Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1993) [Blu-ray]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2014-11-16 21:36
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Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1993)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: November 18th, 2014

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman




The movie:

Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings is kind of unbelievable. It’s full of characters that probably can’t exist and plot points that don’t exactly make sense. It also features the continuing adventures of a demon who’s resurrected as a spirit of vengeance, but that’s easier to swallow. Less plausible are many of the very awful people surrounding the titular Pumpkinhead in this direct-to-video follow-up to Stan Winston’s cult classic, which is re-imagined as a pure mid-90s splatterfest.

Granted, kids behaving like jackasses is a hallmark on the original, but Blood Wings doubles down on that motif early and often. An opening prologue functions as Pumpkinhead: Origins, as it flashes back a few decades to reveal a disturbing scene where a deformed boy is tortured to death at the hands of a lynch mob looking to torment him for no particular reason other than his defects, apparently. Many years later, Sean Braddock (Andrew Robinson) returns to take up the sheriff post at his hometown with his wife Beth (Caren Kaye) and daughter Jenny (Ami Dolenz) in tow.

While Jenny hits it off with a group of friends rather quickly, it’s the wrong group, as they all turn out to be a bunch of hellraisers headed by Danny Dixon (J. Trevor Edmond), the town’s resident bad boy with a cool car. Jenny cannot resist such wiles, and one night’s carefree joyride turns into a possible case of vehicular manslaughter when he plows into the town witch (Lilyan Chauvin). Because he’s an asshole, Danny wants to flee the scene until his friends convince him to check the old lady’s house, where his behavior becomes even more deplorable when he stumbles upon some of her witchcraft—it’s not enough that he steals from the poor old woman, but he also bludgeons her with a flashlight and winds up burning her house down.

But he’s done fucked up, as some of the town yokels (and you can bet your ass there’s a shotgun-toting redneck crew hunting down Pumpkinhead by movie’s end) might say. In the process of all this delinquency, he raises Pumpkinhead, who has been buried in the lady’s yard for reasons that aren’t made clear until an absurd exposition dump, and, even then, it doesn’t quite add up. If Pumpkinhead II were released today, it’d probably be dubbed a soft reboot because it pretty much tosses out everything from the first film and only retains the basic mythos. Once the old witch eventually explains Pumpkinhead’s connection to the deformed boy from earlier in the film, it raises some interesting questions about her plans with this corpse that’s been buried behind her house all of these years—apparently, she’s been waiting for just the right time to resurrect him and spring him on the psychopaths that murdered him so many years ago? It would seem that this new batch of idiot kids did her a favor, save for that whole incinerating her house to the ground thing. Whoops.

Anyway, with so many people doing so many awful things, there’s ample opportunity for Pumpkinhead to tear people limb from limb, which he does rather admirably. Unlike the first film, this one isn’t concerned with moral quandaries or serving as a parable about self-destructive vengeance so much as it’s just about Pumpkinhead offing anyone and everyone that has been an asshole for the past 35 years, starting with the lynch mob as an entree before moving onto the current crop of teenagers for dessert, basically.

At first, it just seems like he’s knocking off random people—like a couple screwing in a warehouse of some sorts—so it feels like a standard-issue slasher film, albeit one that’s powered by the KNB effects team. This means both Pumpkinhead and his handiwork look fantastic—Blood Wings is a great splatter movie, so it’s the one you’d prefer if you were still twelve years old and just wanted to watch a monster rip people’s heads off. Sometimes, you really just want to see an eight-foot tall demon impale Soleil Moon-Frye, and this film provides that. Don’t knock it.

It has other virtues as well. Director Jeff Burr was one of the genre’s most steady hands at this point, especially when it came to helming sequels to great films, and this is no exception. Clearly aware of his target audience, he keeps the action moving from one gory set-piece to the next at a brisk pace, and his photography often recaptures the spirit of the original film quite well, particularly the rustic, backwoods aesthetic whenever it’s situated in fog-drenched locales. Between this and composer Jim Manzie’s main theme, the film manages some atmospheric flourishes, plus Burr provides some bursts of style during Pumpkinhead’s various strobe-lit rampages. (Weirdly enough, at least two sets of his victims have party lights strung up. Maybe don’t invite Pumpkinhead over for a Christmas party.) Blood Wings is also an amusing time capsule: from the middle-part bowl cuts to all the goddamn flannel, it’s pretty much peak 90s, so if you’re feeling nostalgic for seeing twerps from this era get eviscerated by a giant monster, this is essential programming.

And these are some serious dipshits at times. Remember the scene from the original when the panicked kids were holed up in a cabin and bickering about their next course of action? You get the same thing here, only Danny Dixon is a sociopath who doesn’t hesitate to hold his friends at gunpoint when they suggest they tell the truth to the authorities. The utter dipshittery on display often overshadows just how decent Sheriff Braddock is—initially, he’s portrayed as a hard-ass dad, but it’s a smokescreen concealing Jenny’s somewhat troubled history. It’s sort of interesting how Blood Wings is the rare teen horror movie that isn’t all that sympathetic towards its teens—you sort of sense that this bunch deserves just about every awful thing that happens to him. I mean, who stumbles upon blood vials and a Necronomicon and decides they want to dig up a corpse in an old lady’s yard after nearly beating her to death with a flashlight? Maybe you need to learn the sort of lessons only Pumpkinhead can teach.

Usually, a sequel that mostly misses the point of its predecessor misses the mark wildly, but here’s an exception. While Pumpkinhead II only feels like an excuse to resurrect a recognizable creature design and attempt to reclaim some gory 80s glory (right down to the cornball theme song by Roger Clinton—yes, that Roger Clinton), it’s done in the spirit of an unassuming creature feature that occasionally winks at the tradition with notable cameos from the likes of Kane Hodder, R.A. Mihailoff, and Linnea Quigley. Anyone familiar with Burr’s previous efforts won’t be surprised to discover that Pumpkinhead II is better than it has any right to be.


The disc:

As Pumpkinhead II is not as revered as the original film, it’s gone a bit unloved over the years on home video (though it was released alongside a DOS video game adaptation!). The previous DVD was a full-frame affair that only sported a commentary with Burr, but Scream Factory has picked up the slack with a new Blu-ray release that restores the film’s widescreen ratio and presents the original stereo mix with a DTS-MA track.

A new commentary from Burr accompanies an hour-long interview with the director, which allows an underrated filmmaker to essentially shoot the shit about his career in general and Blood Wings in particular. A native of Dalton, GA (which sits about 4 hours west from my hometown), Burr grew up in the sort of small town environment that largely barred access to art films, so he was weaned on a steady diet of horror movies, which explains his affinity for the genre. He’s quite candid and insightful about the inner-workings of the movie business and his own career here; this might not be the same sort of retrospective Scream usually produces for their Collector’s Edition, but it’s nonetheless fascinating. The other main feature features the KNB gang’s own recollections about producing the effects for the film.

Anyone who has spent the past twenty years extolling the virtues of this slightly underappreciated sequel, take heart: someone out there has heeded your cries and has done the film justice. I don’t know if we should hold our breath for a Pumpkinhead 3/Pumpkinhead 4 double feature, though. There's some hell you just don't wanna raise.
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