Unleashing the beast
POP QUIZ! Who is this?
If you don’t know, shame on you. You may not recognise his face, but you’ll definitely recognise his resume’.
That’s right, it’s…
Stan Winston was an incredible makeup artist and special effects supervisor who is best known for his exceptional work on creature features. In the twilight years between practical effects superiority and CGI purity we saw several unforgettable Stan Winston creations, like the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, that moved and breathed like living animals. Unbelievably lifelike and beautiful, they helped create some of monster-movies most memorable moments.
But there was a little known third vocation that Stan Winston embarked on. He was also… a director.
Since he directed movies like “A Gnome named Gnorm“, I can understand why thousands of projects didn’t flutter his way and no audience took him seriously at the time. But there was a golden nugget born amidst the fires of failure, and it was called:
This movie is glorious! I mean it, it’s so well made. Premise as follows:
“A man conjures up a gigantic vengeance demon called Pumpkinhead to destroy the teenagers who accidentally killed his son.”
Precise, simple, and promising, Pumpkinhead delivers everything you could want from 80’s fantasy horror . It’s more than just a supernatural slasher. It dissects the consequences of revenge and discusses personal accountability. How much easier is it to order an assassination than it is to be an assassin? Does being one step removed from the process liberate you from the guilt and responsibility of your own actions, leading to de-sensitivity and deeper corruption? In that way the film speaks to an even broader phenomenon which plagues humanity and manifests itself routinely throughout history; the lack of personal involvement. Imagine how much less willing politicians would be to go to war if they themselves had to join up. Disassociation is a dangerous force that can…
…oh sorry, back to Pumpkinhead.
Even without the symbolic and thematic nature of the film, it’s just a gorgeous watch! The rich colour saturation is amazing, contrasting cold crepuscular blues with safe warm reds. Combine that with thick chunky smoke and blizzard-like winds, and you’ve got an atmosphere to die for (literally). Talk about mise-en-scène! And of course, the heart and soul of the piece is Pumpkinhead himself.
Or should it be “itself”, seeing as it’s a genderless demon resurrected from the corpse of an abandoned child?
Either way, Pumpkinhead is one of Winstons finest creations. Skeletorial in nature, it displays a sense of reptile-like nimbleness which would certainly scare the hell out of me. I sure wouldn’t want this thing on my tail. You may think the name is strange, but seeing as the creature has a child-like fable surrounding it…it kinda works. That setup reminds me a bit of The Tommyknockers, although much better crafted. The saying goes:
Keep away from Pumpkinhead,
Unless you’re tired of living,
His enemies are mostly dead,
He’s mean and unforgiving,
Laugh at him and you’re undone,
But in some dreadful fashion,
Vengeance, he considers fun,
And plans it with a passion,
Time will not erase or blot,
A plot that he has brewing,
It’s when you think that he’s forgot,
He’ll conjure your undoing,
Bolted doors and windows barred,
Guard dogs prowling in the yard,
Won’t protect you in your bed,
Nothing will, from Pumpkinhead.
Pumpkinhead (1988) trailer
Alright, now for the sad part. Notice how I framed a lot of Stan Winston’s praise in past tense. Well, that’s because he died in 2008, after seven years of battling multiple myeloma.
I know, I know, “He was no Steve Jobs” right? No he wasn’t, he was better. I would happily trade my Ipod for another film as good as Pumpkinhead.
What? Would I give up my Macbook? Oh, look over there! A butterfly…
But seriously, this man was a force of nature. Think of the childhood memories he helped to create for our generation. I bet all of you can find at least one movie on the list above that means the world to you. So, give something back. Honour his memory by renting or buying Pumpkinhead (aka Vengeance – The Demon). At the very least download it, watch it, and recommend it to someone else. Even if you can’t see beyond the surface of it, you can still enjoy the surface itself. Grab a bucket of popcorn, turn off the lights, and relish in the imaginative awesomeness that is – Stan Winston!