(By Matt Konopka) Halloween is officially over, but that doesn’t mean the trick or treat spirit can’t live on! Every week, I watch one horror film that I’ve never seen before (usually at least 10 years old), in an effort to find those rare, quality gems so that you don’t have to spend your time slogging through all the crap to come across them. The film receives a simple rating: Trick, or Treat. For this week’s edition, I decided to take a look at a movie which could be on the brink of establishing a cult following, the WNUF Halloween Special…
…Released in 2013, WNUF Halloween Special is directed/written by Chris LaMartina (Call Girl of Cthulhu), along with various other writers and directors contributing to a substantial number of segments throughout the film. That’s because WNUF Halloween Special is not your average “found footage” film, nor is that a label that accurately defines it. WNUF Halloween Special is its own unique beast, unlike anything out there. Rather than following the traditional “found footage” path as a “documentation” of what happened to a bunch of wannabe filmmakers trying to film everything, WNUF Halloween Special presents itself as an original broadcast that aired on local television station, WNUF, on October 31rst, 1987. What follows is a stunning-though fake-expose on the terrifying supernatural activity which occurs at an infamous haunted house when a reporter and crew decide to go inside and host a live séance.
This is a film for people that love Halloween. In-between the main plot of the Weber House, WNUF Halloween Special treats us to an array of “commercial breaks”. LaMartina directs the Weber House portion, while various others present fake commercials with a wide range of topics, from political campaigns, to carpet store ads, and so on. Together, the filmmakers work to transport the audience back to the late eighties/early nineties, and they succeed massively. Born in 87, I grew up in the nineties, and everything we see, from the VHS quality, to the style and writing of these commercials, is spot on. WNUF Halloween Special even has an anti-drug spot, and if you grew up during that time period, you’ll likely remember the deep, ominous voice warning how sinister drugs are, which the commercial captures perfectly with lines like “Playing with drugs is playing with death”. That’s what sucked about the nineties, people still viewed pot as the freaking Devil. Oh well, at least we know better now!
But what makes WNUF Halloween Special so fun isn’t just the fact that it bleeds nostalgia all over your screen. WNUF Halloween Special is a celebration of Halloween in an unexpected way. There’s the obvious characteristics; the film takes place on Halloween, news reporters are dressed in cheap costumes, and Halloween is in the damn title. But what WNUF Halloween Special does so cleverly is it plays to the sensibilities of horror fans all across the country with the sort of tongue in cheek humor that gets fans riled up. If you’ve been a horror fan for any extended period of time, you’ve probably experienced the negative stereotypes that come with being dubbed a “horror fan”. You’re weird, sick in the head, blah blah blah. I don’t think it’d be a stretch to say that you cherish Halloween in that case, and likely get tired of those who say Halloween is childish, or evil, and if you love it then you must be both of the above. Let me enjoy dressing up in cool costumes and eating candy, you buzzkills! WNUF Halloween Special loads itself up with anti-Halloween commercials, such as dentists that say Halloween is terrible because kids eat too much candy. There are also interviews with devout churchgoers claiming Halloween is satanic, and is a holiday that should cease to be celebrated. I don’t know about you, but this sort of rhetoric just encourages my passion for the holiday even more, because I can laugh at the over-exaggerating dentist, and boo the Christian nut job. WNUF Halloween Special revels in the spirit of Halloween, reminding us how much flak the holiday has taken, and how it has continued to spit pumpkin seeds in the faces of the people that hate spooky fun.
WNUF Halloween Special is all about having a good time and relishing in the fact that we are fans of the greatest genre there is. Hell, there’s even commercial breaks for fake horror films like Sarcophagus, and a late-night horror host named Dr. Bloodwrench, who seems like a knockoff of Chicago native, Svengoolie (who I grew up with). But it isn’t all fun and games. WNUF Halloween Special is still a horror film, and in that, there are genuine chills made to prick up the hairs on your neck. Without a doubt, the true brilliance of WNUF Halloween Special is the way in which it slowly builds, from a cheesy Halloween special on cable TV to a bloodcurdling horror film. It all starts out well and good, with eye rolling jokes between a pair of broadcast hosts and cheap furniture commercials, but there are darker elements carefully placed by the filmmakers that gets the fear simmering. At one point, there is a news report about a kid dressing up like a soldier and trick or treating at a war vets house, only to be shot and killed because the guy has a terrible case of PTSD. Scenes like these, along with the psychotic Christians, work as reminders that, while we may love Halloween, there are very real horrors which sometimes take place during the celebrated night of ghouls and goblins.
The fake news stories set the mood well, occurring infrequently enough that they do not distract from the entertainment, but instead establish a growing sense that something is not right. Once the main story revolving around the Weber house is introduced, that feeling only gains momentum. LaMartina works in your usual lighthearted tone, with the expose hosted by Frank (Paul Fahrenkopf), a sarcastic reporter who provides a welcome comedic relief and is by far the star of the show. There’s a dry sense of humor to Frank and the commercials revolving around what is actually a disturbing investigation into whether or not ghosts haunt the Weber house. The main story appeals to horror fans with references to films like The Conjuring, The Exorcist, and The Amityville Horror, and while there isn’t much of anything really original to the A plot, the filmmakers do a great job of taking that sense of comfort they’ve built by relating to your love of Halloween, before throwing you into the grinder for a surprisingly gruesome finale.
The occasional rough acting has a tendency to shatter the illusion that this is a real broadcast from the eighties, but if it weren’t for that, WNUF Halloween Special would not have had a difficult time of parading itself as “real” before the days of The Blair Witch Project. Hell, I know people now who I could probably dupe into buying the gag. The point is, the filmmakers do everything right in trying to recreate the time period in which this “expose” takes place. Nostalgic horror fans will love the old VHS quality of the film. Keep in mind, WNUF Halloween Special is NOT a scare factory. This is a film that wants to ease you into the Halloween mood before pulling away the mask and revealing the soul-sucking demon beneath. This isn’t Scary Movie either. Not that type of laugh-a-minute spoof. WNUF Halloween Special is the kind of film that I can see eventually as the sort of film played at horror marathons across the country, or, better yet, I can see it one day gaining the sort of cult status as Rocky Horror Picture Show. Maybe not to that degree, but it’s easy to imagine audiences gathering to share in laughs, screams, and loudly quoting the many, MANY, bad commercials.
WNUF Halloween Special is the PERFECT way to kickoff future Octobers and relive those childhood memories of staying up to watch late night horror features on cable TV. Don’t be surprised to hear more and more about this one as the years go on.
WNUF Halloween Special is available on Amazon Prime.
By Matt Konopka