From roughly the mid-‘80s to the mid-‘90s, low-budget filmmakers enjoyed what might be the last great era of direct-to-video productions. One of the easiest ways to turn a profit within this trend was to knock out a quick sequel to any vaguely popular existing property. For example, Pumpkinhead wasn’t a box-office hit due to a bungled theatrical release but did decently on home video. As a result, some enterprising producers picked up the rights and knocked out a home video sequel five years later.
The resulting film, Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings, is a programmer that is caught between trying to rekindle the charm of the first film and delivering the goods for the home-video genre audience. Any plot threads from the first film are dropped but the legend of Pumpkinhead is retained and plugged into a new story with different characters. The protagonist is Sean Braddock (Andrew Robinson), a cop who has returned to his old hometown to be a sheriff with his wife Beth (Caren Kaye) and daughter Jenny (Ami Dolenz).
Unfortunately for Sean, Jenny has a rebellious streak and falls in with the local group of “badasses,” taking up romantically with group leader Danny (J. Trevor Edmund). The teens are out cruising one night when strange circumstances get them involved with an old witch (Lilyan Chauvin). They fool around with the witch’s spells and accidentally resurrect Pumpkinhead. Corpses start to pile up as the monster goes on a rampage while Sean and local coroner Delilah (Gloria Hendry) try to find a way to stop it. The solution has to do with a long-ago tragedy that has ties to Sean’s childhood.
The original Pumpkinhead had a certain magic to it: the script had a fairytale quality to it, the direction was richly atmospheric and the monster effects were off the chart. Pumpkinhead II is less inclined to reach for the magical. Instead, it aims at being at a potboiler and does a middling-to-poor job of it. The script from one-time screenwriters Ivan and Constantine Chachornia has a competent if familiar plot but suffers from weak characterizations and tin-eared dialogue. It’s also more crass in its approach to the genre, complete with a monster attack during a sex scene and hillbillies discussing incest.
Director Jeff Burr is more talented than the sequels he was doing this time and one can see him struggling to jazz up Pumpkinhead II by adding unique camera angles and using some tricky editing rhythms for a few setpieces. However, that can’t overcome the rushed quality of the production, which has a kind of cheap, limited-scale look one associates with straight-to-video fare. The effects by KNB-EFX do a faithful job of recreating the monster but its appearances are often overlit in a way that spoils the illusion.
A fun aspect of Pumpkinhead II is the array of familiar names it throws in: Steve Kanaly of Dallas fame shows up in a thankless role as a crooked mayor, Linnea Quigley appears as victim who gets topless and president’s brother Roger Clinton shows up for a memorably goofy cameo as the town’s mayor. The teen actors come off poorly, mostly because their characters are so badly written, but Soleil Moon Frye actually manages to outshine teen lead Ami Dolenz in a smaller role. Robinson does the best work, giving a sincere performance that is better than the script deserves, and Hendry adds some nice support despite some clunky, exposition-heavy dialogue.
All in all, Pumpkinhead II is typical of the straight-to-video horror fodder from the early ‘90s. It is content to hit its marks instead of trying to be unique… and the rushed production and weak script make it a pale shadow of its predecessor.