It’s that time of year again when myself and many other horror enthusiasts get to relish in the indulgence of Halloween horror cinema. Granted, we celebrate ghosties, ghoulies and things that go bump in the night all year round, but for one month, we’re offered more than our regular dose of horror. While kids are gearing up to fill their pillow cases with candy, we’re filling our streaming queues with horror flicks and sometimes whipping out those old DVDs and Blu Rays. My latest horror outing was Maria Lee Metheringham’s new Halloween genre film, Pumpkins. Although an avid fan of the horror genre, it’s certainly oversaturated. Does Pumpkins have the guts to stand out from the many others?...
…Pumpkins doesn’t waste any time getting started. The entire concept, reason and driving force set up in less than five minutes. John Micheal Foulger plays an old pumpkin harvester who goes by the name of Punter Bob. He is seemingly obsessed with his craft and has earned himself a kooky reputation in his small town. During a particularly proud moment, Bob surveys his fine work and even whispers sweet nothings into their …ears? As Bob steps away for only a brief moment, two local teenagers aiming to cause trouble due to small town boredom, disturb his pumpkin patch. They have heard rumors about Bob loving his pumpkins so much, he even performs sex acts with the dammed things. Devastated by the destruction of his work, Bob drops to his knees, cries and falls into the patch. You can probably see where this is going. Through an act of ridiculous horror movie concept greatness, Bob is revived and bent on revenge. Oh yeah and he has a pumpkin for a head now.
The film unfolds in a predictable way in classic slasher movie fashion. Bob’s only purpose now is to exact his revenge and bring death to the town. The concept and redundant slasher cliché isn’t what bothers me, though. The main problem here is the lack of personality and lack of a consistent tone. The concept is a fun one. Sure, it rips off bits from the much better film, Pumpkinhead (1988), but it’s still a charming silly plot dripping with potential. Unfortunately, that potential is never fully realized.
As I stated earlier, the film wastes no time getting started and sometimes that can be a good thing. In Pumpkins, there isn’t a single minute dedicated to making us care about any of the characters. The film wants us to root for Bob’s revenge, but we don’t know who Bob is and what he’s really like before his little incident. Before I get flak, know that I fully realize these types of films aren’t constructed around character archs and subtle nuances hinting at deeper themes. I’m OK with that and in most cases I prefer a film like this to give me unlikeable victims, soon to meet their demise. Here though, none of the characters even have anything identifiable. They’re just boring people in bad circumstances. It’s a real shame too, because the actors seem to be relatively good. They just don’t have any juicy material to dig into.
I hate that I have so many bones to pick with this film, but another issue with Pumpkins is the cinematography. I’m usually fairly forgiving when it comes to this. As long as a film is shot competently, I’m satisfied. In this film, it’s noticeably all over the place and distracting. A low budget production is no excuse for bad camerawork. There are shots where the camera will pan left and right as a character is speaking. For example, a character’s body language will naturally shift their placement while delivering dialogue. Well, instead of having the camera locked in on a medium shot, here the camera will pan in accordance to where the actor moves. It’s not stylish intent to create tension. It’s bad camera set ups that take you out of the film. There are also several close-ups where the head is chopped off awkwardly in the frame, or the opposite being a huge amount of headroom filling the frame. It’s not pretty.
So we’ve established that Pumpkins has some pretty glaring problems. However, if you look for it, there are in fact a few positives. Most low budget horror projects pride themselves in their practical effects and Pumpkins is no different. The pumpkin king himself looks fantastic and far above what I expected. The kills aren’t particularly creative, but they don’t look cheap. For the most part the effects on display are better than many other horror flicks with twice or thrice the budget. Also, from what I could tell, CG blood was not present.
It’s never fun to go in harsh on a film, especially in the genre of choice. But as someone who prides himself in his craft, just as ole Bob did with his pumpkins, I must remain true. This is not a good film. I don’t think Pumpkins knew what it wanted to be from the get-go. It’s not a down n’ dirty straight played nightmare, it’s not a fun B movie with campy charm and it’s most certainly not a horror comedy that makes a good group movie. It can’t be any of those things because it doesn’t have enough personality to cruise on. Tension only works when you have characters who you’ve invested in to some degree and horror comedy only works when you inject some energy and self awareness into the project. That or you’re graced with Sam Rami.
Getting into the Halloween spirit by watching horror films old and new alike, are fantastic pastimes that satisfy that horror itch that so many of us have. If you need to scratch the itch for some goofy Halloween monster shenanigans, skip Pumpkins and watch Pumpkinhead (1988) instead.
Pumpkins is out now on VOD from High Octane Pictures.
By Jeffrey Hollingsworth