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Pumpkinhead (Richard Stone)

May 17, 2019

Originally released for the first time as part of Varese Sarabande’s Little Box Of Horrors set, Richard Stone’s score for the 1988 cult-classic Pumpkinhead is now available on NoteForNote Music with new designs and and liner-notes by Edwin Wendler.  The film, a bit of a create feature, was directed by Stan Winston and starred Lance Henrikson as a father who’s out for revenge on a group of teenagers who are responsible for the death of his son.

Composer Richard Stone was arguably best know for his Emmy-winning work on animated shows like Animaniacs, Freakazoid, and Histeria! You’ll find he’s frequently referred to as a true heir to Carl Stalling, composer of numerous classic cartoons. Sadly, Stone died in 2001 at the young age of 47.

The score for Pumpkinhead is an interesting mixed bag of different styles. For the horror scenes, Stone relies predominantly on synths; and we’re talking real 80s gear here. By today’s standards, those cues sound like a low-budget production, though I think it has stood the test of time surprisingly well. I’m not sure what electronics were used on this score, but generally speaking I think we tend to forget just how expensive some of the equipment was at the time, how much knowledge they required and just how state-of-the-art they once were. The Fairlight is a great example; and the sounds from that machine are classics in their own right. I’m not sure if that one was used here, but it wouldn’t surprise me. My point… what we may describe as low-budget today, may not necessarily have been cheap back then.

Anyway, in terms of synth sounds Stone relies on strings, basses, choir and various hits. It sounds how you would expect a synth horror score from the 80s to sound, but it’s worth noting that Stone seeks out interesting sounds, textures and harmonies.

What elevates Pumpkinhead above the average horror scorer is the use of acoustic and electric guitars, as well as harmonica and fiddle to give the score a rural, bluesy, country-music-like character. This part of the score sounds authentic and offers some catchy tunes – “Pumpkinhead End Credits” and “Visitors Arrive” being two fantastic cues. Yet, things get particular interesting when Stone combines the country- and the horror-music. Those guitars that sounded quite romantic one moment, suddenly are a lot more mysterious. That funky harmonica turns downright creepy; and we all know what violins are capable of – “Bunt’s Help” is a great transitional cue, whilst cues like “Father & Son” and “Innocence Lost” show of the score’s idyllic side.

The score for Pumpkinhead is great fun, perhaps more so for those of us who remember the 80s well. And whilst it’d be easy to have a giggle at the old synths, they’re actually not bad. What really makes Pumpkinhead worth exploring is the use of country and blues-like elements. Not only gives it the score a sense of locale, but also makes it rather timeless.

More information, including samples, can be found on the NoteForNote website.

Review by Pete Simons (c) 2019 Synchrotones Soundtrack Reviews

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