DVD Review: Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1994)

Pumpkinhead II DVD CoverDistributor: 101 Films

BBFC Classification: 18

Director: Jeff Burr

Starring: Andrew Robinson, Ami Dolenz, Soleil Moon Frye, J. Trevor Edmond, Linnea Quigley, Kane Hodder, R.A. Mihailoff, Joe Unger

The 1990s weren’t kind when it came to horror franchises, with Freddy and Jason both temporarily calling it a day early on in the decade. Michael Myers and Pinhead lumbered on to diminishing returns but there weren’t any new series or characters that really hit in the way that A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th did in the previous decade, with only the Scream, Candyman and Wishmaster films really doing anything in the mainstream. Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings was originally released in 1994 and, according to director Jeff Burr (Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III), didn’t start out as a sequel to the original 1988 film – and some would say it still isn’t – but after six years and a lack of new ideas coming through, somebody saw fit to bring the vengeful demon back for another go.

The film begins in the small town of Ferren Woods in 1958 where a gang of teenagers chase and attack a deformed boy called Tommy in the woods where he lives, eventually slashing him with a knife and dropping him down a deep mineshaft. Fast forward to present day and Sheriff Sean Braddock (Andrew Robinson – Hellraiser/Dirty Harry) has moved back to Ferren Woods with his wife and daughter having lived in New York for many years. His daughter Jenny (Ami Dolenz – Can’t Buy Me Love) immediately hooks up with the local troublemakers, led by Danny Dixon (J. Trevor Edmond – Return of the Living Dead III), the son of local magistrate Judge Dixon (Steve Kanaly – Dallas), and on a night out looking for adventure they come across the house of strange old woman Miss Osie (Lilyan Chauvin – Silent Night, Deadly Night), who gets knocked to the ground by Danny as he tries to steal a vial of blood and ends up in hospital after her house catches fire.

Danny, Jenny and the rest of the gang use the blood in a spell to resurrect a corpse from a grave near to Miss Osie’s house. Unfortunately the corpse they resurrect is that of Tommy but he returns in the form of the demon Pumpkinhead and begins a rampage through the town to seek revenge on those who had done him wrong. Sheriff Braddock makes the connection between the legend of Pumpkinhead and the story of Tommy, and may be able to offer some personal insight into what is going on, but will he be too late to stop the demon before he gets to his next victim?

The original Pumpkinhead had its faults but was generally an atmospheric and creepy little horror film that had some depth to it thanks to a heartfelt performance from Lance Henriksen and some effective witchcraft scenes mixed in with hillbilly folklore. For Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings the approach is a little different, tapping into the almost comic-book approach of Evil Dead II or Army of Darkness (KNB did the effects for both of these films so there is a visual similarity to some of the make-ups), although by 1994 that style of gloopy horror film was finding less and less favour with audiences and dates the film quite badly.

Pumpkinhead itself looks different to how it did in the first film, which may sound odd as (spoiler!) it turns out that this is supposed to be a different creature from the one in that film, but the way that this demon looks and moves has more in common with the Xenomorph from Alien. It also looks quite a bit smaller and less threatening than it did before, as well as being on-screen for more than it needed to be and not using the less-is-more theory that usually works best in monster movies.

The presence of many notable names and faces gives the film some much-needed credibility, the most notable being Andrew Robinson whose calm authority always adds some warmth to whatever film he’s in (even when he’s obviously just cashing a paycheck). Steve Kanaly and Lilyan Chauvin seem to both be taking it far too seriously and J. Trevor Edmond is as bad as he was in Return of the Living Dead III but Ami Dolenz – daughter of Monkee Micky Dolenz – doesn’t fare too badly, although being the best out of the actors she’s surrounded by for most of the film isn’t too difficult.

Overall, Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings is one of those films that pretty much defines the ‘so bad it’s good’ ethos. It isn’t a great film – the script is laughably bad, the mythology confused and inconsistent with the first film and seeing Andrew Robinson trying to convince a bloodthirsty demon to let his daughter go is one of the most cringeworthy and hilarious things you’re ever likely to see – but for those into B-movie horror franchises there are plenty of loving nods to genre, like the Necronomicon from the Evil Dead series appearing in Miss Osie’s house, appearances from known genre actors like Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th series/Hatchet series), R.A. Mihailoff (Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III/Hatchet II) and Linnea Quigley (Return of the Living Dead), and references to other films like Pet Sematary. It may not seem like much but those touches go a long way to appealing to a cold-hearted and hard-to-impress horror fan and Jeff Burr is the type of filmmaker to give a little more than your standard journeyman director. Make no mistake – this isn’t a very good film but it is quite a fun one, and in the same way that a lot of modern, more self-aware films like Hatchet II know who they’re playing to and what to give to those who have parted with their cash to be entertained, it throws in enough references to let you know that the people behind the cameras are horror fans too and want to do the best they can with what they’ve got, which isn’t much if truth be told. However, the gore is pretty good, you’ll laugh a few times (although whether you’re supposed to is another matter), Jeff Burr’s direction is better than what the film really deserves and carries it better than any of the actors, and if you want a comparison it’s better than the Wishmaster sequels.

Pumpkinhead II

Special Features: None

UK Release Date: 21st April 2014

101 Films – Website

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