For years, the most frightening on-screen threat to come out of Appalachia was the sound of dueling banjos. That all changed in 1988, when special effects makeup wizard Stan Winston turned director and introduced moviegoers to his deep-woods demon, Pumpkinhead.
Eight feet tall with a jagged jaw-line and a dome shaped like…well…a pumpkin, the title creature was testament to Winston’s imagination (though his FX team reportedly handled the creature craftsmanship duties). But the far-less exciting 65 or so minutes when ol’ Punkin’ wasn’t eviscerating his whining co-stars (and some of them deserved it) weren’t enough to keep audiences clamoring for a silver screen sequel. Still, it’s tough to keep a good (or evil) demon down. With straight-to-video, TV movie and comic book follow-ups, Pumpkinhead has enjoyed a growing season that likely surpassed any critic’s initial expectations.
The hero of our tale, Ed Harley (horror/sci-fi staple Lance Henriksen) got his first glimpse of the creature when he was but a boy. It was 1957 when his father refused to offer sanctuary to a terrified passerby who was fleeing from Pumpkinhead. Little Ed watches from the window of his family’s tiny cabin as the demon picks the man apart, but we later learn the massacre the anything but random.
Fast forward a few decades and little Ed has now become big Ed with a son of his own named Billy. The sole proprietor of his own country store, Ed has carved out his personal American dream. Everything seems as hunky dory…until those meddling kids show up.
A group of post-teen campers stop in at Ed’s store as they are passing through on the way to their weekend cabin. While Ed runs an errand, a couple of the more hard-headed kids fire up their dirt bikes and make like Evel Knievel. As one crests a hill, he plows into Billy, killing him. All but one of the teens flee the scene, and when Ed returns, he does his best to explain and apologize. But Ed doesn’t wait around to sing kumbayah. He tears into the forest, stopping to meet with a backwoods witch in a rundown shack. Meanwhile, the punk that killed Billy locks his fellow campers up in a closet in their cabin after they threaten to turn him in to the local authorities.
The witch tells Ed that she can’t bring Billy back, but she can help him get revenge—which always comes at a price. She instructs Ed to travel to a nearby unmarked cemetery and exhume a corpse. He carries the body back to the witch and using blood from both Ed and Billy, she resurrects the corpse into the towering, deformed demon, Pumpkinhead.
It isn’t long before Pumpkinhead begins wiping out the teens one by one, regardless of the fact that most had nothing to do with Billy’s death. Ed begins to see their deaths through the demon’s eyes, and distraught, he returns to the witch’s shack, begging her to call off her avenger.
But Pumpkinhead can’t be stopped, she insists, and tells Ed that he will also become a victim if he interferes. It isn’t long before Ed begins to resemble Pumpkinhead, as the two start to feel a shared pain whenever the teens fight back. And Ed finally realizes the truth of the witch’s warning—his vengeance has become all-consuming.
In Romans 12:19, Paul warns to never take revenge, but to leave room for God’s wrath. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” he continues, quoting God’s words in Deuteronomy from the Song of Moses.
In Leviticus 19:18, God himself commands, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people,” adding those all-too familiar words that Jesus said were one of the two most important Commandments : “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Rather than just waiting to see how things will play out after Billy’s death (the guy who killed him had run into similar trouble once before and was skirting with big-time punishment if the authorities found out about this latest offense), Ed not only seeks out vengeance, but does so in about the most un-Godly way possible: black magic.
In Deuteronomy, Moses warns the Israelites that witchcraft is detestable to God. When the Israelites are about to enter and conquer the territory of Canaan, Moses commands his followers not to adopt the pagan magical practices so common in this Promised Land.
Time and again in scripture, those who delve in witchcraft and divination are promised rejection from God.
In Pumpkinhead, Ed’s two-fold departure from the straight and narrow goes even a step further: it slowly begins to transform him into a physical manifestation of evil. He is so consumed by rage (and so indifferent as to how the ends justify the means) that by the time he realizes his error, it is too late. Even the innocent—who simply end up at the wrong place at the wrong time—suffer.
Though we may never (your humble author assumes here) turn toward such a wicked path—we often nonetheless carry the same anger as Ed, wishing for revenge that will feel just as severe. Unfortunately vengeance never operates in a vacuum. We never come out unscathed and many others—not just our intended victim—get hurt in the process. And little by little, we turn into a distorted abomination of the beautiful creation our Lord wanted us to be. It is only when we turn from our path and seek His face that we can be made anew. Forgiving our enemies is never easy; we cannot do it alone. It is only with God’s help that we can slay our own demons and ensure that we do not become one. We must spurn the cry of the wicked and seek only His counsel.
So, to recap:
1) Leave vengeance up to the Lord.
2) Stay away from the dark side.
3) Don’t be a pumpkinhead.
Even if they promise you a straight-to-video sequel.