Pumpkin Cinema: The Best Movies for Halloween by Nathaniel Tolle is my favorite Halloween reference guide as of this year. It might also be my favorite horror reference guide, and it is certainly the book I will be reaching for whenever I periodically need to take a break from whatever show I’m binge watching at the moment. (
Sorry, Hannibal.) The premise of the book is incredibly simple. Mr. Tolle spent years researching and watching films and shows in order to determine which of them best bring to mind Halloween and autumn. He has a few simple rules . . .
- The cinema has to be fun to watch and cannot be mean-spirited or cruel. Tolle proclaims, rightly, that people should be miserable on their own time and not subject their Halloween guests to melancholy or dreary titles. (Sorry, Texas Chainsaw Massacre!)
- The cinema cannot repeatedly present seasons/locations/weather that contrasts with autumn! (Sorry, Jaws!)
- The cinema cannot exceed two hours running time and must be relatively quickly paced. Tolle mentions that this knocks out Alien as a choice, but I am comforted by the fact that there are eleven other months in the year in which I can enjoy Ripley.
- If the cinema isn’t scary, it must directly be associated with Halloween in some fashion.
The list of movies and television (all 165 pages of it) is arranged alphabetically and includes all of the information one might need to locate it, such as the year of release, the director, and who starred in the movie. The rating of the film is included largely for the benefit of the parents who enjoy the spookiest month of the year. Tolles also provides a brief synopsis of each film before he elaborates on the content and why it is appropriate for his compilation. Tolle and I have two things in common. One is our great devotion to and fondness of Halloween, and the other is apparently our taste in movies. His picks are clearly well researched and argued for; I have yet to read a description that I disagree with. This gives me great hope that I will also adore some of the movies listed in the book that I have yet to see. Since he covers movies from classic Universal Monster days to modern day flicks, there are quite a few that have eluded me.
Although the book is very much a reference book in a lot of ways, the author keeps things fun. His tone requirements for the cinema (namely the “fun” requirement) are supported by his writing tone as well. There were several instances where I would quote the book aloud as I read from it to whomever was nearby and would listen, my favorite quote is by far the synopsis for Frankenstein (1931):
“Synopsis: A talking bag of turnips auditions to befriend a ballerina with bwarzenblassphobia (fear of radishes) just in time for Thanksgiving dinner. You know what Frankenstein is.”
That quote, and several others, had me chuckling and kept the book from having a dry, strictly informational tone. Honestly, the fact that it is so enjoyable to read is probably what will keep the book on my coffee table long after the Halloween season has passed.
The final selling point is that if you don’t feel like scouring the entire book for a film or episode that will tickle your fancy or meet your needs, Tolle compiled a set of “Top Five” lists at the end of the book with useful themes such as “For the youngins,” “If you want to be scared out of your mind,” and “If you want to show your friends something they haven’t heard of.” There really is something for everyone, and I think that even non-horror fans would benefit from and enjoy this book.