A title that almost makes sense- Pumpkinhead 3: Ashes to Ashes
After the utterly abysmal Pumpkinhead 2, I was somewhat trepiditious about continuing with this franchise. You know how it’s meant to go: Stunning first film, mediocre second, passable third, and so forth until you hit “derisory concluding chapter”. Take the Alien films, for example: Alien is classic, Aliens is classic, Alien 3 is very good (fuck you all, I like it), Alien Resurrection is mediocre, AvP is crap, AvP:Rectum was the Moonwolves worst film of the last decade and a franchise killer. Which, while I’m thinking about it, will not be resurrected by that stupid prequel flight of the cock jockey nonsense. Pumpkinhead, on the other hand, bucked the tried and tested formula by going straight from very good to fucking terrible missing out all stops in between. This meant that, in all likelihood, Pumpkinhead 3: Ashes to Ashes would be AvP:Rectum levels of awfulness.
Furthermore, the omens weren’t good for it. There’s a significant time gap between Blood Wings and Ashes for Ashes (always a sign of impending suckitude), and worst of all it was made for TV by the Sci-Fi Channel. Now, Sciffy may be somewhat passable nowadays with the likes of Mammoth, Infestation and Pandorum actually being good films, but back in 2006, even seeing their name attached to something meant that you would be looking more at a Minotaur than a Mammoth.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, it was an absolute nightmare to get hold off, and the version I eventually watched had fucking Swedish subtitles.
No, my fellow Changians, this one did not look good.
And yet, somehow, it’s actually not bad. I know that sounds unlikely given the above pedigree, but I enjoyed Pumpkinhead 3: Ashes to Ashes.
This time out, we’re watching a direct sequel to part 1. This picks up the story of the redneck Wallace clan, particularly Bunt, and their failing crematorium. It introduces us to other people in the town, including the nefarious “Doc” Fraser, and brings back the witch Haggis and (best of all) Lance Henriksen as the ghost of Ed Harley. The Wallace clan is in a bit of a mess nowadays, their crematorium is a bust, and Doc Fraser has been harvesting the organs of the local population for sale on the black market. Through sheer bad luck, they’re caught in the act by a hiker and his murder alerts the population to events going on. In particular, however, it alerts Molly Sue Allen, and Ellie, Richie and Ronnie Johnson. When the local law enforcement are bringing the bodies out of the woods, they disturb Ed’s corpse (under its pumpkin grove) and bring the witch out of retirement. The angry quartet go to the witch for vengeance, and summon Pumpkinhead to wreak havoc on those that have wronged them. Ellie wimps out and tries, with the help of Bunt, to right the wrong herself, while Doc works out that to beat Pumpkinhead he’s got to murder the quartet. The film ends with Ellie crawling into the cremation oven, killing Pumpkinhead (in a really lousy piece of CGI) and then, superbly, with Haggis taking Ellie’s charred remains and burying them under the pumpkin bush- which is a great nod to the first part.
So, that’s a pretty run of the mill horror plot. In that case, why is it relatively successful? Well, for a variety of reasons: firstly, and most importantly, the decision was made to pretend that part 2 doesn’t exist. This was a great call, and as a direct sequel to part 1, this is not a bad effort at all. The mythology is returned to, and if anything strengthened, and the new elements in the story are effective and interesting. It was also amusing to see the state that the Wallace clan were in 20 years down the road, and it was amusing to see the evil Doctor at work. A good, clever, idea.
Secondly, Ashes to Ashes is actually fun. It’s horrendously daft, obviously, but the kills are messy and inventive, there are some good comic moments in it, and unbelievably, I actually found myself rooting for Ellie towards the end. In part this is down to how over-seriously everyone took it. Lance in particular seems to have turned into Bishop for some reason, given how sombre he is. They were clearly aiming high with this one. The atmosphere of the film is a bit patchy, if I’m honest. The first appearance of the Witch is suitably spooky, but I had the feeling that the film had already shot its load with the kidney heist performed in the first 10 minutes (yuck, by the way). There is also a false climax about 2/3 of the way through the film that breaks the action (and not in a good way), meaning that the eventual actual climax of the film is a bit limp and soggy.
Finally, the special effects are, for the most part, practical and good. If anything, any time you see CGI in this film, it’s actually crap. There’s an epic effect early on when Lance’s corpse transforms into Pumpkinhead that’s borrowed straight from American Werewolf in London- which, by the way, is exactly what to do: copy one of the finest transformations ever put on film. I was wishing, actually, that there had been no CGI in this film at all, because it’s universally terrible- Pumpkinhead’s swishing tail, for example, is utter crap and a bit laughable.
Having talked a bit about Lance, I should really talk about the acting in general. Doug Bradley (of Hellraiser fame) is suitably slimy and evil as Doc Fraser, and Lance is magnificently stoic when talking about being damned for all eternity, but the rest of the cast aren’t up to much. Tess Panzer and Ionna Ginghina (she must be a porn actress) are burdened by having to fake a terrible deep south accent, and they aren’t up to the job. Douglas Roberts and Lisa Mcallister (why in the name of Satan’s unholy sphincter would you cast a Scottish Actress on the cheap as a meth-head with a laughable accent? The fact that she doesn’t suck is a minor miracle in itself) as the surviving Wallaces are much better, but even then there isn’t going to be a Golden Graboid in the offing for either of them any time soon.
The writing is also patchy, being a mix of good ideas, reasonably dialogue, and truly awful pacing. One of the prime problems with it is that there is a forced motive for Molly Sue’s actions (she’s the driving force behind the reanimation) in that she’s avenging her dead son (who died naturally), which is a complete overreaction. Furthermore, I don’t know a lot about black market organ harvesting, but I bet I know a lot more than the writers, given that I know that you have to take an organ pretty fast before it’s unusable. You can’t, say, put it in an ice box and then shlep it around shady motels.
Overall, this comes under the heading of “Pleasant surprise”. It’s actually highly watchable and reasonably amusing. I am truly astounded, as although it never gets near the levels of the first film, and it is ludicrously flawed, I spent enjoyable time watching it, so much so that I was actually looking forward to part 4. All in all, this is a top drawer Sciffy production (which means it’s slightly above average), and it is certainly worth a look. I give it a very surprised 2 Changs out of 4- who would ever have thought a film shot on the cheap in Romania would be this passable?
Next up is the final part, which is a bit of a let down.