I try to be fair when watching something that clearly knows what it is. Pumpkinhead is an exception to that rule.
At its core, this film takes a plot element from Deliverance (no, not the squeal scene) and goes further. In that film, the folks in the country are portrayed (among other ways) as distrustful of authority outside of their own rule of law. Same goes for the protagonist here (played by Lance Henriksen) and those around him as he seeks vengeance on the evil city slickers who wrong him. He should have just called the cops instead.
(Image courtesy of Horrorstew.com)
A Plot With This Many Holes is Called Swiss Cheese
The film starts with Ed (Henriksen) seeing a man destroyed by a tall, vicious creature outside the family farm house (mostly in shadows). His family doesn't get involved because they think it's not their affair. So much for being neighborly.
Flash ahead to years later where we see Ed running some sort of general store in the same rural, desert area with his young son. There is a perfunctory scene or two to establish the bond we all know is about to be damaged or severed in some way. The boy gives Ed a necklace that only a boy could make. We'll see this later.
A group of young adults — "the city slickers" — comes by the store getting ready to ride their dirt bikes rather recklessly around the area. Next thing you know, Ed's son is badly injured in an accident. A few panic and run, a couple stay behind to wait for Ed to return from running an errand. He does, the teen confesses what happened, and Ed snatches the boy's body up and flees after giving a fierce look at the kid.
Back at their place, the young adults fight over whether or not they should call the police with the one who hit the boy, even locking a couple up in the closet.
With his son dead, Ed goes to a neighbor to find a witch. They refuse to help, knowing that no good will come of it. However, one of the neighbor's sons agrees to show him (for a measly $10) where she is and Ed seeks her help for vengeance.
The witch-lady agrees to help, but warns him that vengeance comes with a powerful price. Ed goes to the old pumpkin patch (with terrain that totally doesn't match the rest of the established landscape) and digs up — something. He brings it back to her cabin and the witch uses blood from both father and son to resurrect Pumpkinhead from the mass.
The creature seeks out the young adults and kills them in a variety of methods ranging from throwing to impalement with a firearm (just pull the trigger next time). Each time a killing takes place, Ed sees it establishing his "psychic link" to the creature. This is actually the smartest thing in this pile of garbage because it explains how Pumpkinhead knows what to do to whom without any exposition and it pays off the "vengeance comes with a powerful price" line.
Finally, there are two young adults left who seek refuge in an old, torn-up church (with the aid of the boy who helped Ed find the witch – for free this time), but Pumpkinhead attacks them anyway.
As Pumpkinhead's slaughter continues, Ed catches up and notices that not only does he see the murders, but he and the creature are becoming more like one another. In a desperate act to save the remaining young woman and the boy, Ed shoots himself, dropping Pumpkinhead to the ground. However, it takes a couple of more shots (this time from the living young adult girl) before Ed finally dies and Pumpkinhead goes into self-combustion on the ground.
Some time later (we are not sure when), we see the old witch bury a disfigured mass in the grave Ed dug Pumpkinhead out of. We see the necklace around the corpse's neck revealing that the ultimate price for resurrecting Pumpkinhead was to die and become Pumpkinhead.
The only two things worthy of any admiration in this flick are the special creature effects by Stan Winston and the "vengeance comes with a powerful price" plot thread that pays off in a somewhat predictable yet satisfying way. We don't get to see much of the creature early on and that would build suspense if we didn't already know what was going to happen. The young adults are portrayed and written so shallowly that we can almost guess the order in which they are going to die.
This film was made for $3.5 million and that's not much even in 1980s, but clearly it wasn't spent on plot development. The source material for this is a poem by Ed Justin (House of Horrors has some interesting tidbits if you are so inclined) and that leads me to believe this would have worked better as an episode of The Outer Limits or something like that. Winston is a genius with effects but as a director he's not able to do much beyond what the weak plot provides. The few scenes with the witch are the only thing remotely scary in this one.
Chances are if you are reading this, you like the film and I will tell you that it is available at Hulu.com currently for your free viewing. Under no circumstances should you pay for this nor should you go through the trouble to illegally watch it. Skip It if you want a real scare. Otherwise, Watch It On Hulu if you want a few good laughs.