fill it out with class.
Blair does more than I could’ve imagined. I knew his debut would go over well because he’s got an old school sensibility about him as an actor; this translates to his directing with force. Every move of the story feels expertly paced, each scene directed and shot with precision. A crime-thriller that resonates with the modern state of America. Plus, yet another huge reason why Netflix deserves credit for letting directors – from TV shows to fictional and documentary features – take the reins of their vision and steer it how they see fit.

FELON: Justice v. Revenge Amongst the Horrors of the American Penal System

Felon. 2008. Directed & Written by Ric Roman Waugh.
Starring Stephen Dorff, Marisol Nichols, Vincent Miller, Anne Archer, Larnell Stovall, Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard, Johnny Lewis, Harold Perrineau, Shawn Prince, Chris Browning, Nick Chinlund, Greg Serano, Jake Walker, & Nate Parker. Stage 6 Films/Tooley Productions/Pantry Films.
Rated R. 104 minutes.
Crime/Drama

★★★★
POSTER Director-writer Ric Roman Waugh hasn’t done much in the way of his own feature films that interests me, if we’re being honest here. That being said he has had one fine career. His stunt work ranges from a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine Road House to Lethal Weapon 2, right up to Stephen Spielberg’s Hook, the contemporary sci-fi classic Total Recall, to things like True Romance and The Crow. No wonder Felon is equal parts cerebral prison drama and solid action, including some impressively choreographed fights that go from controlled to frenetic in one wild swoop. Waugh doesn’t make a perfect movie. Although, it’s definitely one of the greatest prison flicks in the past couple decades. Scout’s honour.
I’ve always wondered what might happen to a man like Wade Porter (Stephen Dorff), whose spontaneous act of self-defence and will to protect his family leads to the death of a man threatening their home. If it were me, I’d probably end up dead. Instead, Porter gets inadvertently tangled in with a neo-Nazi punk named Snowman (Johnny Lewis) and an Aryan Brotherhood leader named Danny Samson (Chris Browning) after a stabbing during the prison transport. Moreover, he finds himself in the same cell as vengeful murderer John Smith (Val Kilmer); they become bonded after some time, and following a horrendous prison fight. On top of everything, a sadistic head of the prison guards, Lieutenant Jackson (Harold Perrineau), runs the block where Ward is located. Just another powerful, tough force against which he must fight; mentally AND physically.
Felon is about survival, it is about the morality of man and how the prison system can bend it. Waugh’s story tackles the life of prisoners, as much as it does the life of those outside waiting for those same prisoners. And it explores how violence is endemic in the prisoner, no matter their background, almost as soon as their sentencing is handed down. Wade is an example of this, though luckily his story has shades of light sneaking through from time to time. In the midst of all that blood.
Pic1 What I love is that this has a diverse cast of different talents. There’s Harold Perrineau – I love this guy. He first came to me, and lasts longest, via Oz; he rocked that role and it’s one of my favourites on television, out of any series in existence to date. Usually he plays a nice guy, or a guy with good intentions. I love Jackson because Perrineau is showing his range. He is truly despicable, and that’s not all writing. His talent makes Jackson into something of nightmares, just another reason – aside from the threat of death and rape – prison is a terrifying concept to any lawful citizen.
The two powerhouses are Dorff and Kilmer. I’m most surprised at Dorff, someone I don’t usually enjoy much. Though I always try giving him the benefit of the doubt. His performance as Wade is genuine and it is emotional, as well as physical. He’s good enough to sell the emotional nature of the character, which isn’t overly complex, but he tugs at your heartstrings from time to time. Most of all he impresses me with the transition from regular first-time prisoner to a guy who’s short time in the prison system has altered him, right down to the DNA.
And Val – oh, Val! I love you, buddy. I’m one of the few who love this dude and his acting. Yes, he’s done some stinkers. Absolutely. Yet when Kilmer is on, he is on to the end. The writing of John Smith is interesting, as it doesn’t take the completely typical route of many hardened prison veterans that so often graces the screen. Smith is a quiet guy, most of the time that is. He is thoughtful. Also scary in his quiet thoughtfulness. His physical stature is interesting, too. He isn’t the same old ripped up guy that spent years in prison, with a lifetime ahead of him, focusing solely on his physique and reading books. He’s definitely read some books, he has street smarts and school smarts. There’s something about the way Kilmer plays this role that sets it apart from other roles out of similar movies. A joy to see a nice performance from him because sadly he’s done lots of trash and admittedly I know he checks out a lot. But once more: when Kilmer gets it right, he really gets down.
Pic2 felon_17 There is some truly brutal prison savagery in this film. From the first bit on the bus where Samson stabs that one man to when he eventually turns on the yellow-bellied Snowman. So many nasty moments in a movie that’s built on brutality. And I find the violence genuine. Yes, it’s hard to take if you aren’t into that sort of thing, though it is necessary. This is a story that’s based in reality, so at the very least the filmmakers had to present things with a realism instead of a glorified vision of prison violence. In this way we also see the paralleled violent actions of the inmates versus the guards, specifically Lieutenant Jackson. The line between inmate and keeper is obliterated, as Jackson becomes so clearly like the ones he keeps that it’s hard to distinguish by the end which is which. We know, of course, but still it brings into question all the moral issues we often think of when considering criminals – how far can those meant to uphold the law go? Certainly not as far Jackson does, nor those who follow him. That realistic fighting and all the various violent acts we witness throughout the film become one, a mass of fists and fury. Jackson, as is the case literally and figuratively, becomes a part of all that in one undefinable blur.
Furthermore, the character Kilmer plays is of interest to the greater whole of what Felon aims for thematically. He is the definition of revenge, having let vengeance consume him resulting in the deaths of the whole families of the men that raped then murdered his wife and daughter. He represents the symbolic consumption of the protector by violence. In a usual rape-revenge movie structure we see the man rush in, saving the woman, avenging her – really, he’s avenging his own ego. Here, Kilmer’s character is a guy whose avenging anger tore down his life. Now all he has is an eight-by-ten space to pace around and eternity, until he rots away into death to think about his dead, defiled daughter and wife. That’s really no justice, is it? Vengeance, sure. Justice? No. So ultimately, he redeems himself slightly by being that protector again. Only this time – STOP! BIG TIME SPOILERS AHEAD! – he literally lays down his life, he gives himself over to the great hands of fate and helps to do some actual justice, rather than just take it into his own hands.
Pic3 I loved this movie. Felon has its flaws, there are a couple cheesy moments and some inflated melodrama in certain scenes. On the whole it is a great little prison film. Everything is fun, from the intense fights and the scary prison violence, right down to Kilmer’s performance as an enigmatic prisoner jailed for taking revenge to a whole new biblical level out of the Old Testament. There are better prison movies, such as classics like Papillon and even more contemporary stuff like Animal Factory.
But there’s a vast sea of terrible prison flicks that don’t even come close to this awesome little surprise. The performances alone are worth it. You get a good dose of all sorts of other nice expected and unexpected treats along the way. If only Waugh would make more movies of this calibre and style.