Oct 30, 2014


"Halloween House" by GrimmDreamArt.

Oct 29, 2014


Somewhere along the line, Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow became the official Halloween "story." Celebrated every October as regularly as A Christmas Carol is revisited every December, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow's association with Halloween simply just is. Funny, being that not only is the word "Halloween" never once uttered in the story, the events are also set about fifty years before Halloween ever traveled all the way from Ireland to American shores. 

There have been dozens of iterations of this famous story, ranging from big budget Hollywood reimaginings to animated Disney shorts to an inspired episode on "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" Tall animated busts of the Headless Horseman can be found in Halloween stores and catalogs every year. There have been so many editions printed of the original story that it would be near impossible to collect them all.

Of all the different incarnations, this particular one is my favorite. This simple effort, that equates to nothing more than a slideshow featuring still art complemented by an adapted audio telling of the original text, was my first ever exposure to Washington Irving's tale, and it's stuck with me ever since having rented it repeatedly from the library when I was a lad. Confined to only a VHS for the past many years (having been out of print for most of its existence), a recent re-issue on DVD had me cautiously excited to revisit the film so many years later.

To watch it now is to be both charmed and slightly embarrassed by its simplicity. The text, as narrated by Glenn Close, is not that of Washington's original story, but a toned-down version more traditionally told to appeal to the young audience at which this presentation is aimed. The paintings by Robert Van Nutt are certainly eye-catching, and Close does a fine job playing multiple characters, but I could see the almost Power Point-ish presentation unfortunately turning off younger audiences used to more modern techniques. Still, the simplified adaptation takes no liberties, presenting the story as originally written. (Sorry, kids: there is no tree filled with heads, nor any sexy time between the Headless Horseman and his witchy subjugator. Nor is there anything nearly at the heights of absurdity as is currently going on with Fox's "Sleepy Hollow" series.)

"The old country wives, however, who are the best judges of these matters, maintain to this day that Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means; and it is a favorite story often told about the neighborhood round the winter evening fire...The schoolhouse being deserted soon fell to decay, and was reported to be haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate pedagogue and the plowboy, loitering homeward of a still summer evening, has often fancied his voice at a distance, chanting a melancholy psalm tune among the tranquil solitudes of Sleepy Hollow."
If you've stuck with me for this long, you may have read my Unsung Horrors column on Lady in White, during which I wax philosophic on the importance of nostalgia as it pertains to my appreciation for Halloween. This particular video edition of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Rabbit Ears Entertainment goes a long way, as does Lady in White, in bolstering that nostalgic love. It may not feature heads flying through the air like popcorn and Johnny Depp being Johnny Depp, but it does manage to be what I hope Halloween will be and how it will feel every year: perfect and pure.

Oct 27, 2014


"In order to appease the gods, the Druid priests held fire rituals. Prisoners of war, criminals, the insane, animals...were burned alive in baskets. By observing the way they died, the Druids believed they could see omens of the future. Two thousand years later, we've come no further. Samhain isn't evil spirits. It isn't goblins, ghosts or witches. It's the unconscious mind. We're all afraid of the dark inside ourselves."

Oct 25, 2014


Upon receiving a copy of Nathanial Tolle's Pumpkin Cinema: The Best Movies for Halloween for review, I immediately performed a cursory flip-through of the book to quickly and shallowly determine if this author was up to my level of authority when it came to Halloween-inspired films. (Yeah, I said it - I'm totally pompous like that.) I love both Halloween and film, so obviously this makes sense. After catching the inclusion of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, I admit to rolling my eyes and saying, "Here we go - yet another project to shamelessly exploit the word 'Halloween' but misunderstand what that really means." Unfortunately (though not to me), this is how my brain works. I compartmentalize. I divvy and classify. If I want to watch something on Halloween, it has to feel like Halloween, or be about Halloween. So who is this guy telling me to watch the aforementioned bumbling duo take on a Universal monster? Or A Nightmare on Elm Street 3? Or fucking Cat's Eye?

Then I read the well-written and well-realized introduction in which the author painstakingly rolled out his criteria for what made something essential Halloween watching. Nothing too long, too moody, too depressing. Something fun, something to watch with friends, something that captures and celebrates the autumn season which we hold so dear. I realized that I maintained many of those same rules. The Monster Squad, for instance, is one I roll out every October for an annual viewing, but except for taking place in the days leading up to Halloween, doesn't have anything to do with it. And that's okay! It's about what feels like Halloween, and not what is.

With new enthusiasm to see what recommendations the author had up his sleeve, I dove into the book, which is divided into three main sections: feature films, short films, and television shows and specials; a generous offering of each is in place. Each section contains a mini synopsis, a review from the author, and intermittently, a brief justification as to why the film or show should be considered essential Halloween viewing. I was pleased to see the inclusion of Dark Night of the Scarecrow and 1993's Cartoon Network adaptation The Halloween Tree, but what won me over was the shout-out to Don Coscarelli's little known film Kenny & Company, a fun coming-of-age film not at all horror-related, but which takes place during the week of Halloween. It's an extremely underrated film from an extremely underrated filmmaker; seeing its place on the page was how I knew I was in the presence of a like-minded film fan. It was also nice to see the author recognize the artistic merits of the films (or lack thereof), even if he ultimately recommended them as Halloween picks: The Blair Witch Project is rightfully praised and Double, Double, Toil & Trouble is rightfully condemned. (But come on, man, seriously - Cat's Eye sucks.)

One of Pumpkin Cinema's highlights: while the Halloween series is understandably included, Halloween 3 gets the longest write-up, Halloween: Resurrection gets a one-sentence mention confirming its atrocious reputation, and Rob Zombie's stupidity doesn't get a mention at all. Needless to say, I want to be friends with Nathanial Tolle (athough Halloween 5 is ranked suspiciously high in the "best of Halloween series" list). 

Image source.

The book itself is assembled using high-quality, full-color pages, making for an attractive read. Some of the highlighted films will include a reprint of their original theatrical poster across one whole page, preventing a reader from becoming too used to the otherwise uniform flow of the book. The cover itself is kind of boring, and though, like our mothers once told us, we shouldn't judge any book by its cover, the cover itself also looks like something that was designed by our mothers. (Sorry, mothers!)

Additionally, though the author is clearly well-versed on the subject of horror cinema, he does make the occasional error. (The director of Lady in White, the very film I highlighted not even a week ago, is erroneously listed as Frank "DaLoggia" [it's LaLoggia]; the day of All Hallows' Eve is referred to as "Hollows'.") Still, what we've got here is a fine collection of films - some obscure and some not (plus The 'Burbs, the greatest film of all time) - that are certainly worthy of Halloween watching. The author makes a good point: the hours spent winding down from a long night of trick-or-treating or keeping your outdoor display of the macabre up and running hasn't left much time for an evening of Halloween-inspired films. Make sure you choose wisely. This night comes but once a year.