Behind The Scenes

PUMPKINHEAD - The Making of Stan Winston's Demon of Vengeance

Stan Winston's PUMPKINHEAD special effects character creation team reunites to reveal the making of the iconic vengeance demon.

Nov 2, 2012

Stan Winston's PUMPKINHEAD is born

(CLICK on the video above to watch the NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN footage from the making of PUMPKINHEAD)

Stan Winston made his directorial debut with PUMPKINHEAD, a low-budget horror film about a man, Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen), who conjures a mythical demon to avenge the death of his son. Originally, producers from the DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG), the film’s production company, had sent Winston the script hoping to engage Stan Winston Studio to create the ‘Pumpkinhead’ demon. But Winston quickly recognized that, in Pumpkinhead, he had found an ideal property for his film-directing debut. “It was a small picture, something I thought I could handle as a director; and I felt there was a lot that I could bring to the story. So I told the producers, ‘Yeah, I’ll do the creature — but only if I can direct the movie.’”

Pictured above: A Tom Woodruff Jr. "newborn" Pumpkinhead sketch.

Pictured above: Alec Gillis' full-grown Pumpkinhead sketch, combining all the favorite elements from the Pumpkinhead team design sessions.


While Winston refined the narrative, artists at his studio — led by Alec Gillis, Shane Mahan, John Rosengrant & Tom Woodruff Jr. — designed Pumpkinhead as a humanoid demon with a very large, angular head, withered facial features, and long, clawed fingers. “Since Stan was directing the movie,” said Gillis, “he turned the creature work over to us. Stan said: ‘I’m the director on this. I’m the client — you guys are the effects guys.’ It was great to have Stan’s encouragement to just go with it, on our own. We sat down and started drawing, and then we presented those drawings to Stan, and he made suggestions. That’s how the character of Pumpkinhead developed. Then I sculpted the head, and Tom and John sculpted the body.”

Pictured above: The newborn PUMPKINHEAD sculpture.

Pictured above: Shane Mahan, Alec Gillis & John Rosengrant goof off at Stan Winston Studio during prep for PUMPKINHEAD.

Picture above: John Rosengrant demolds a clay pour of Alec Gillis' Pumpkinhead sculpture. 


From the sculpture, studio artists and mechanics created a suit and head, which was worn on the set by Pumpkinhead performer Tom Woodruff Jr. To avoid wear and tear on the suit, Woodruff was glued into it at the start of the shoot day, and remained in the foam rubber construct for up to eight hours at a time.

Pictured above: Alec Gillis & John Rosengrant dress Tom Woodruff Jr. for the first PUMPKINHEAD "garbage bag test."

Pictured above: Alec Gillis supports the extra weight while Tom Woodruff Jr. practices walking in the PUMPKINHEAD leg extensions.


Stan Winston Studio provided additional Pumpkinhead suits for stunt sequences, as well as dead bodies and makeups. Winston’s savvy regarding creature work enabled him to make the most of his very small creature effects budget, which was just a fraction of the film’s overall budget of three million dollars. “It’s funny, but we never had a sense of being constrained by the budget on that show,” Shane Mahan commented. ”And that was because Stan knew what to spend the money on and how to get the most out of everything we built.”

Pictured above: Tom Woodruff Jr. rehearses wearing the raw, unpainted latex PUMPKINHEAD suit.

Pictured above: John Rosengrant paints the hero PUMPKINHEAD suit. The FX team consulted forensic books to match the hues of dead flesh.


“There was a shorthand with Stan that made it so easy,” John Rosengrant elaborated. “We could go to him with something, and ask: ‘Is this enough? Will this do it?’ And he could look at it, and immediately say, ‘Yeah, that will be fine,’ or, ‘No, we need more.’ That’s very different than the normal situation where we have to overbuild, just in case the director changes his mind and wants something more once he is on the set. Stan knew exactly what the tools were, what he needed and what he didn’t need. We didn’t have to go through the process of educating him, as we do with many directors. That made the whole job easier, and a lot more fun.”

Pictured above: Stan Winston takes the director's chair for the first time in PUMPKINHEAD.

Picture above: Stan Winston shares a laugh with his star, Lance Henriksen (aka Ed Harley) on the set of PUMPKINHEAD.


‘Fun’ was, in fact, the prevalent mood on the Pumpkinhead set. Despite many additional burdens and responsibilities, Winston brought the same sense of humor and lighthearted spirit to directing Pumpkinhead as he had to his creature effects assignments. “Stan was a blast as a director,” recalled Alec Gillis. “He was fun and completely relaxed on the set, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. I remember one day when we were in this cramped cabin set, and I was very tense and tired because Shane and I had just spent three hours applying makeup to the actress playing the witch. But then I looked over and saw Stan standing across the room, staring at me, with his glasses cocked at a weird angle on his head — just to make me laugh. There was my director, making an idiot of himself for nobody’s benefit but mine. That isn’t something most directors would do!”

Picture above: Tom Woodruff Jr. (Pumpkinhead), Alec Gillis & John Rosengrant on set between takes.

Picture above: PUMPKINHEAD (performed by Tom Woodruff, Jr.) in all his vengeful glory.

Picture above: A PUMPKINHEAD group shot. Left to right: Richard Landon (in back), John Rosengrant, Richard Weinman, Tom Woodruff Jr. (Pumpkinhead), Stan Winston, Alec Gillis.


Today, Pumpkinhead has a legion of fans — among them, novelist Anne Rice and many of the Stan Winston Studio crewmembers that worked on the show. “When I revisit Pumpkinhead after all these years,” said Shane Mahan, “and I realize that it was done in 1987, all in-camera, and for only three million dollars, I’m amazed at how much movie is there. I think it is a really impressive example of a first-time director’s work. And it is still used as a model for low-budget films. People reference Pumpkinhead all the time when they are looking at how to make an effective low-budget movie.”

-Jody Duncan

(CLICK on the video at the top of the page to watch the NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN footage from the making of PUMPKINHEAD)