Guard dogs prowling in the yard,
Won't protect you in your bed,
Nothing will, from Pumpkinhead."
The quote above is said to be by Ed Justin and the inspiration for this movie making it possibly the only movie Based On A True Poem. Ed Justin was a guy in the movie marketing business who wrote the poem to spook his grandchildren, his friend and film producer Billy Blake loved it and thought it would be a great horror film, so bought the rights pretty cheaply and with producer Richard C. Weinman began looking for writers. Enter writers Mark Patrick Carducci and Gary Gerani, who had toyed around with an idea for a horror movie in the late seventies about a demon existing for each of man's sins, with the plan to make one about the demon of vengeance set in the backwoods (hence one of the film's taglines and it's alternate title, respectively). Carducci pitched the demon idea to Blake, who loved it and decided to merge it with the Pumpkinhead project.
The plot is actually the fairly common "Man summons demon to seek revenge" horror plot. It has the common hallmarks: teens from the city come out to the backwoods for vacation, one of them gets drunk and accidentally runs over a young boy on a bike, and the boy is the son of local grocer Ed Harley, who becomes overcome with grief and rage and goes to a witch in the mountains to summon the demon of vengeance, Pumpkinhead. While Harley's son did deserve some justice, Ed takes it too far, wanting revenge on all of them, even the ones who merely witnessed it and the one who tried to help him. As Pumpkinhead goes about its task, killing the teens one by one in gruesome and violent ways, Ed gets flashes of the murders and sees the pain he's causing and regrets what he has set loose and sets out to try and stop it... but learns that vengeance has a powerful price.
Followed by one Direct-to-Video sequel (1994's Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings) and two Made for TV Movies on Sci Fi Channel (2006's Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes and 2007's Pumpkinhead: Blood Feud). There is also an FMV videogame based on the second movie, Bloodwings: Pumpkinhead's Revenge.
2018 brought with it a five-issue comic miniseries from Dynamite that poses an interesting question: if Pumpkinhead is a demon representing the sin of wrath, what if there were demons for the other six? And what if those other demons were mad at their 'brother' for getting summoned more often than them?
The series as a whole contains examples of:
- Antagonist Title: Pumpkinhead is a demon keen on Disproportionate Retribution.
- Big Bad: Pumpkinhead, master of Disproportionate Retribution.
- Bloodier and Gorier: Each installment tries to one-up the previous.
- Can't Live Without You: Pumpkinhead can only be stopped prior to completing its task by killing the person that summoned it.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Pumpkinhead specializes in these.
- Deal with the Devil: The one summoning Pumpkinhead makes one with a witch. Though she actually warns them there's a heavy price to pay for summoning him and their body is used for the next Pumpkinhead.
- Fate Worse than Death: It's implied that the summoners of Pumpkinhead are trapped in a sort of limbo between life and death till the end of time in exchange for summoning him.
- Fluffy the Terrible: Pumpkinhead isn't exactly a menacing (or indeed, accurate) name.
- Forced to Watch: An interesting variation: Pumpkinhead's summoner is forced to see and feel the deaths of the demon's victims, as if he were killing them himself.
- More straightforwardly, Pumpkinhead prefers to kill his victims in front of each other.
- Healing Factor: Pumpkinhead heals instantaneously.
- HeelFace Turn: Most of the people who turn to summoning the titular Pumpkinhead experience this after realizing what they've unleashed.
- Immune to Bullets: Pumpkinhead. Subverted at the end of the second film, however.
- It Can Think: Pumpkinhead is smart enough to set traps, disable vehicles (including so subtly that they initially appear to be intact), and taunt his victims mercilessly.
- The Juggernaut: Pumpkinhead will not stop until he's completed his mission. The only way he can be beaten is if his summoner is killed.
- Left Hanging: The comic Pumpkinhead: The Rites of Exorcism, which was supposed to be four issues, was cancelled after two.
- Nonhumans Lack Attributes: There have been male and female Pumpkinheads. You'd never know.
- Averted on one action figure, which did have a sculpted flaccid penis and scrotum
- Non-Indicative Name: As mentioned, the titular demon's head doesn't really resemble a pumpkin. It gets its name from the fact that summoning it involves digging up a corpse that's been buried in a pumpkin patch.
- Pumpkin Person: Actually averted. The eponymous monster is saddled with a Non-Indicative Name, the true reason it is named this is because of the pumpkins that grow around its body when it's buried.
- Revenge: Why Pumpkinhead is summoned is to carry out revenge, though it's normally not long before the summoner realizes that Pumpkinhead always takes it way too far.
- Solitary Sorceress: Haggis, the elderly witch who summons Pumpkinhead on behalf of those who seek vengeance, lives alone in a dilapidated shack in the woods. Locals do know where to find her, but are clearly wary of her.
- Stingy Jack: Pumpkinhead himself.
- Synchronization: The summoner feels the deaths of Pumpkinhead's victims, and Pumpkinhead feels any injuries inflicted on the summoner. In the first film, it's face subtly began to resemble Ed Harley's more and more as it killed more people.
- The Voiceless: In the first film, Pumpkinhead could talk, but it mostly just said character names. In the sequels, it is silent.
- Xenomorph Xerox: Pumpkinhead has an emaciated, skeletal appearance; digitigrade feet tipped with claws; long clawed fingers; a bulbous, slightly elongated head, and a long, segmented tail tipped with a bladed stinger.
The first film provides examples of:
- Accidental Murder: The teens didn't mean to kill little Billy, though Joel dug his own (and several other) graves because he wanted to escape responsibility for it.
- Adult Fear: Billy Harley dies because he went somewhere Ed had repeatedly told him was unsafe.
- And Then John Was a Zombie: At the end, Ed Harley is killed by the heroine after his own attempt to kill himself fails. This causes Pumpkinhead to immolate. Haggis is seen at the grave, burying a shriveled, misshapen corpse not unlike the one Pumpkinhead was when she woke him up... except this corpse has Ed Harley's necklace around its throat. The third film would directly tie in that should Pumpkinhead fail, the summoner's body is then used to make his replacement.
- Anti-Villain: Ed Harley.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: The witch attempted to warn Ed that vengeance always has a price. When he comes to ask her about the visions he's getting from his bond with the demon, she outright laughs in his face questioning if he really thought it'd be quick, clean, and easy to summon a demon for his revenge.
- Darkness = Death: Pumpkinhead never kills anyone during the day, for some reason.
- Death Glare: Ed Harley gives one of teens a death glare to end all death glares.
- Dirty Coward: In order to avoid the legal trouble it would have brought, Joel chose to sacrifice a little boy's life despite the fact that his life was not even at stake. He did show that even he had loved ones he would risk his life for, but by that time most of his innocent friends (including his brother) were dead so it did not do much good.
- Joel is also on probation at the time, and winds up locking two of his friends due to their wanting to contact the authorities.
- Disproportionate Retribution: While only one of Pumpkinhead's victims deserves some form of punishment, Pumpkinhead takes it way too far and even kills people who tried to stop the tragic accident. Although in this first film some of this may fall on Ed Harley himself who was much too upset to ask questions of exactly which of the kids were responsible for Billy's death. He went to summon Pumpkinhead mad at all of them, Pumpkinhead then tried to kill all of them.
- Downer Ending: Most of the cast is dead and Ed's body is buried in a certain pumpkin patch.
- Heel Realization: Joel comes to acknowledge how much of a prick he's been around the halfway point.
- Likewise, Ed Harley realizes, partly by living through the pain of Pumpkinhead's victims, that what he did was wrong and sets out to stop what he started.
- Hollywood Darkness: Utilized excessively, but rather beautifully.
- Holy Burns Evil: Averted. Pumpkinhead is able to enter a church (though the sight of a cross pisses him off and he destroys it). Although the church was only half-built before it was abandoned, so it's possible this wasn't true holy ground.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: With a rifle. Pumpkinhead must have gotten tips from Michael Myers.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Ed wanted justice for his son, but he quickly saw how out of control this was getting.
- Knight Templar Parent: Ed Harley, who wanted to make those that killed his son suffer for it.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Due to seeing and feeling Pumpkinhead's murders, the summoners often ultimately end up with this reaction by the end.
- After a while, Joel feels this way about hitting Billy Harley.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Pumpkinhead will kill anyone, even Ed, if they attempt to help its prey. This was foreshadowed by the 1957 prologue, where Ed's father refused entry to a targeted man in order to protect his wife and son.
- Playing Possum: At one point, Pumpkinhead feigns being killed to lure Joel in closer.
- Redemption Equals Death:
- Though justified in this case, since Pumpkinhead can only be defeated if the summoner is killed.
- Joel starts off as a gigantic asshole and is the one whose primarily responsible for the death of Ed's son. Eventually he decides to face the consequences of said actions and turn himself in to the authorities, and dies attempting to protect the rest of his friends.
- Stock Character: All the teenage characters Each one is a Slasher Movie stereotype in some form, but there is some subtle depth to them if one pays close enough attention.