Pumpkinhead spreads his wings in the direct-to-video nineties sequel PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS, on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
In 1955, the local badasses of Ferren Woods brutally murdered deformed backwoods orphan Tommy (J.P. Manoux, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW) who was believed to be the hell spawn of a demon and a woman. In the present day (well, 1993), Sean Braddock (Andrew Robinson, HELLRAISER) returns home from New York to take over the job of sheriff, hoping the small town life will keep his resentful teenage daughter Jenny (Ami Dolenz, TICKS) out of trouble. Unfortunately, she's already hanging out with the town's new generation of badasses: Danny Dixon (J. Trevor Edmond, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3) – son of Judge Dixon (Steven Kanaly, DILLINGER) – Marcie (PUNKY BREWSTER's Soleil Moon Frye, now developed really nicely) and her boyfriend Peter (Hill Harper, CSI: NY), and stoner Paul (Alexander Polinsky, TV's CHARLES IN CHARGE)who accidentally run down Ferren Hollow's resident desiccated witch Miss Osie (Lilyan Chauvin, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT) while speeding down a country road at night without headlights. Occult enthusiast Marcie leads them to the witch's cabin when Jenny insists they see if she is okay, and they discover a page from the "Book of Shadows" to resurrect the dead as well as a vial of the "Blood of the Damned". Miss Osie warns them against messing with the spell but Danny, hungry for real danger, knocks her out in a struggle over the vial of blood. The kids dig up a grave that has been carefully tended by the witch and unearth a husk of a malformed corpse. Marcie recites the incantation and Danny pours the blood on the corpse to no apparent effect, but Jenny discovers Miss Osie's cabin on fire.
The next day, Braddock and coroner Delilah (Gloria Hendry, BLACK CAESAR) investigate the burned-out cabin and discover strange claw marks on one of the exterior boards. The kids learn that Miss Osie is in the local clinic in critical condition, but Danny swears them to a pact of silence. He also leans on his father for an alibi when Braddock questions him about his whereabouts after goat farmer Ernst (Joe Unger, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) tells him about seeing the kids near the cabin. When Ernst's gorily dismembered body is discovered in his barn the next day, obfuscating Judge Dixon wants to pin it on wild cats and round up a posse to hunt them down. More grisly deaths follow and Delilah believes them to be the work of a random psycho while Braddock believes that there is a connection between the victims. Both are aware of the legend of Pumpkinhead but are reluctant to embrace the possibility of the supernatural, although guitar-strumming Mayor Bubba (Roger Clinton) thinks a murderous beast might be good for tourism. Thanks to the flashback, we know the connection between the victims and who is next on the list (although he is not named in the flashback, it's fairly obvious to anyone who has seen… well, any horror film); but the dying Miss Osie has also cursed the kids who have conveniently gathered for a party while Pumpkinhead goes after his next victim nearby.
Although Stan Winston's superior PUMPKINHEAD was basically a slasher film/backwoods vengeance film, it wove a wonderful dark fairytale world out of the distinctive production design of Cynthia Charette (WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE), the gorgeous photography of Bojan Bazelli (THE RING remake), strong turns by Lance Henriksen (ALIENS) and Florence Schauffler (NO MAN'S LAND), and an original and expressive creature design by former Winston crew members Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff. PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS has a busier plot, but it's bland in every respect: from the Sable Ranch locations and production design of Ivo Cristante (HELLRAISER IV: BLOODLINE), the local color supporting characters, witch Miss Osie, and the one-dimensional teenager characters (the young characters in the original were not deeply etched but conveyed genuine remorse). The viewers are far ahead of Robinson's sheriff and Hendry's coroner in the investigation the entire time (Miss Osie even has to sit up after she has flatlined to explain everything to them). The "blood wings" clue is the only element that eludes the audience, and the revelation is not particularly startling.
When I first saw the film on television, I thought K.N.B. Efx Group's version of Pumpkinhead's head looked like an immobile mask. It actually is an animatronic mask that does snarl and growl, but it is still less expressive than the original (which possessed a particularly unnerving grin). Robinson is a fine lead, although even he cannot even recite the Pumpkinhead nursery rhyme with a straight face, while Kanaly is not particularly menacing as the judge with a secret. The younger actors fare better with their sketchily developed roles with only Polinsky fading thoroughly into the background in most scenes. Although Hendry is a little wooden, she makes a refreshing change from a) stereotypically morbid coroner characters, and b) black New Orleans-raised female characters who must believe in the occult (especially since her mother was a "sorcière"). Caren Kaye (MY TUTOR) has less to do as Jenny's mother, but the script at least affords her some input in the investigation. Kane Hodder (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN) and R.A. Mihailoff (LEATHERFACE) are among the terrorized villagers. Linnea Quigley (NIGHT OF THE DEMONS) makes a nude special appearance, while Dolenz's WITCHBOARD 2 co-star John Gatins (LEPRECHAUN 3) appears in the prologue as the younger version of Judge Dixon (the end credits list his given name as Caspar even though Braddock refers to him as Merle earlier in the film). MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE's Peter Lupus and his son also appear as cockfighters. Clinton also provides an end title theme song, which is far better than his actual onscreen performance.
PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS was released directly to video by Live Entertainment and hit DVD from Artisan Entertainment in 2005 as an individual release and a three-disc, four-film pack with LEPRECHAUN and a double-sided disc of WISHMASTER and its sequel. The transfer was fullscreen, and looked okay (if a little noisy) for the time. Burr contributed an audio commentary, and appeared in the featurette "Pumpkinhead II: Earning Your Blood Wings" (17:22) which also featured input from producers Brad Krevoy (DUMB & DUMBER) and Steve Stabler (ALBINO ALLIGATOR), actress/script supervisor Harri James (MANIAC COP 3: BADGE OF SILENCE) – who plays Delilah's nurse – actress Gloria Hendry, and actors R.A. Mihailoff and Will Huston. The featurette – edited by Dave Parker (THE HILLS RUN RED) – was sadly not ported over to the Scream release under review. Somehow the rights to the film more recently ended up with MGM who did a new high definition widescreen transfer which premiered on streaming sites. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 transfer on Scream Factory's Blu-ray immediately impresses with the bold contrast of the white titles against an eye-piercingly red background, while the feature itself looks sharper and less hazy than the DVD transfer which unfortunately also reminds us just how plain the film looks compared to the original film however nice the photography is in general (principal photography is credited to JASON GOES TO HELL's Bill Dill while additional photography is credited seasoned low budget horror cinematographer Tom Callaway of Burr's NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW). The only audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 rendering of the original Ultra Stereo mix with well-balanced dialogue, sound effects, and the scoring of Jeff Burr-regular Jim Manzie (LEATHERFACE, THE OFFSPRING) which does a better job than anything else in the film of evoking a backwoods atmosphere. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.
Extras start off with an audio commentary by Burr which is different from the one on the 2005 DVD but covers much of the same ground, sometimes with near-identical wording (although the tone sounds subtly less charitable about the producers). Because of this, he delivers the commentary to the listener and is less focused on scene-specific remarks than he was on the Artisan commentary. He reveals that the project was developed by Tony Randel (HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II), and that the mechanics of production were already in motion when he came onto the project (as was the case with LEATHERFACE). Randel reportedly left after the project had been pushed back a number of times and decided to do TICKS for Republic Pictures (which also featured Dolenz). Burr had come off the back-to-back productions PUPPET MASTER 4 and 5 for Charles Band, and was to direct OBLIVION when Band asked him instead to direct DARK ANGEL: THE ASCENT which was repeatedly delayed (the former would be directed by Sam Irvin and the latter by Linda Hassani). Most of the cast was already in place – including Dolenz (and a couple others who had either been in MPCA productions or auditioned for them around the time) – and that he had originally cast Robinson as the judge and Timothy Bottoms (THE LAST PICTURE SHOW) as the sheriff. Bottoms pulled out over a disagreement about his fee, and Burr thought that switching Robinson to the hero would be a nice change from his DIRTY HARRY typecasting. If it seems as though the Pumpkinhead character was shoehorned into an unrelated script, Burr suggests that was because producer Brad Krevoy (DUMB & DUMBER) made a deal with De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (whose bankruptcy delayed the release of the original film by a year when it was sold to United Artists) to produce a sequel within a certain time period. What he likes about the film is that it is at its core a "guy in a suit" monster movie that, according to him, if made in the fifties would be directed by Edward L. Cahn (INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN) with creature make-up by Paul Blaisdell (THE SHE-CREATURE). Burr is also on hand for a video interview (62:01) but it covers all of the same material in a slightly shorter period, but it may actually be preferable to watching the film again with the commentary track.
"Recreating the Monster" (32:39), featuring the special effects artists Greg Nicotero (WISHMASTER), Gino Crognale (DOLLS), and actor Mark McCracken (MATINEE) is a bit middling as a featurette with the commentators spending most of the time recalling how punch and slap-happy they got on the set during the long night shoots. They do express their admiration for Winston's film and Tom Woodruff's and Alec Gillis' original creation. They also discuss some of the modifications they had to make to their version since the creature was required to do more stunts and movement. It could have been shorter since we do not really need to hear each contributor's version of the time when they got kicked off set for laughing. The video-sourced behind the scenes footage (17:24), heavily excerpted in the two interview featurettes, is amusing with Pumpkinhead bumping his head on a chandelier, shaking his head in frustration, cradling his head, or shrugging his shoulders is in frustration at blown takes, but it could also have been shorter. There is no trailer for the film (there may have been one for foreign sales but the most we would probably have over here would be a video promo spot). Had Scream's Blu-ray of PUMPKINHEAD II been released at the same time as there disc of the original as intended, its extras package would probably be considered impressive but it feels less comprehensive for a standalone release. (Eric Cotenas)
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