Pumpkinhead was not a big hit in theaters, but it never really had the chance to be. The film was held off for release for a couple of years and changed hands numerous times. Its theatrical bow was short-lived and mostly an afterthought. So, it wasn’t until it hit video that people really began to notice it. When they did, of course, they saw what an incredibly well-crafted monster movie Pumpkinhead turned out to be.
Considering the box office and the fact that it was a video hit to begin with, it was all but guaranteed that any potential sequels to Pumpkinhead would not be given a theatrical release. It took until 1994 for said sequel to see release in the form of Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings. The picture was directed by Jeff Burr. Having just come off of directing Stepfather II, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and Puppet Master 4 and 5, Burr clearly had experience with follow up efforts.
Obviously, the breakout star of the original was the monster itself, created and designed by Stan Winston and his protégés Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis. Winston also directed the original movie, so there were massive shoes to fill for whatever FX company followed in their wake. Luckily, Burr managed to bring in up-and-coming KNB, who had already made a name for themselves working on Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness, Jason Goes to Hell and more.
They designed a good monster, certainly a worthy successor, but the film as a whole had even less resources to work with than Winston had on the original. Pumpkinhead II is a smaller movie, but it attempts to tell a larger story. And I think that’s where it ultimately doesn’t live up to the first.
But that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy it. I think there’s a lot to like about this sequel. I’ve actually always enjoyed Jeff Burr as a director and I think it’s definitely a film within his wheelhouse and is set to his particular style. Pumpkinhead II is a solid monster movie, much in the way that I enjoy Rawhead Rex less as a Clive Barker adaptation and more as being the simple creature feature that it really is. But as a genuine sequel to Pumpkinhead, as something carrying on a name and expanding a franchise, I do think Pumpkinhead II falls short.
Most good sequels expand on the ideas presented in the original in new and interesting ways. Aliens did this incredibly well, as did Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Even Friday the 13th Part 2 enhanced the overall mythology by expanding the backstory and introducing Jason as a major character. Pumpkinhead II doesn’t really expand on anything as much as it contradicts it.
The original film crafted an interesting myth that was explained really well. The demon Pumpkinhead is a personification of vengeance and rage and can be called to take revenge on an individual or group in the name of the person who summoned it. That person will be linked to the demon until the tie is severed either by Pumpkinhead completing its task or by the death of the summoner.
It’s a relatively simple concept that could be applied in almost endless ways, to virtually any kind of revenge scenario. But the sequel doesn’t follow any of those rules presented in the original. Instead, an old witch is the caretaker of the spirit of a boy who was killed by a bunch of local men back when they were teenagers (in the fifties). She initially summons them to go after the main cast of teens who burn down her house, but Pumpkinhead—aka a reincarnated boy named Tommy—is much more interested in taking down the people who originally killed him.
There are two completely separate revenge plots here, one of which doesn’t even come into play until the third act, despite being set up first. It’s as hard to watch as a revenge flick as it is a follow-up to the first movie. But when Pumpkinhead actually gets down to doing what Pumpkinhead does, there is fun to be had.
The only real connection with the original mythology is that this deformed boy, Tommy, was apparently the offspring of a mortal woman and the original Pumpkinhead demon, hence the initial working title Son of Pumpkinhead. This is a completely different story than the first, but to be fair, there’s a reason for that. It’s a reason that actually plagues many sequels: The script did not start out as a sequel. It was a spec script rewritten as a Pumpkinhead film. Attempts to weave in the Pumpkinhead mythology are often unsuccessful because the backstory didn’t really gel with the story that the script was telling. It fails as a sequel to the original, for the most part. And in a larger story sense, it certainly doesn’t add up.
But there are a few details in which it actually does work as a follow-up. My favorite instance is one of the smallest Easter Eggs in the movie. Pumpkinhead is actually based on a poem by Ed Justin and while that poem is recited in the original, we only really hear the first part of it before we start to focus on some other action happening in the scene. The second feature brings us back into reciting the second half of the poem, as if we only took a brief intermission. Plus, the original cast veteran character actor Lance Henrkisen in the lead and the second does the same with veteran character actor Andrew Robinson. That’s sort of where the similarities end.
Still, even if Blood Wings doesn’t live up as a successful follow up to Pumpkinhead, it’s a fun and quirky monster-on-the-loose movie and that’s probably all it needs to be at the end of the day. The effects are amazing, given the budget and time the creative team had to work with. And it’s loaded with all-star horror cameos including R.A. Mihailoff, Linnea Quigley and Kane Hodder. What’s not to love?