Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pumpkinhead

"Now it begins."

"You musta done somethin' bad."

"All she can do is take you straight to hell."


In honor of Halloween and in celebration of the frightful annual holiday, I'm returning to some unfinished business begun quite some time ago for the Lance Henriksen blogathon. I had originally planned on covering Pumpkinhead [1988] for the celebration of Henriksen's work over at John Kenneth Muir's Reflections On Film/TV, but decided upon a look at Millennium Season One, which evolved into Profile And Measures Of The Millennium Man.

As it turned out, I was very pleased to venture into Millennium territory. It led me to an investigation of a series that tackled dark subject matter better than just about any I've ever seen. In fact, it's a particularly perfect series for October and Halloween. One episode that is pitch perfect for the festivities would be Millennium, Season Two, Episode 6, The Curse Of Frank Black. If you're twisted enough, place the TV in the window, turn up the volume, dress up and scare the dickens out of the little ones. It's all in good fun and in the spirit of the day. It's also fitting to mention Millennium at this time and pay tribute with a film starring Lance Henriksen as it is appropriately the 15th Anniversary marker of that series' arrival. Be sure to check out Back To Frank Black for additional coverage on all things Millennium and Frank Black.

There are plenty of terrific Halloween films for the occasion including any one of those first three Halloween pictures, Trick R' Treat [2009], John Carpenter's Prince Of Darkness, the documentary on A Haunting In Connecticut and much more. There are options to experience fear with the lights out. But let's not forget the wickedly delicious cult classic Pumpkinhead.

Covering Pumpkinhead may inevitably lead me to that mythic and final third Henriksen post I had planned for that blog-a-thon week that I never completed behind Profile And Measures Of The Millennium Man and Images Of Millennium [Season One]. Consider the would-be final post the third and final contribution to my own Lance Henriksen tribute trilogy a year in the making. Well, some day.

In the meantime, somewhat unexpectedly, I turned to cult film Pumpkinhead to offer observations on a film I haven't seen since its release. It is a remarkable little picture really that earned a little over 4 million in limited release, but continues to vine out a following. For a film made on the proverbial shoestring budget, it looks, feels and sounds terrific. The lighting and color use is magnificent with cool blues and hellish reds. The sound effects, notably one seemingly lifted straight out of the dying dog cage scene, reminisces of John Carpenter's The Thing [1982] whenever the monster appears. It shouldn't come as any surprise that the ingenious Winston actually worked with Rob Bottin on that aforementioned classic.

Pumpkinhead arrived with effects wunderkind Stan Winston and actor Lance Henriksen stepping out of supporting roles and into their starring roles as director and actor respectively. Their association was no doubt linked to their combined efforts on Aliens [1986] a few years earlier. It's always fascinating to see those stars we love age before our eyes and its incredible to be reminded of just how fit and even spry actor Henriksen was in the role of Ed Harley, a loving, nurturing father of a young boy and owner of run down pit stop, Harley Grocery, on a long, lonely highway complete with an all too prophetic sign Leaving Hope. Henriksen's Ed Harley was a far cry spunkier than the thoughtful, world-weary character of Frank Black he created for Millennium. Harley's country drawl and plain speaking points to the isolation and simplicity of a poorer segment of society that values the thankful little things of this short existence. Some look down their noses to the Ed Harleys of the world, but Harley is a man that makes the most of the very little he has in this life. With his son and the love he has for his boy Harley understands he is rich beyond words.

The film directed by the late, great Stan Winston was orchestrated by a man best renowned for his stunning, life-like creature and effects work in front of the camera.

See below for a list of the fine projects and the wonderful creations Winston has touched on his amazing journey a legacy that led Stan Winston Studios.

I recall seeing Pumpkinhead mostly for the monster that Winston had created as a young man. Visits to the local video shop always had me flipping the VHS boxes for the latest and greatest creature feature. I was impressed by the creature beyond words. It was a horrifying beast with such incredible detail. Pumpkinhead is a perfect illustration of hard work and physical labors brought to life. Reliance on ones and zeroes to create something from nothing in a CGI environment still couldn't replicate the impressive beauty of something as horrific as Pumpkinhead.

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Note the tremendous creature effects and lighting in this sequence and in the accompanying photos.

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Note the accompanying pictures of the beast in all its splendorous detail. Seeing the film today, there was an appreciation for its simplicity of location, unknown casting [Jeff East, the young Clark Kent in Superman in 1978, appears] and story that were simply unobserved at a time when I irrationally hungered for the next appearance of the demon beast.

Of course, Henriksen, who I didn't fully appreciate at the time, truly immerses himself in the part as much as he invested himself in the role of Frank Black in Millennium.

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Henriksen really fills the role of Harley infusing the character with his all-encompassing work ethic and manifesting attributes of a true, simple, local country bumpkin. Henriksen becomes the southern man.

Harley witnessed the great creature, Pumpkinhead in 1957 as a young boy, a demon seed [literally] brought to life and summoned to take revenge.

Today, a group of young dirt bikers accidentally kill Harley's boy while he's stepped away from the grocery in a tragic accident. The death of a child is always jolting and unexpected. Consider the death of the young girl in John Carpenter's Assault On Precinct 13 [1976], but unlike that film, the event here isn't the result of a band of sociopaths, but of careless, reckless teenagers.

Instead of facing the consequences of this awful event the kids turn and run in fear, but are torn in doing so. One young man remains in an effort to set things right with Harley. Its a truly appalling affair and it speaks to the small town trust Ed Harley had in leaving his son Billy behind for a few short minutes with his dog.

The young man offers to help, but Harley seethes with rage with vengeance in his heart.

Watching Pumpkinhead is an experience and for all its simplicity it never feels like a typical horror film. It's a "creepy, unusual horror film" as Ken Hanke of Mountain Xpress describes it. Felix Vasquez Jr. of Film Threat accurately reflected, this "monster movie is still harrowing, creepy, and better than modern horror fare." These men are exactly right. Of course, Henriksen touches these films and often injects a unique sense of humanity even into the most rote affairs and scripted formulas. Winston also makes efforts to present something special here that separates it from the nameless rabble of shlock horror. Mood, mood and more mood is generated throughout the picture cranking out atmosphere like a relentless dry ice machine.

Brought home, Harley tenderly tends to his son son Billy who finally lets go in his arms. It's a moving sequence and one I would have appreciated that much more if it was just a little longer. Getting to know these characters was a highlight.

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It's a very tender moment.

The film is filled with mist or fog, red lighting like the interior of the creepy old woman's cabin in the swamp–she who raiseth the creature. Like the centerpiece of Winston's film, Pumpkinhead, the picture is one moody son-of-a-bitch. The darkened pumpkin patch, the birthplace of Pumpkinhead is an atmospheric set piece and one that exudes unspeakable evil.

Henriksen does a splendid job of playing a weakened Ed Harley who is clearly not in the right frame or state of mind as he pursues revenge for the death of his son.

The witch conjures the creature forth utilizing Harley and the boy's blood to give life to the massive animal with freakish hands.

As the killings mount Harley is affected by each death. The murders happen as an extension of his own hands. He experiences and feels each life-taking event. The link between both Ed and the creature is one of blood. The experience begins to haunt Ed Harley, a good man, who realizes his actions are wrong-headed. The word of warning from the spirit of his late son were not enough to quench Harley's pain intitially, but the question of "why" begins to haunt his tortured soul.

Harley visits the old woman regretting his decision. "It's gotta run its course now." Ed swears he will stop the creature. He must end the cycle and save those he can. The old woman tells him he will fail.

There are moments when the snarling monster suddenly appears with its enormous hands and giant fingernails clasping its victims' heads that you literally jump back in your seat.

Winston gives his final moments even greater resonance when Harley appears to take on features of the creature, while the creature becomes almost humanoid in appearance in its own face. Harley, a basically good man driven to the unthinkable by the death of his son knows what must be done. As parents we empathize in a way that was lost on me as a younger man without the knowledge of that kind of love. Understanding the connection between his pain and that of Pumpkinhead, Harley must make the greatest sacrifice to end the horrors of the demon's mission. "Kill me," he pleads near mortally wounded with Tracey one of two survivors.

In the end, the dead are tended to by witch as she secures the source of an eternal legacy. The rites and keys an underworld of evil are protected once again so that they may one day rise up. The image of the dead creature presents the necklace of Ed Harley. The image lends visual proof to the doppelganger that this thing was to Ed in blood and reality.

Pumpkinhead is a short and, not-so sweet morality play, but it hits all the right notes in a short period of time. It is a dark story of the human cost of retribution that doesn't end well. Winston even gives real flesh and blood to his cast in each of their small roles. Conscience is part of these characters juxtaposed against a world infused with symbols of heaven and hell. Pumpkinhead complete with prehensile tail and curved legs is a symbol of the devil himself. When it enters a broken down, abandoned church, the symbol of the cross literally sends it into a rage. The characters too have soul in this revenge tale complete with an unrelenting monster. Winston is mostly successful in his outing thanks to its use of symbols and poetic subtlety of message. It's rare to see horror plumb the depth of the human conscience as Pumpkinhead does.

Henriksen and Winston delivered a solid, small, little cult film with real power thanks to the chemistry of their combined talents and a script with something to say despite a genuine lack of joy. Pumpkinhead offers a horrific and tragic fairy tale, a minor story with a subtle lesson about power, vengeance and the price of deals made with the devil. If you haven't any plans to smash some pumpkins this year, the iconic horror figure that is the occult-based Pumpkinhead has a few ideas of his own to share. You won't go wrong with this creepy little number as mood pictures go, especially at night in the dark, but if you want something with a little less smash and grab and a little more snap, crackle and pop you can't go wrong with just about anything from the Stan Winston library. As grim fairy tales go Pumpkinhead will grow on you. It's one of the best of the patch.

Happy HallOWEeN people!

Director footnote: Stan Winston [1946-2008]. Visual effects supervisor, make-up artist and director. Films of note that spotlight the work of Stan Winston include: The Thing [1982], The Terminator [1984], Aliens [1986], Predator [1987], Pumpkinhead [1988], Leviathan [1989], Edward Scissorhands [1990], Predator 2 [1990], Terminator 2: Judgment Day [1991], Batman Returns [1992], Jurassic Park [1993], Interview With The Vampire [1994], Congo [1995], The Ghost And The Darkness [1996], The Island Of Dr. Moreau [1996], The Relic [1997], The Lost World: Jurassic Park [1997], Lake Placid [1999], End Of Days [1999], Galaxy Quest [1999], What Lies Belenath [2000], Pearl Harbor [2001], A.I. [2001], Jurassic Park III [2001], The Time Machine [2002], Big Fish [2003], Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines [2003], Constantine [2005], Zathura [2005], War Of The Worlds [2005], Doom [2005], Iron Man [2008], Terminator Salvation [2009]. Stan Winston Studios, now Legacy Effects continued with Pandorum [2009], Avatar [2009] and more.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pumpkinhead Promo and Poem

In the lead up to Halloween here is a creepy little poem by Ed Justin that in part inspired Stan Winston's film Pumpkinhead [1988] starring Lance Henriksen.

Keep away from Pumpkinhead,
Unless you're tired of living,
His enemies are mostly dead,
He's mean and unforgiving,
Laugh at him and you're undone,
But in some dreadful fashion,
Vengeance, he considers fun,
And plans it with a passion,
Time will not erase or blot,
A plot that he has brewing,
It's when you think that he's forgot,
He'll conjure your undoing,
Bolted doors and windows barred,
Guard dogs prowling in the yard,
Won't protect you in your bed,
Nothing will, from Pumpkinhead.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Gabrielle Drake

It's FAB FRIDAY!

It's time for all things wonderful sent from the heavenly world of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. What could be more heavenly sent than actress Gabrielle Drake [1944-present]? Drake, who played Lt. Gay Ellis, is always easy on the eyes.

The UFO series exploration will continue soon with more original home snapped photos selected from each of the 26 FABulous episodes in our episodic reviews.

For now, I give you the always stunning Gabrielle Drake. The purple-wigged wonder never ceases to steal the show.

Ellis appeared in the first three consecutive episodes of UFO. She disappeared for a period returning in UFO, Episode 8, A Question Of Priorities. She would appear in seven more episodes with her final contribution coming with Episode 16, Kill Straker! Wanda Ventham was the series featured babe attraction following Drake's departure beginning with Episode 19, The Cat With Ten Lives. Drake would feature in a total of ten UFO episodes.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ferocious Planet

"Don't poke the aliens." -Ferocious Planet-

Well, SyFy strikes again with a film from the Maneater series dubbed, with subtle nuance, Ferocious Planet [2011]. Okay, not really. SyFy's reputation precedes it as far as cheesy, science fiction adventure outings go. The channel releases crap at a record pace. Morlocks [2011], starring David Hewlett and Robert Picardo, was really no exception and I had hoped it might be. My previous coverage of A Dog's Breakfast alluded to that aforementioned SyFy production.

To give you an idea of what you are up against with SyFy, here are just a few of the titles in circulation: Carny, Croc, Eye Of The Beast, Grizzly Rage, Hellhounds, High Plains Invaders, The Hive, Hybrid, Maneater, Rise Of The Gargoyles, Sand Serpents, Sea Beast, Shark Swarm, Swamp Devil, Vipers, Wyvern and the list goes on. There's not much left to the imagination with that list. I certainly can't comment on them. There's not enough time in my life to waste determining how good or bad these films truly are. Generally speaking, I would prefer to regret giving up my time to such garbage perhaps once or twice a year. That quota is now full, first with Morlocks and now with Ferocious Planet.

It saddens me too, because I love the cast of Stargate Atlantis and it's heartbreaking to see actors like David Hewlett and Joe Flanigan getting their paychecks from this painfully predictable drivel. Granted, they add a touch of quality to the proceedings, but there's no chance they can save them.

My recent endeavor to investigate the world of Stargate Atlantis led me to other works featuring actors from the series including the outings of Joe Flanigan.

Ferocious Planet stars none other than actor Joe Flanigan, formerly Major John Sheppard on Stargate Atlantis. I gave it a look. Flanigan essentially plays the Sheppard character for SyFy's low budget thriller.

The mood and look of the film was largely successful no doubt thanks to director Billy O'Brien and his creative team. Ferocious Planet was filmed on location in Ireland. Filming anywhere outside of Vancouver or your standard US urban hot spots always qualifies as an unexpected pleasure. Still, the largely forest-soaked setting begs the question why it wasn't filmed in Vancouver anyway. Granted, nothing like a vacation for the actors in a place as lovely as Ireland where you can be certain to get a great fix on fish and chips plus some whiskey.

The general science fiction concept in Ferocious Planet is largely implausible and utterly ridiculous, but the cast and mood of the story's sense of adventure sells it pulling you into the a tale of politicians, scientists and military personnel transported to a parallel universe. Most of all, the idea is to transport us largely into a world of wonder and adventure. But low budgets don't really deliver a whole lot of wonder when its wall to wall trees again.

The best looking CGI still you'll get. One politician's body is severed in half by an unidentified alien lifeform and Flanigan shines with his ability to deliver lines like "I guess he won't be running for re-election." When the terrible special effects finally show up, they are typically atrocious for Ferocious, but Flanigan really elevates the poor material with lines like "Definitely gonna' need a bigger boat." The homage to Jaws is lost on one of the younger, dumber comrades clearly not versed in the best of cinema.

Guns are good on Ferocious Planet. Meanwhile, the world's smartest scientist isn't sure what the creature is but is sure of one thing, "It's pissed!" Clearly you can be smart and have a sense of humor. Actually, can smart scientists be down to Earth and beautiful?

Answers to obvious questions like breathable atmosphere are bandied about in an effort to establish credibility.

The kinds of story problems that surround the tale include how a single level room, separated from the rest of its building, and transported to an apparently prehistoric dimension still manages to have electrical power. In fact, where is the power grid on the planet. Okay, I'll assume it's a generator and it made it through to the alternate dimension.

Still, the silly ideas and general goofiness is somehow overshadowed by Flanigan's charm and the director's ability to generate palpable thrills and a real sense of credible excitement despite the the whole affair being as dumb as a T-Rex.

Flanigan plays Commander Sam Synn and now that they have arrived in this other place he'll do some recon after giving orders to two of the politicians he affectionately refers to as "Beavis and Butthead." I'll give you three guesses as to the fate of those two knuckleheads.

Following the creature attack, everyone goes back outside. Logic goes out the window for adventure and excitement, but what else is one to do in a parallel dimension? Be careful this is a ferocious planet. Okay, it's a generally quiet planet with an occasionally ferocious creature on patrol.

One of the politicians takes pictures excited by their findings. She says no one will believe it. Yet, she takes pictures of trees. It's safe to say your political friends have seen a few trees. You may want a shot of that creature when it comes back. Trees they can believe.

Ferocious Planet 2: It Finally Gets Really Ferocious. Two scientists work feverishly to return the group back to their own dimension in the hopes of escaping giant mushrooms, quick sand pits and generally certain death. They manage to utilize the mystery energy that powers their severed facility.

There are some fine character moments thanks to the cast. Despite the death of the senator, this former employee exhibits very little heart. That's politics. This is an amusing exchange.

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So much for partnerships and was that Beavis or Butthead?

As the military patrol the area I kept wondering how they intended to battle a T-Rex-like beast with their pistols. Amidst the general silliness there are moments when the survivors run back to their government bunker that reminded me of the cast of Land Of The Lost running back to their makeshift cave home. It has that kind of imagination and simplicity of excitement in play.

It's a bit like looking at the sky in Land of The Lost. So there's one in every bunch. As the team prepares to depart one woman wants to stay and learn more. Yes, let's stay in the haunted house. You know the kind of woman, like Paul Reiser's character in James Cameron's Aliens who towed the party line for the corporate stooges bio-weapon's division, while the remainder of his team was hacked to bits by razor-teethed xenomorphs. Well, we know the fates of those people too.

This is a good scene that speaks to the humor and general feel of the picture.

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The "pointdexter" fellow apparently wants to go on Fox & Friends to meet Gretchen Carlson. Given Hollywood's general affection for the conservative network you can imagine how things go. His demise was inevitable the moment he uttered Fox & Friends.

Ferocious Planet, despite a good lead, simply cannot elevate it beyond its ephemeral Saturday night intentions. Firefly's Adam Baldwin and Morena Baccarin couldn't rescue Sands Of Oblivion [2007]. Michael Shanks couldn't do it for the Lost Treasure Of The Grand Canyon [2008]. David Hewlett couldn't pull it off for Morlocks [2011].

As expected, Joe Flanigan simply isn't given the script to do it here on Ferocious Planet try as he might. It has good pacing and some good humor, but a terribly weak ending with no real point. Its only real intent is to cast its actors into a forest to survive the bad, man-eating CGI of those horrendous SyFy effects. For those who would enjoy a romp of action helmed by Joe Flanigan, I caution that this is still a SyFy original and it doesn't come close to the writing talent found in an engaging episode of Stargate Atlantis. Its entertainment level is minimal if unsatisfactory. I'd love to recommend Ferocious Planet, but alas this is an entirely skip-worthy affair. Strangely enough, you could do worse with a SyFy channel movie, but that doesn't necessarily make it good. Given its budget, you could rank this somewhere between the Peter Hyams' Ray Bradbury adaptation A Sound Of Thunder [2005] and the worst of SyFy. If you've seen A Sound Of Thunder that's not saying much.

Joe Flanigan Television & Films: Sisters [Season Six; 1995]/ Murphy Brown [Season 10; 1 Ep; 1997]/ Dawson's Creek [Season Two; 2 Ep; 1998]/ Cupid [4 Ep; 1998]/ The Other Sister [1999]/ Providence [Season One; 1999]/ Profiler [Season Four; 2000]/ First Monday [13 Ep; 2002]/ Farewell to Harry [2002]/ Judging Amy [Season Four; Ep 1; 2002]/ Tru Calling [Season One; 1 Ep; 2003]/ Thoughtcrimes [2003]/ CSI: Miami [Season Two; 1 Ep; 2004]/ Stargate Atlantis [2004-2009; 100 Ep]/ Stargate SG-1 [2006; 1 Ep]/ Warehouse 13 [Season One; 1 Ep; 2009]/ Ferocious Planet [2011]/ Good Day For It [2011]/ Fringe [Season Four; 1 Ep; 2011]/ Six Bullets [2012].

Yikes! Now that my friends is a ferocious planet! Who is in charge of the SyFy original films division anyway? SyFy really should try some latex or rubber suits.