Pumpkin Karver

“This direct-to-video Halloween horror flick from the mid-2000s, Pumpkin Karver has a lot going for it, and our reviewer MARK STEWART was lucky enough to speak with director Robert Mann about the film – and his pumpkin carving skills.”

The premise for Pumpkin Karver is fairly familiar to anyone who’s seen a few horror films; you’ve got flashbacks, red herrings, gory set pieces, a love triangle, a crazy weirdo and a masked killer. So far, so good but pretty much like a hundred other films you’ve seen, right? Wrong! Basically the story goes like this: After mistaking him for a masked killer, Jonathan (Michael Zara) fatally stabs his sister Lynn’s (Amy Weber) boyfriend on Halloween. One year later to the day, the siblings find themselves fighting for their lives against a very familiar masked murderer. Pumpkin Karver succeeds where others fail because it’s very much aware of its B-Grade movie identity. It wears its bloody heart on its sleeve and you can feel the director grinning at you like the multitude of Jack O’ Lanterns littered throughout the film.

While the characters may feel a little cliched and two-dimensional, the actors grab hold of their roles and have a ball with them. Their fun is contagious and clearly an affection for the season is woven into the story. Mann says he has great memories of Halloweens gone by. “It was a night where me and my buddies could go out and get as much free candy we could carry,” he says. “We used to go on our bikes with pillow cases and fill them up with our sugary bounty.” Making the film was a family affair; Mann says one of his favourite memories of working on the film was working with his brother (art department) and sister (catering) on set.

“I remember my brother going to KMart buying us each heavy jackets to get us through the freezing nights,” he says. “It actually got down to the mid-20s F (-4 degrees C) in Lancaster, California where we shot the film. My sister would bring us warm doughnuts around 4am to get us through the long 12-14 hour shoots. Those were the best doughnuts ever. The baker would make them around 3am and my sister would drive there, pick up a few dozen, and bring them to us on set. Got us through the last few hours.”

Like many low-budget movies, Pumpkin Karver had its share of script changes and delays. There was a break of a full year during production due to budget issues that Mann had to navigate in order to get the film finished. This led to a few ‘minor’ issues that eagle-eyed viewers may be able to spot. “I remember seeing Minka Kelly the following year and her hair had grown about 4” (10cm),” he says. “I tried to shoot her in angles that would disguise the length of her new flowing locks.

There were other continuity issues I had to deal with also; I remember keeping all the costumes and props at my house so they wouldn’t be lost. The Jeep was another story –– we actually used three different Jeeps to finish the film. It was so crazy! Sometimes you have to do whatever you have to do to finish the film.”

All the effort paid off though, as Mann recalls: “The film never had a theatrical release but it killed it in DVD Rentals and Pay-Per View, cable, on-line viewing. I remember going into Blockbuster and seeing 15-20 DVDs on the shelves.” If you’re looking for a fun film from the days when you COULD go to a video store, a popcorn flick, the kind of horror movie that’s going to make you groan, laugh and jump in healthy doses, then make your way down to the farm and join the party.

Pumpkin Karver probably won’t make it onto a lot of ‘best ever’ lists of Halloween films, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great way to spend an October evening. So settle in, grab some candy corn and drinks, and learn for yourself why “every face is a work of art”.