Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pumpkinhead and The Return of the Living Dead

For my last horror movie review of the October Halloween season, I was stuck on what film I should review, between two classics I love to watch during this spooky time of year. Both are cult favorites of the 1980s, having such great moments in them and, wanting to make sure I get it down in this blog, I wanted them to be part of my Halloween-themed reviews for this year. So...I decided to review them both.

By the way, pardon the rapid way this one was written, because I had to deal with giving out candies every so often as I was writing this.

What I have on the plate today are two fun films to watch: a serious creature feature and a horror comedy zombie film-1988's Pumpkinhead and 1985's The Return of the Living Dead.

Lance Henriksen is a favorite actor of mine, and well known for the parts he plays, yet always plays the second fiddle to another actor of higher caliber. But Henriksen is no slouch himself...I've seen him pull out some very different performances in a few movies over the years. In Dog Day Afternoon he was the FBI agent that didn't say much until the big climactic scene at the end of the movie; in Damien: Omen II, he had a small evil part as the sergeant of the military school that takes Damien under his wing at the end; in The Terminator, he was a flunky cop who didn't get respect from his sergeant; and we all know him as Bishop from a few of the Alien films. Many of his films showcased him as a supporting character, but he was always awesome and stood out in those parts. But my favorite Lance Henriksen vehicle has got to be Pumpkinhead.

The film opens up at night with some man running from something he seems afraid of as he screams for someone to help him. He stops at a house and bangs on the door, calling to Tom Harley (Lee de Broux). The Harley family is inside and Tom advises his wife and son that they need to keep out of it. Soon, an unseen force closes in on the man and we hear his scream as he's obviously killed.

Cut to years later and we see Ed Harley (Henriksen), a grown man now, and his son, Billy (Matthew Hurley-a Jonathan Lipnicki look-a-like), in a little country town. We see how close they are as they work on their farm together and enjoy each other's company during dinner.

Ed Harley and his son run a small store along the country highway and one day, a group of friends stop on their way to a cabin for a fun getaway, complete with dirt bikes that they've hauled with them, to pick up some supplies. Not long after, a family from town comes by to get some groceries and supplies as well and ask Harley to have some of it delivered to their house. Harley leaves his son to mind the store as he takes off to deliver the goods.

Soon after Harley leaves, two of the guys from the group of friends decide to take the dirt bikes out for a ride behind the store. Harley's son runs out at one point to go after his dog and gets hit by one of the dirt bikes as if lands from a jump.  Most of the friends go and tend to the boy to see if he can be helped, but the douche bag of the bunch, who admits he's had a few beers and claims to have a DUI on his record, takes off with his girlfriend.

When Harley arrives and sees what's happened, he runs and grabs his boy and takes him to his truck. The friends say they're sorry and claim it was an accident, but Harley pays them no mind as upset as he is. But as one of the guys asks if there's anything he can do to help, Harley turns and glares at him, then walks off.

Ed Harley, remembered the man that tried to get help that night long ago was someone who did someone else wrong and deserved what came to him. He knew that there was a witch in town that helped in that and could help him avenge his son's death. He finds her and with her help they unleash Pumpkinhead.

Pumpkinhead is the directorial debut of Stan Winston, the special effects wizard responsible for the work in The Terminator, Aliens, Predator, and Jurassic Park. In my opinion, he did a great job with this film, especially with the design of the key monster. For its time, before CGI, the effects were believable and had me cringing in my seat when I first saw it years ago. The cinematography is great and has a creepy feel as the group of friends that are trying to get away from this monster that just keeps coming for them.

Now, in a completely opposite direction, we have The Return of the Living Dead, which is somewhat of a sequel to Night of the Living Dead.

Funny thing about this film is that I never watched it when it first came out in theaters, nor did I ever rent it when it was released onto video. In fact, the first time I watched it was a couple of years ago when I decided it was high time I checked out this cult classic. But, somehow, I didn't think it was a classic and turned it off after watching fifteen minutes of it. However, after getting a little nostalgic for 1980s horror movies, I decided to give it another try and rented it again. This time, I loved it.

The film opens with Frank (James Karen of Poltergeist fame) and Freddy (Thom Matthews of Jason Lives: Friday the 13th VI fame) working in a medical supply warehouse. Frank shows the young kid what they do there and how they go about sending stuff out to medical offices and hospitals. Frank brings up Night of the Living Dead and tells Freddy it was based on a true story. He goes on to tell him that the warehouse actually holds the chemically-infested bodies that were responsible for the outbreak. Freddy doesn't believe him and wants to see it for himself. Frank gladly takes him to the basement area and shows him the drums with the government writing on them. When Freddy asks what happens if the barrels leak, Frank slaps them and says they won't, which, at that point, they do.

I won't go on too much about how it all plays out, but rest assured, everything goes ape-shit. The dead come back to life, wanting to eat brains and nothing else. But I will say that this movie is a fresh approach to most zombie films whereas the undead are intelligent and can communicate.

Some of the subplot involves Freddy's friends and how they're waiting for him to get off work so they can all go partying, so we get to see them hanging out at the adjacent cemetery. One of the most gratuitous displays of nudity in film history comes from Linnea Quigley as she just decides to take off her clothes and dance around the graves.

But, all in all, The Return of the Living Dead is a big fun movie to watch, mostly a horror comedy, but there are some good scares within.

So, what's my final "bit" on Pumpkinhead and The Return of the Living Dead?

As I'd said, Pumpkinhead is a serious creature feature that is beautifully shot and well-acted by the great Lance Henriksen. It plays out well and creates a lot of spooky ambience for the audience during the Halloween season. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and do so tonight! On the other side of the coin, if you feel like having a good laugh while being scared, please go to your local video rental store and pick up The Return of the Living Dead. You'll thank me.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed my Halloween-themed reviews. Keep on watching those scary doesn't necessarily have to be October to enjoy a horror movie.

Thanks for reading!

You can reach me on Twitter: @JustCallMeManny.