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John’s Horror Corner: Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1993), a decent B-movie creature feature sequel that pales to the original.

November 18, 2016

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MY CALL:  Anyone seeking a worthy follow-up to Pumpkinhead will surely be disappointed.  But adventures in search of a worthy B-movie or a silly scary movie date night will find an entertaining evening.   MORE MOVIES LIKE Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings:  Pumpkinhead (1988), of course, is FAR superior.  Maybe even try the later sequels (2006 and 2007)—I haven’t seen them but they couldn’t possibly measure up to the original.  But this sequel harkens to the quality of Leprechaun 2 (1994), Leprechaun 3 (1995), Leprechaun in Space (1996), Wishmaster 2 (1999) and Wishmaster 3 (2001).

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Some people dread the sequels of their favorite classic horror movies, often picked up by different and less experienced writers and directors and remanded to direct-to-video/DVD.  Not me.  Even when they never measure up, I’m happy someone tried.

Director Jeff Burr (Puppet Master 4-5, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) takes the helm and follows in the footsteps of makeup special effects wizard turned one-time horror director Stan Winston (Pumpkinhead).  Those are some big shoes to fill.

The opening scene is far from promising.  It’s a shining example of how the video era made the 90s a terrible decade for horror.  Anyone could make a film in the 90s (and today…but not in the 80s).  They couldn’t necessarily act, write, direct or edit.  But they could film whatever drivel that wandered in front of the camera.  In this sequel the acting is bottom tier, the characters aren’t at all likable, and the dialogue is 80% lame exposition; just awful.

We flash back to 1958, when a disfigured boy is tortured and killed by a clique of malicious greasers as his elderly mother watched.  Then we shift to present day and find the modern counterparts of those young criminals.  These delinquents waste no time smoking pot, drinking underage, and making unwanted sexual advances.  Pumpkinhead (1988) was heavily troped up, but at least I could enjoy the characters.  This is just crass.

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Even at a glance the 1988 victims (above) look way more credible than the bright-eyed bushy-tailed “delinquents” in 1993 (below).

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A big city cop (Andrew Robinson; Hellraiser, Trancers 3, Child’s Play 3) moves his family to the woods to become a small town sheriff.  His daughter Jenny (Ami Dolenz; Ticks, Witchboard 2) falls into the wrong crowd almost instantly.

While out late and up to no good they hit the local witch (Lilyan Chauvin; Predator 2, Silent Night, Deadly Night) with their car and stumble across her cabin.  In her primitive and filthy home they find a ritual, a spell from the Book of Shadows to raise the dead.  But the vehicular assault clearly wasn’t enough, so a teenager (J. Trevor Edmond; Lord of Illusions, Return of the Living Dead 3) beats her, steals a magical totem and leaves her to die as her cabin burns down with her in it.  So naturally, the witch curses them that the demonic entity Pumpkinhead will exact her revenge.

But what’s strange is that, after being cursed, the kids go dig up her dead son (somehow knowing exactly where to dig), desecrate his grave, and perform the dead-awakening ritual themselves!  Soooooo… did the curse even matter?  Well, like I said, it’s not competently written.

Well now somehow all the locals know that “it’s back” and “it won’t stop until it gets what it wants.”  Evidently the local folklore is more like common knowledge.

SIDEBAR with SPOILERS: The Nature of the Curse, Part 1 vs Part 2.  Another unfortunate shortcoming is that this sequel completely ignores the rules of the curse as they were laid out in Pumpkinhead.  In Pumpkinhead Ed has the witch invoke the ritual to summon Pumpkinhead, a demonic spirit of vengeance.  In doing so, he tied his own fate to that of the demon such that when Pumpkinhead was injured, he would suffer the same injury, and when Pumpkinhead was killed, he also would die.  But it wasn’t so simple.  Ed not only died with Pumpkinhead, but Ed “became” the placeholder for the next Pumpkinhead summoning and as the demon came closer to completing Ed’s revenge, Ed took on some aspects of the demon (e.g., his whitening eyes).  Ed’s body was buried in the pumpkin patch, disfigured as the neo-natal, pre-summoned Pumpkinhead before him.
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This sequel now identifies that Pumpkinhead was Tommy’s father.  Well, Tommy died in 1958 when he and Ed were both children.  So when Ed (in his childhood flashback in Pumpkinhead) saw the demon, did he see Tommy’s father as Pumpkinhead?  Even if so, Ed replaced the former Pumpkinhead.  So it should instead be Ed who is this iteration of Pumpkinhead.  Moreover, the second Pumpkinhead was formed from Tommy’s body (not his father’s) in his own grave site (not the pumpkin patch).  And this new Pumpkinhead was summoned by the witch, who dies while Pumpkinhead continues to exact his revenge—so there goes the bound fate idea.  Shame…it was a great idea in Pumpkinhead.
I can’t explain why they’d break that continuity.  Was it really so much easier to do it this way instead, thus throwing out such excellent folklore?  Of course, the binding fate conferred a sense of human frailty and realized morality.  Even though Ed Harley summoned the beast and tied their fates, he stopped the demon despite it meaning his own end.  There is no such grace to be found in this sequel.
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So we eventually learned that this Pumpkinhead is actually Tommy!  Not his father.  And at the end of the movie Pumpkinhead has no implied successor—certainly not the dead witch.  Only a lame finale.  So the once-harrowing cursed sense of legacy is also squandered.  Yet further perplexing is that Ed Harley’s father was Tom in Pumpkinhead, but Tom had a ten year old Ed back in 1958.  So there’s no dispute that this Tom is not Tommy-Pumpkinhead nor is there any link between them.  I wonder if the writer and director even saw Pumpkinhead!

To call the special effects inferior to Stan Winston’s glorious original wouldn’t be unwarranted.  This rubber monster is certainly more than passable.  The long fingers lack some of the refinement of Winston’s Pumpkinhead, which also had a perpetual mucousy sheen and a more expressive face that conferred greater personality.

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1988 above, 1993 below

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There’s some blood and dismemberment, but most of the flesh-rending action takes place off-screen.  The important thing is that we really get to see the monster—it’s entire body—and not just his head in some shots and a swinging claw in others.  We see it and we see a lot of it!  And if I had never seen part 1 for comparison, I’d be pleased with this creature feature’s Pumpkinhead.  One deficit, though, would be this monster’s feet.  They lack the spindly xenomorphic look of 1988.  No, this 1993 model is a bit more lumbering T-rex than velociraptor.

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Hulking 1993 demon above, spindly 1988 demon below.

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When it came to the witch, this sequel was barely even phoning it in.  The 1988 witch was shrouded in menace and primitive mysticism.  When she spoke your ears listened and your stomach tightened.  She exuded that backwoods black magic atmosphere.  This which was a lumpy latex-faced menace with no lines of substance and a cheaply over-staged cabin lair.  But that would fit most comparisons to be made between 1993 and 1988.  Woefully ill-written, less expertly effected, and unthoughtfully over-staged.  Don’t even get me started comparing Lance Henriksen (Harbinger Down, Aliens, AVP, The Pit and the Pendulum) to Andrew Robinson; it wouldn’t be fair, especially with the hand Robinson (who was once great in Hellraiser) was dealt in terms of the script and director.

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The “okay” 1993 witch above; the harrowing 1988 witch below.

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This sequel feels more campy.  Kane Hodder (Smothered, Wishmaster, Hatchet, Love in the Time of Monsters) and Linnea Quigley (Night of the Demons, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Creepazoids) have cameos—really just an excuse to throw in some boobs and fan favorite actors.  At one point Pumpkinhead picks up a victim and executes a WWF backbreaker—at which point any minimal semblance of creepy atmosphere the film had, is lost.  A broken spine is devastating and all, but it didn’t seem like the style of a demon, nor did the “death by pecking chickens” scene.

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And therein lies this movie’s greatest shortcoming: completely uninventive death scenes.  It’s awesome seeing Pumpkinhead, but almost boring watching him kill (largely off-screen).  That is, of course, outside of the so-bad-it’s-good chuckle here or there.  With the exception of one sloppy campy decapitation, there is no gore worth mentioning.  And, by the way, there are no “wings” in Blood Wings despite some suggestive movie posters.  It’s just a really stupid play on a really stupid plot point.

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See the “blood wings” on the wall?  Yeah.  That’s our title.  SMH.

Anyone seeking a worthy follow-up to Pumpkinhead will surely be disappointed…very disappointed.  But adventures in search of a worthy B-movie or a silly scary movie date night will find an entertaining evening.

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