The Film: WNUF Halloween Special (2013)
The Principles: Written by Chris LaMartina, Jimmy George, Pat Storck & Michael Joseph Moran Directed by Chris La Martina Acted by Paul Fahrenkopf, Aaron Henkin, Nicolette le Faye, Brian St August, Helenmary Ball and Richard Cutting
The Premise: On Halloween night in 1987, a local news station filmed a live remote from the “infamous Webber house,” the site of the “spirit board murders.” With the help of a married team of paranormal investigators (and their cat), local news personality Frank Stewart and his team soon find themselves in a horrifying situation all their own. Now, a long lost VHS recording of the original broadcast has resurfaced…
Is It Good?: This is one of my favorite new Halloween films. Not a horror film necessarily, but a film that gets the feeling of Halloween right. Trick ‘r Treat does this and so does, well…Halloween. And while Halloween works as both an evocation of the holiday as well as a horror film, WNUF‘s strength lies almost entirely in distilling that indescribable feeling you get when you got to stay up late and watch Joe Bob Briggs’ Monstervision, finally catching a movie you’d been waiting to see for ages.
The problem is, that’s all pretty specific. If you didn’t have a similar experience as a kid (substitute Joe Bob with Ghoulardi), you may be a little baffled by this one, especially because it’s more concerned with nailing the particulars of a time and place rather than scaring its audience. Without the experience of taping something on your VCR and fast forwarding through the commercials to get to the good stuff, what is there to get out of this? I can’t speak to that, but I can say, as someone who remembers this time of my life fondly, this is a unique dopamine hit. Not only does the presentation (complete with fake, local commercials) ring true, but the premise of a doomed broadcast—lost, only to be found years later on a fourth of fifth generation VHS—appeals to the little kid in me who grew up with Sightings and Fox’s Alien Autopsy special, unsure if what I was watching was “true.” It’s the part of my brain that will always make me a sucker for found footage horror or more specifically, Ghost Watch, which conflates horror film tropes and the familiar editing and filming techniques of a news broadcast. Done well, that can be a powerful cocktail (Ghost Watch again being the better, scarier example) and they certainly get a lot right with this one.
For instance, the fake commercials are both spot on and totally frustrating. You get local political attack ads, a 900 number where you can talk to monsters (1-900-Monster) and ads for the local arcade, “Tokens.” They look and feel like the real thing, but more importantly, they interrupt the main story at the worst possible times. It works both because a local news station would likely “cut to commercial” out of fear that they’d show something horrific on live television, but also because it’s a sly bit of tension building. Want to find out what happened to the cat that just went missing? Too bad, here are four commercials (some of which you’ve already seen) to draw out the suspense.
I’m also convinced that Frank Stewart, the local anchor hosting the special, is bound to become a horror icon with time. Like Ash (Army of Darkness era), there’s an affable, unearned swagger to Frank, a big fish in a small pond where all the other fish are all snickering behind his back. But he’s still lovable, ex-hippie tendencies and all. He wants to put on a good show despite his lack of resources, which makes him endearing above all else.
Overall, the reason to watch this movie is for the world building. Director Chris La Martina and his team have built a time machine and taken it to a small town that never existed. It’s an impressive feat for a film of any budget or genre, but it’s so rarely this well done in the world of low budget horror, you have to give it up to these guys for pulling it off.
Random Anecdotes: This is my 100th post for CHUD, and the writing sample I submitted to Nick was a (much longer) review of this movie. The circle is now complete.
The news story about the little Asian boy dressed as a solider who gets shot and killed on a Korean war vet’s lawn is arguably the worst acted moment of the movie, but also pretty funny. It gets groans every time I show this movie to friends.
Dr. Louis and Claire Berger are clearly modeled after Ed and Loraine Warren, the real-life married demonologists who feature in The Amityville Horror and The Conjuring. These two are on a lower wrung of the paranormal investigator ladder and more irritable as a result. Personally, I like them more than the real thing.
Is It Worth A Look?: If you ask me, yes. Though I’ll understand if this isn’t for you.
Cinematic Soulmates: Ghost Watch, Trick ‘r Treat, Grave Encounters.