The Pumpkin Karver (2006) -*
Let me put it to you thusly: The Pumpkin Karver is so stupid that it spells “carver” with a “k.” It’s so stupid that its main apparent influence was Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning. It’s so stupid that viewing it is almost certain to make you wish at least momentarily that you were watching that thoroughly idiotic and contemptible 80’s slasher sequel instead.
The Pumpkin Karver’s Tommy Jarvis stand-in is a teenaged boy named Jonathan Starks (Michael Zara), younger brother of Lynn Starks (Amy Weber, from Dangerous Seductress and Transmorphers), and his mind-wrecking trauma occurs one Halloween night, courtesy of Lynn’s asshole boyfriend, Alec (David J. Wright). Evidently the two older kids are supposed to be attending a party together, but Lynn isn’t ready yet when Alec arrives at the Starks place to pick her up. Alec hangs around for a while, alternately molesting Lynn and hassling Jonathan for no reason beyond pure, childish nastiness, but Lynn eventually sends him packing, saying that she’ll come over to his house when she’s ready for the party. Sometime later (it’s hard to say even approximately how long), Lynn goes looking for something in the garage, and finds herself confronted by a man wearing a black trenchcoat and an effectively creepy jack-o-lantern-faced monster mask. (That mask, by the way, is one of exactly two things The Pumpkin Karver does right.) Lynn assumes at first that this is Alec, grown impatient for her arrival and having traded up to a better costume than his previous sorry-ass devil horns, but her confidence in that ID decreases each time the masked intruder responds to her attempts at conversation with a prolonged and ominous silence. When the man produces a knife from the pocket of his overcoat, Lynn recognizes at last that this is something a great deal more serious than the typical Halloween prank, and she screams for help. The man rushes her at that point, Jonathan comes on the double-quick, and the boy forces his way into the locked garage just in time to see the prowler give his sister a good slash. Jonathan brought along a knife of his own, however (he had been carving jack-o-lanterns when he heard Lynn scream), and he uses it to give Lynn’s attacker a pasting that even Jason Voorhees would need a between-sequels interval to recover from. All is not as it seems, though. The killer’s knife was a toy with a spring-loaded blade, Lynn is unharmed, and when Jonathan peels off the prowler’s mask, we see that it really was Alec all along. The one upside is that the authorities apparently consider Alec to have brought his slaying on himself by carrying the prank about 650 steps too far, and Jonathan is cleared of any criminal responsibility for the incident.
A year goes by. We get very little insight into what happened during that year, but it clearly involved a lot of imperfectly successful psychiatric treatment for Jonathan, together with the Starks family relocating to the distant and microscopic Southwestern desert town of Carver. While we’re on the subject of family, it’s worth mentioning that at no point in this movie is there ever any sign of Lynn and Jonathan’s parents. We’ll learn later on— as in, about halfway through the film— that Mr. Starks just up and vanished when Jonathan was very young, but no justification for Mom’s absence ever surfaces. In any case, the move to Carver occurs late in October, and at the instigation of Lynn’s new friend, Tammy (Minka Kelly, of Devil’s Highway), the transplanted teens decide to make their social debut at the big Halloween party that local boys Spinner (Alex Weed) and Bonedaddy (David Phillips) are throwing in the pumpkin patch of a farm outside of town. On the surface, this plan seems sensible in several respects. First, Tammy’s going to be there, and she’s the only person in Carver whom either of the Starks kids knows as of yet. Secondly, the party presents an opportunity to meet virtually the whole of Carver’s small adolescent population in one fell swoop. And thirdly, Lynn hopes to set Tammy up with her brother, as both are artistically inclined and a little on the nerdy side. Maybe having a girl to get close to will give Jonathan something to focus on other than the ugly associations that Halloween understandably has for him these days.
On the way to the party, Lynn and Jonathan have a strange encounter with a crotchety old farmer (Terrence Evans, from Curse II: The Bite and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) who has had some kind of minor accident concerning the load of pumpkins in the bed of his pickup truck. The closing credits have it that his name is Ben Wickets, but I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning that in the film itself. Regardless, we might as well just call him Crazy Ralph, since that’s basically who he is— I’m sure it’s merely an oversight when he fails to tell Lynn and Jonathan that the pumpkin patch has a death-curse. He’ll be a major presence later on, too. In fact, he’ll even claim to be the founder of the town when he gets a few minutes alone with Jonathan in a barn near that pumpkin field. Now perhaps that makes you wonder why the village is called Carver when Crazy Ralph’s name is supposed to be Wickets, but it’s like this, see? His name might not be Carver, but he’s very heavily invested in the idea of being a carver. Crazy Ralph never says one thing that makes a lick of sense throughout the whole movie, but there’s excellent reason to believe that while the other characters tend to assume he’s referring to jack-o-lanterns, he really means “carver” as a synonym for “slasher.” He even tells Jonathan a story about killing an abusive adult relative when he was around the same age as the Starks boy. The parallel between that experience and the stabbing of Alec is not lost on Jonathan, nor could it be, given Crazy Ralph’s insistence that Starks is a carver, too. Writer-director Robert Mann and his co-scripter, Sheldon Silverstein, also take a moment during Jonathan’s second encounter with the farmer to demonstrate that they’ve seen The Hitcher, for the confrontation in the barn ends with Crazy Ralph inviting his guest to kill him, evidently as punishment for the pleasure he took in the long-ago crime to which he confesses (and perhaps in a few more recent crimes he’s still keeping to himself).
That’s all a ways into the future, though. For the present, the main consideration will be the setup between Tammy and Jonathan, which is complicated rather seriously by the presence at the party of Tammy’s newly-dumped ex-boyfriend, Lance (David Austen, from Scarred and Lorelei: Witch of the Pacific). Lance is a possessive, violent bastard, and he dedicates himself to interfering with his ex’s budding new romance every chance he gets. Indeed, his behavior gets so out of hand that it offends even his friends, A.J. (Jonathan Conrad, of Vampire in Vegas) and Grazer (Jared Snow). Meanwhile, most of the male cast-members who aren’t Jonathan spend the evening vying for the attentions of Rachel (Charity Shea— also of Scarred), Yolanda (Mistie Adams), and Amber (Lindsey Carpenter), three inseparable friends who attend the party in the guise of Charlie’s Angels. Actually, it might be going just a tad too far to call the girls “inseparable.” Rachel does eventually spilt off from her friends to hook up with A.J., and after a really weird mixed-message makeout session with him in the front seat of her car, she becomes the first victim of the murderer whose arrival we’ve all been awaiting with diminishing patience.
As for the identity of that killer, The Pumpkin Karver attempts with varyingly inadequate levels of commitment to steer our suspicions in several directions at once. First, and with the greatest emphasis, it plays Friday the 13th, Part V’s game of suggesting that the old farmer is right, and that killing Alec has given Jonathan a taste for blood. It goes about that in exactly the same way as A New Beginning, too, subjecting Jonathan to a parade of hallucinations of Alec stalking the farm in his old pumpkin-face costume, and making the occasional attack on his erstwhile slayer. Then again, because we’ve already had Freddy Krueger to inject a strain of the supernatural into the slasher movie’s standard repertoire, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that Alec’s vengeful ghost really is at large— especially since several of Jonathan’s hallucinations seem to owe as much to the more asinine Nightmare on Elm Street sequels as they do to the fifth Friday the 13th film. Meanwhile, Crazy Ralph has already come right out and admitted to being a killer by the time the present murders begin, making him less the expected red herring than a legitimate suspect. Lance is a herring of a much ruddier hue, put forward briefly and ditheringly as a possible culprit on the strength of his romantic rivalry with Jonathan. And finally, it’s hard to imagine what purpose was supposed to have been served by Jonathan’s belated mention of his father’s disappearance unless it was to raise the possibility that either the killer or at least the batty old farmer is really his missing dad. What’s really going on, however, is an almost perfectly botched jumble of the foregoing possibilities: Alec’s spirit has inexplicably possessed the old farmer, and his ultimate goal is to possess Jonathan, too.
Seriously, just don’t even fucking bother. Apart from the killer’s rather nicely done pumpkin mask (a little too nicely done to be the Halloween costume it’s passed off as, honestly) and the genuinely shocking murder of a character who should be completely safe from harm under the current interpretation of the slasher flick ground rules, The Pumpkin Karver has absolutely nothing to offer. There’s no suspense, no mystery worth solving, no gore effects that Todd Sheets couldn’t whip up in his backyard in a couple of hours. The script is a doltish confection of twenty-year-old cliches, assembled with little apparent thought and less apparent regard for the purposes those cliches were originally intended to serve. The Pumpkin Karver spends as much time trying to be an 80’s frat comedy as a horror film, and it’s no better at making horny yahoos laugh than it is at being scary. And once again, because I simply cannot stress this point sufficiently, it spells “carver” with a “k.”