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).
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.