Are you old enough to remember the days before cable television was widespread, back when most people had anywhere from six to ten stations to choose from total? Before the rise of national news outlets, your local news team would pull out all the stops in order to achieve local celebrity. One Halloween night way back in 1987, one such news team paid the ultimate price for their attempt to cash in on the dead for local fame and fortune. Broadcast live and unfiltered, the home recorded VHS copies of The WNUF Halloween Special remain the only evidence of the tragedy.
In WNUF, director Chris LaMartina cobbles together something hilarious and nostalgic. Anyone under the age of 30 may not recognize this fact, but the film remarkable duplicates the feel of watching local public broadcasts in the 80s. The concept of local investigative journalist Frank Stewart dragging a pair of kook paranormal experts (and their cat) and a priest to an allegedly haunted house is exactly the kind of shenanigans UHF stations would try in a desperate ratings grab. The WNUF Halloween Special patomines this kind of show, first with its local news telecast filled with special interest stories (a local dentist offering to buy back candy from tick or treaters in one case. In another darkly comic one, a local boy dressed as a GI Joe is mistaken for a Viet Cong soldier and killed by a PTSD suffering vet), advertisements for nearby businesses and cheesy syndicated shows and finally, the actual “special event” where the news crew will tour the home where a grisly, occult fueled murder two decades prior.
What makes the film so much fun is just how shitty and low rent the whole things looks. The footage plays out over a well worn VHS tape, and it feels like a shame to be watching it on a nice monitor. WNUF feels like the kind of movie best appreciated when played back on an old CRT console television with giant rabbit ears protruding out of the back. If you handed this tape to 100 random people and told them nothing about the film, I’d wager more than a handful of them would be gullible enough to believe what they watched was real (and you would get 1-2 who would claim to have seen it when it was first broadcast).
That “realness” sometimes works against the film. After the first twenty minutes I wanted to find the person who came up with the eight note intro track to the news cast and wring them by the throat. Then there’s the commercials. There’s some hilarious and on point commercials that spoof the 80’s “Just Say No Campaign-an innocent game of spin the bottle that somehow ends in heroin addiction might be my favorite-along with jingles for local pizza joints, provocations towards those in dead end jobs to take up trade school and more risque ads for strip clubs as the hour grows later, but at times it feels like there’s more commercials than actual movie. The film follows a safe, comfortable pattern where Webber and crew will set up in an area, something out of the ordinary will startle them and then the action immediately cuts to commercial, returning minutes later to display the aftermath.
The time you do get to spend with the crew in the house is a heck of a lot of fun. There’s an amateur, dinner party feel to the whole cast but that fits given the vibe of the project. Paul Fahrenkopf is pretty great as the droll journalist Stewart, and you can feel both he and his character smirking at the real and imagined audience throughout the picture. The paranormal husband and wife team the Bergers are a pair of lovely kooks as well.
Even though we’re still 51 weeks out, it’s never too early to look for films to add to your Halloween party movie rotation. I’m not sure if The WNUF Halloween Special belongs on your primary screen, but toss this on in a secondary or hangout room and I’d put money on the fact that before too long, it would draw more than its fair share of curious eyeballs.