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 (Lance Henriksen), 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.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Pumpkinhead's standard practice, to the point that the one that summoned it generally regrets doing so.
- The Ditz: Joel in the first movie. One would think that someone on parole for drunk driving would want to keep alcohol and motorized vehicles as far away from each other as possible, but he's seen being intoxicated while driving his car and then even more intoxicated when he wants to drive his dirtbike, which results in him injuring a child. And then he decides to prevent any of his "friends" from calling for medical aid by any means necessary, because apparently drunkenly hitting a child is far worse than hit-and-run, vehicular manslaughter, kidnapping, torture, physical assault, destruction of private property (the cabin where he cut the phone lines was a rental), AND disobeying parole. Yes, there's Truth in Television, but even when it happens in real life, the people who do so are idiots.
- The Dreaded: Mr. Wallace is scared to say anything about Haggis. Until Ed gets him to say anything about her. Bunt agrees to only to take Ed halfway to her home. And is afraid of Haggis as well.
- 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 its victims in front of each other - the first film has it ignore Joel so he has to watch his girlfriend Kim die instead.
- 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.Haggis: It's what you wanted, Ed Harley. For each of man's evils, a special Demon exists. You're looking at Vengeance - cruel, devious, pure-as-poison vengeance.
- 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, its 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. Partially justified as Winston was the designer of the Alien Queen.
The first film provides examples of:
- Absurdly Youthful Mother: or rather grandfather. Mr. Wallace is only about fifty and isnt even gray-haired but has teenaged grandchildren.
- Accidental Murder: The teens didn't mean to kill little Billy, though Joel dug his own grave (and several others) because he wanted to escape responsibility for it.
- 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.
- Asshole Victim: Joel, as he'd gone so far as to imprison his own friends to prevent their calling for help for Billy, thus getting him in trouble.
- 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.Haggis: What did you think? It'd be easy? Neat and clean and painless? You're a fool!
- Big Brother Instinct: It's unclear which brother is actually older but Steve is willing to confess to Joels crime.
- Boom, Headshot!: After Ed downs Pumpkinhead during the climax, Joel approaches and puts another round in its head for good measure. Unfortunately for him, it doesn't work.
- Break the Cutie: Maggie, even before Pumpkinhead arrives, after seeing Billy get hit.
- Darkness Equals Death: The events of the movie all take place during a single day, and Pumpkinhead itself is only summoned towards dusk.
- Death Glare: Ed Harley gives Steve a death glare to end all death glares.
- Death of a Child: Billy Harley dies because Ed had to leave him alone for just a little while.
- Destination Defenestration: Of a particularly brutal variety, as Pumpkinhead slowly pushes Maggie's face through the kitchen window, impaling her body on the glass shards in the process.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: A heartbreaking example, as little Billy murmurs a quiet "Daddy" before going limp in Ed Harley's arms.
- 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 up 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. However, this may fall on Ed Harley himself who was too distraught to think straight after his son's death. He went to summon Pumpkinhead while furious at all of them, so Pumpkinhead's sights were set on all of them.
- Downer Ending: Most of the cast is dead and Ed's body is buried in a certain pumpkin patch.
- Evil-Detecting Dog: None of the dogs shown are too fond of demons, with one biting Ed over his connection to it - and giving the audience a vital clue in the process.
- Excessive Mourning: When you summon a demon of vengeance to kill those that killed your son, it counts as this.
- For the Evulz: Pumpkinhead seems to take immense pleasure in giving its victim a Hope Spot before ending them.
- The Friend Nobody Likes: Pretty much the only reason Joel was invited along is because he's Steve's brother.
- Good Parents: Ed Harley was this to Billy, telling him little stories about "an old man and his very special son" throughout the day, and even adding "And Son" onto the sign of the grocery stand.
- Heel Realization: Joel comes to acknowledge how much of a prick he's been after Maggie - who'd done nothing wrong and had even suffered a Heroic BSoD after Billy's death - is brutalized by Pumpkinhead.
- 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.
- Heroic BSoD: Maggie, the most devout one of the group, undergoes this after seeing Billy run over by Joel, going near-catatonic for hours afterward... just in time for Pumpkinhead's arrival.
- Hillbilly Horrors: Downplayed, but the teens are in the heart of Appalachia, and none of the residents there will lift a finger against the demon pursuing them.
- 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.
- Before this, it made a mockery of Maggie's faith by carving a cross into her forehead with its claws.
- Hope Spot: Mr. Wallace refusing to take Ed to Haggis and telling him that to do so would be wrong. Unfortunately, a curious Bunt, not having seen Billy's body and understanding Ed's reasons, then offers to do it.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: With a rifle. Pumpkinhead must have gotten tips from Michael Myers.
- Insult Backfire: Ed is horrified at what Pumpkinhead is doing and begs Haggis to call it off, and she bluntly replies that there's nothing she can do, as it's what he wanted.Ed: God damn you. God damn you!
Haggis: (Smugly) He already has, son. He already has.
- Internal Reveal: Chris and Tracy finding out why Pumpkinhead is after them and that it was his father who summoned him when they ask Bunt if Billy is ok.Bunt: I cant say for sure, but if that things hunting you, I suppose not.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Ed wanted justice for his son, but he quickly saw how out of control this was getting.
- Kangaroo Court: Summoning Pumpkinhead is a form of this, as the man being chased by Pumpkinhead in the intro pleads he didnt kill a girl, which may or may not be true, and Ed summoning Pumpkinhead before getting all the facts kills several people who were innocent of harming his son.
- Kill It with Fire: Ed's initial plan to stop Pumpkinhead by sending it back to whatever Hell it came from. Pumpkinhead instead No Sells the flames when Tracy tries it.
- Knight Templar Parent: Ed Harley, who wanted to make those that killed his son suffer for it.
- Men Are the Expendable Gender: Averted, as Steve is the first of the teens to die, followed shortly by Maggie and Kim.
- Missing Mom: She's later confirmed to have died, as Ed buries Billy beside her grave.
- 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.
- And by the end, Bunt Wallace feels this way about telling Ed how to find the witch.
- 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.
- Not the Fall That Kills You : Kim dies after Pumpkinhead drops her from the top of a tree onto a boulder.
- 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. The one scene pre-accident that helped characterize them was cut due to Executive Meddling.
- Tragic Keepsake: The necklace Billy made for his dad just hours before Billy dies in an accident.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Bunt Wallace only helped Ed find the witch because he didn't believe the stories were true, and wanted to find out. He's rightly horrified when he pieces together the chain of events at the climax.