Directed by Maria Lee Metheringham, Pumpkins is a fun little movie. It’s not very scary, mind you, but there’s something special about it, something in the DIY ethics you feel in every frame, that makes you want to root for it despite its shortcomings.
Set in the pasturelands of the north of England, Pumpkins tells the story of a young woman named Shelly (Metheringham) and her elder uncle (Terry Wood) who live in a remote farmhouse where they grow prize pumpkins. Or at least what they hope will become prize pumpkins thanks to a special, meaning radioactive and toxic, growth fluid they use on their patch.
Things are going — and growing — well for Shelly and her Uncle until the afternoon that a couple of local punks take it upon themselves to destroy the patch, breaking the old man’s spirit and dashing his hopes of ever becoming the pumpkin king of the countryside.
Before we go on, let’s hit pause and take a closer look at those opening scenes to discover the fun of Pumpkins. For example, the pumpkin patch the Uncle looks over is actually only three or four store-bought pumpkins sitting on his front lawn. The ‘punks’ are a couple of guys wearing sweatpants trying to act tough, but who look more like 12-year-old boys goofing around throwing stones and pulling on tree branches as they amble down the road. The sudden speech one of them gives about “hating landowners”, delivered with an almost Shakespearean intensity, to justify their attacking the farm is more funny than fierce since it comes out of nowhere. When you see that their “attack” is actually them drawing silly faces on the pumpkins and not smashing them (as if the movie’s pumpkin budget was already maxed out) you can either surrender to the movie and enjoy the ride or look for something else.
So back to the story. The Uncle, after spending a despondent night in the patch weeping over his defaced vegetables, turns into a pumpkin-headed monster bent on getting revenge. With the help of his niece, who kills one of the punks by stabbing him in the butt with a kitchen knife, the pumpkin-headed uncle heads out to kill anyone else he finds on his property, whether they’ve harmed his pumpkins or not.
From that point on, the script, co-written by Metheringham, works hard to come up with new ways to put bodies in the killer’s path. There’s a group of survivalist trainees camping in the woods who quickly show they need a lot more training as the get picked off one by one. There is also a local pub filled with future body counts who, instead of waiting for their chance to die, decide to fight back.
If you were able to relax and enjoy the first half of Pumpkins, the payoff of the second half is your reward. While it’s clear the film must have had budgetary constraints tighter than an Elizabethian corset, Metheringham and her cast and crew make up for it with lots of energy and shoestring cinematic ingenuity. Each character gets just enough screen time to establish themselves as individuals, usually right before getting slaughtered. The bad guy (or guys?) gets enough cool kills to make the audience root for him or their demise. And the end, Pumpkins has just enough of a twist to make you hope that someday Metheringham and her crew get a chance (and a bigger budget) to make Pumpkins 2.
- John Black, Pumpkins