OCTOBER 24, 2012
Usually it takes quite a few sequels for a horror franchise to start ignoring its own rules and basic concept, so kudos (?) to the screenwriters of Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings for messing up the original's ideas as soon as humanly possible. In some ways it almost feels like a remake - the basic plot is the same, but the specifics are all different, as if the film was written by someone who only read a poorly written summary of the first movie and figured they got the gist.
The biggest difference is that Pumpkinhead isn't summoned specifically for revenge. Some asshole kids are screwing around with black magic and somehow resurrect Tommy, a deformed boy who was murdered by local pricks 35 years prior. So Tommy, who was Pumpkinhead's son (huh?) takes the form of the demon and goes about murdering everyone who was responsible for his death. What was a fine, intriguing take on the old "A man seeking revenge should dig two graves" idea has become an over-stuffed, supernatural version of Terror Train or whatever, without any real lesson to learn or anything.
The over-population doesn't help - once Tommy-head kills the six guys responsible for his death, he switches gears and goes after the kids who resurrected him, because they also killed his mom, an old crone (not the same old crone from the first film) played by Mother Superior from Silent Night Deadly Night. In fact the whole movie is a treasure trove of genre favorites: Kane Hodder pops up in one of his earliest non-makeup roles, Joe Unger from Leatherface is one of the first victims, Andrew Robinson ("Jesus....wept...") is the sheriff, and Linnea Quigley appears as one victim's girlfriend. All of that is likely courtesy of Jeff Burr, a genre enthusiast who brings a lot more to these DTV movies than they usually deserve.
But anyway, it's just awkward to have him suddenly decide, an hour later, to get revenge for his mother's death, especially when it's not even clear that he KNEW they were at fault for it. Why didn't he multi-task throughout the movie? Seems like he could have gotten rid of them right away and then focused on the dudes who were scattered around town (luckily none of them moved away). Instead, the movie lacks any real tension, because the now middle-aged men barely ever appear before they are about to die, thus whenever they cut away from the kids fretting about what they have done or Robinson investigating the last murder, you know it's just to kill off another person we haven't met. By the time he starts going after the kids, I started wondering if they had two potential scripts and just filmed scenes from each at random and rammed them together in editing.
Also, no one becomes Pumpkinhead, which to me was the original's coolest idea - with each kill, the person who called him (Lance, in that case) would start turning into the demon himself, which is why he tried to stop things. But here, there's no incentive for anyone to stop Pumpkinhead - he's going after murderers that have gotten away with it for decades, not some teens who accidentally killed someone. If anything, we're rooting for him, and worse, we have no one to really sympathize with. Ed Harley was a great protagonist who was at odds between what he wanted and what was right, but this doesn't even really GIVE us a main character. Robinson's sheriff is too bland to really give a hoot about, and his daughter (Ami Dolenz) changes from scene to scene; one minute she's the voice of reason among the friends, the next she's making out with her boyfriend (the biggest asshole of the bunch) as if nothing happened.
Oh, Punky Brewster is in it. Someone will bitch if I don't mention it, so there you go.
But if you ignore the first film, it's a perfectly enjoyable slasher/revenge movie. There's a new death scene every ten minutes, and some of them are pretty inventive - love the "shish-ka-bob" bit. The "blood wings" mystery is slight enough to be intriguing without going overboard with "mythology" (it's not a "Mark of Thorn", in other words), and Burr keeps things moving along - I was never bored. I was also amused that the entire movie was shot at the Sable ranch, which has been home to many a horror film. It's funny because usually it's used for movies that are supposed to be out of the way (Motel Hell, for example), but this is supposed to be a regular Midwestern town and it looks like everyone lives in a field. When we DO see a town, it's brief and suspiciously small - I couldn't tell if it was a set or if they ran out of the Ranch real quick and shot in a real town for as much as they could without a permit.
It also has a theme song! You all know how much I love theme songs, especially when they have ridiculous, plot-centric lyrics like "Now you gonna pay the price/You gonna pay the price for Tommy!". But this is, to my knowledge, the first and last horror movie theme song that may have been played specifically for a President of the United States, as Bill Clinton's brother Roger was the guy singing these goofy lines. Roger also appears in the film as Mayor Bubba, cementing this as the worst thing to happen to Bill Clinton in 1994.
Two more sequels followed; not sure if they went back to the original "rules" or followed this one, or simply made up their own. All I know is, Lance Henriksen came back as a ghost for one (both?) of them, and walked out of the movie when it played at a festival here, so take from what you will. There is also a direct sequel/spinoff video game for this one, which was mid 90s CD-ROM and thus probably impossible to play nowadays without a clunky emulator. Like Highlander, it's a franchise that probably shouldn't be, but unlike Highlander 2 (which also rewrote its original's mythology) at least this is watchable and even kind of fun once you remove it from its namesake. A perfect movie to watch for free on a website!
What say you?