Black Pumpkin "Yummy Halloween Fun!"

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Black Pumpkin

In Jungian terms, the collective unconscious involves those concepts we humans instinctual identify regardless of cultural boundaries, and abstract symbols come to be imbued with deeper meaning: a flag becomes not merely colorful fabric, but an emblem of national identity, just as a cross represents spiritual salvation for a Christian adherent. In horror cinema, the mask, and indeed the slasher subgenre in particular, is the one most singularly representing silver screen terror in the minds of the general populous the world over. Sure, vampires, zombies, werewolves and Hell-born spawn may be catalysts for insomnia, but since the commercialization of the killer-run-amok tale in the late-70’s odds are more people at Halloween associate hockey with Jason Voorhees than the Stanley Cup. Yet what was birthed as exploitative exercises in blood and bare breasts quickly evolved into stale tropes, and as one young character subversively notes in Uncork’d Entertainment’s fun entry in the maniac oeuvre, Black Pumpkin, “It’s hard to be scared of a hockey mask.”

Ever since Scream declared the Slasher Reformation in 1996 the subgenre fractured into post-modern Protestant sects, with interpretations ranging from the staunchly purist (the Hatchet series, The Hills Run Red, Rob Zombie’s love-them-or-hate-them Halloween remakes) to the wryly self-referential (Urban Legend, The Final Girls, Happy Death Day), and passionately nostalgic (the criminally underseen Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon). It’s the latter camp that Black Pumpkin falls into, and everything from the Miami Vice clothing colors to the loving gurgle of the John Carpenter-influenced synth score by Beat Royalty showcases a Nü-80’s millennial revival style.

Opening in 2009 with a pair of killings in the sleepy California hamlet of Fall Creek Valley, the story jumps ahead nine years and exhibits dual plots: one of savvy teen Laurie Peterson (Ellie Patrikos), her younger siblings Regan (Gemma Brooke Allen) and Elliott (Dogen Eyeler) as they slowly realize their own house was the scene of the gruesome crimes, and another featuring a popular high school clique organizing a party in an often-shunned portion of the town’s forest dubbed Diablo’s Den, a spot allegedly haunted by the presence of Bloody Bobby, a nigh-mythical knife-wielding monstrosity who might be the product of satanic ritualism. Linking the two story fragments is loveable nerd ‘Pork Chop’ Chubbs (portrayed with sensitive perfection by Grayson Thorne Kilpatrick), whose own desire to make a video document of the legend instigates the latest round of autumnal mayhem.

Originality is nowhere to be seen in Black Pumpkin; the events proceed in the exact fashion even a viewer casually acquainted with slasher tropes will expect, but for once trail-blazing isn’t the point. Writer-director Ryan McGonagall (who shares a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo) places a long-lost emphasis on fun and enjoyment over scriptural cleverness, gut-splattering brutality or labyrinthine plot intricacies. More than a resurrected madman, there’s an unbridled enthusiasm on the loose in Fall Creek Valley, one bolstered by the sheer likeability of the cast; Patrikos and Kilpatrick shine along with Curt Cunningham’s Alex Griffin, the town’s creepy long-haired loner who has personal connections to Bloody Bobby. This is a film where the audience knows the jokes and the scenarios by heart, but while there’s a consistently humorous undercurrent--blatant allusions to the likes of Romero, Halloween, The Exorcist, The Blair Witch and Clive Barker abound--the references don’t wink at viewers so much as acknowledge them as the common language of horror kids of all ages who giggle at seeing beloved Reagan-era VHS vibes fused onto a modern framework.

That said, Black Pumpkin is unlikely to convert a non-genre fan, and may be dismissed by snobs who favor ‘sophisticated’ horror as simplified hackwork, but by the time the razor-studded end reel is overtaken by the truly rockin’ end-credits song, it should be clear to everyone else that the movie is, as a commercial repeatedly shown on-screen suggests, yummy Halloween fun!

I give Black Pumpkin a hardy 4 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale.

BONUS CONTENT: Critical Blast interviews the cast and crew of BLACK PUMPKIN in the video stream below!

Grade: 
4.0 / 5.0