Back when I revealed the theme for this year’s Halloween Horrors series, I stated that the theme was inspired by my having recently acquired a box full of Halloween-themed cartoons and specials on VHS tapes off eBay. At only $20 shipped, the lot of tapes included a made-for-Cartoon Network rendition of Ray Bradbury’s “The Halloween Tree“, a collection of Scooby-Doo‘s “Spookiest Stories”, an episode of the Goosebumps television series, as well as a few others. The stand out tape in the collection was “How to Carve Great Faces for Halloween: With Gordy “The Pumpkin Man” Falk”; “stand out” if only because it was one of only 2 features that were not animated.
In many ways, you could say that “How to Carve Great Faces” was a “throw in” in the deal. Cool, I get an extra tape that I would normally probably never watch. However, as I became determined to watch every tape in the box, even the god-awful “The Great Bear Scare” (featuring the voice of Tom Smothers), I knew that Gordy was due to have his day. Eventually, I decided that I might use this presentation as my own Halloween Horrors 2020 topic, if only because it seemed like an odd choice of topic. After sitting down to watch the tape for the first time, I knew for certain that this was kismet; that the whole reason that I ever came across that particular box of VHS tapes was so that I would one day be fated to talk to you about this video.
First, you may be asking yourself, “Who is Gordy Falk, and how does one get the title of “Pumpkin Man?” A former naval intelligence officer during the Vietnam War, Gordy Falk started to gain his reputation as the “Pumpkin Man” in the small Wisconsin village of Whitefish Bay some time during the mid-1970s. When asked by his sister to carve a few pumpkins for her family, Gordy went a little overboard, and carved at least a dozen pumpkins. This lead to friends asking Gordy to carve pumpkins for their own yards. In time, Gordy’s own yard would be covered with a few dozen pumpkins, with the number growing over the years.
By the mid-80s, that number would grow to nearly 500 jack-o-lanterns covering Gordy’s lawn and home, drawing nearly 50,000 viewers from not only around the Wisconsin area, but from around the country! As this massive influx of visitors and sightseers inevitably caused severe traffic jams, accidents, and other headaches for police and town leaders, Gordy’s annual displays were soon moved to a local city park. Here, his Halloween pumpkin displays would grow to 800-1,000 pumpkins annually!
Where as most VHS tapes open with the obligatory “FBI Warning”, “How to Carve Great Faces for Halloween” opens with a warning advising children not to handle knives without adult supervision, and to exercise caution while handling knives. Knives, as you may be aware, are dangerous, and may potentially hurt or even kill you or those around you when not handled properly (or in most cases, when handled properly). One would think that this is self-evident, especially as the purpose of the knife is to cut fleshy chunks out of the pumpkin. However, as we live in a world where we need warning labels to inform you that your hot coffee is indeed hot, the producers and distributors of this video presentation would like for you to know that in the circumstance that you do injure or kill yourself or others, they are not responsible. Not in the slightest, dumbass.
The opening credits are a montage featuring a multitude of jack-o-lanterns adorning various homes, buildings, and lawns, presumably all examples of Gordy’s work from his annual Halloween displays. What one may notice, especially modern viewers, is that for one christened with the prestigious title of “Pumpkin Man”, Falk’s carvings tend to be, shall we say, “old-fashioned” and even simplistic when compared to some of the highly detailed and elaborately designed jack-o-lanterns that you see all over social media (and even reality competition shows) during the Halloween season these days. I’d even go as far as to say that some of the pumpkins that my wife has carved for our family’s past Halloweens have been far more detailed and painstakingly crafted than what is on display here, and I don’t think it would be insulting her to say that her involvement in the “craft” of pumpkin carving is purely amateur. Here’s a few of them.
We are then introduced to Gordy, standing at the front steps of his Wisconsin home. He tells us the story of how he began carving pumpkins, stating that things “got a little out of hand”. No, Gordy. Spending too much money on unnecessary impulse purchases is something that gets “a little out of hand”. Wildfires are something that get “a little out of hand”. Chernobyl got a “little out of hand”. You, Gordy, lost your muthaFalkin’ pumpkin pickin’ mind!
The next section of the video is a tutorial on the proper way to remove the top of your pumpkin, as well as a tip on an easier way to clean out your pumpkin and to remove the innards. More importantly, Gordy teaches the viewer that the task of de-topping, as well as actually carving the face of your jack-o-lantern, is made much simpler by using a smaller, thinner knife than with a larger bladed knife, like those large turkey carvers that Michael Myers likes to brandish. It’s also during these early segments that viewers may begin to notice Gordy’s habit of running his fingers over the blades of his knives, which may be part of the reason that the video opens with a warning about the dangers of knives.
It’s during this same sequence that Gordy make a reference to the Peloponnesian War, which I can only assume is a reference that most children who watch the video (and those that don’t) will not understand. I’m not even sure I understand it. This will not be the last time that Gordy makes a reference that seems “out of touch” with children of… well, of any era.
Before we get to our first carving, Gordy shows us how to choose on which side to carve our pumpkin’s face. He also demonstrates how to test the turning ability of our knives by cutting holes in the backside (the un-displayed side) of our pumpkin. This segues into a section on carving tools for children, namely those small (usually) orange-handled saw tools that come packaged with every pumpkin-carving design booklet sold in mass-retailers each Halloween season. You know, those same cheap plastic things that my wife carved our own pumpkins with, and that you very well may have as well? There’s some irony in the fact that Gordy recommends these tools for children, but yet here he is, making all of his carvings with kitchen knives in an instructional video… targeted towards children.
About 10 minutes into the presentation, we finally get to our first pumpkin carving. Gordy starts with the design of the face, a traditional jack-o-lantern face, with triangle eyes and a jagged, angular mouth. The mouth of Gordy’s pumpkin is somewhat off-center and a little jagged, which he acknowledges. However, Gordy quickly changes the design, carving curved sides to the eyes and adding in circular pupils, one of which breaks and is secured in place with a toothpick.
Gordy then decides to add nostrils to his pumpkin’s nose, completely abandoning his design and arguably turning this jack-o-lantern into a deformed freak, sure to be mocked and ridiculed by the other jack-o-lanterns in Gordy’s annual Halloween displays, were they not also disfigured freaks. However, instead of being bothered by this development, Gordy pretty much says, “Falk it!”, and carries on. By the time he has finished, the pumpkin looks nothing like his original design, and has marker lines still present from where Gordy decided to “ad-lib”. While you or I might sit there in utter disbelief at the produce butchery on display, and would presumably start over, Gordy’s got to churn out 300 of these bitches by Thursday! He ain’t got time for aesthetics.
For his next pumpkin, Gordy will be carving an evil expression for a face. While this design is also quite simplistic, Gordy informs us that it is one of his most popular. More important is the speed and (this time) accuracy with which Gordy carves his design, slicing through pumpkin flesh like butter. However, at one point, Gordy demonstrates the insignificance of mistakes by purposely making one himself. In this instance, he replicates “slipping” or overcutting, by violently slashing through half of the gourd at a speed that could easily sever a human finger, particularly those of a child. Again, that opening warning was there for a reason, and that reason is named “Gordy”.
How to Carve Great Faces for Halloween continues along with Gordy carving a few more face designs, as well as a “kitty face” pumpkin. While none of these are overly-elaborate designs either, the speed with which Gordy carves his pumpkins is impressive. On my first viewing, I laughed quite heavily at the “botch job” that helped kickoff the presentation. I was also admittedly somewhat concerned by how out of breath Gordy seemed to be by the end of the feature, but I guess if you were churning out jack-o-lanterns at a rate that would make sweatshop workers impressed, you’d be pretty gassed too. However, I had clearly missed what I now believe to have been a deliberate message, and one that was perfectly timed too.
You see, by starting out with what appears to be a disaster, Gordy teaches us early on that it’s okay to make mistakes. He teaches us that there is no such thing as “perfection”, and that it’s the differences and “imperfections” that make us each unique. It also sends the message that maybe we may not have been the best at any given thing, but at least we made the effort and got the job done.
As for Gordy? Well, he has to get the job done 800 more damned times!!
Dedicated to Gordy “The Pumpkin Man” Falk (1943-2019)