W: The WNUF Halloween Special (2013)

This one has been on my list for a long while, jumping up and down from behind my boxes of discs and going “Yoo hoo! Yoo Hoo!” so I’m glad I finally sat down and watched it – there are quite a few others waiting to take its place.

It’s ostensibly a videotape from October 31, 1987 capturing that night’s evening news and the titular special immediately following, complete with commercials for local businesses. Local TV personality Frank Stewart (Paul Fahrenkopf) is going to enter the Webber House, shut up since some axe murders twenty years before. Accompanying him will be husband and wife paranormal investigators the Bergers (Brian St. August and Helenmary Bell) and a Catholic priest (Robert Long II). They intend to hold a “Call-In Seance” in the basement.

With any sort of genre awareness you’re immediately going to leap to comparisons with Ghostwatch, but let me stop you right there. That was done with the full powers of the BBC behind it, and played perfectly straight. This is a movie done by a bunch of guys who decided to make a movie with very little money – which doesn’t mean that it’s a slapdash enterprise, at all.

I’m not sure what it took to find older video cameras so the footage would have the right look, but there is a ton of work evident in the movie just in the ads and graphics. The IMDb states the filmmakers got a lot of stock footage for cheap – maybe a local station cleaning out old tapes or something, because that B-roll of carpet warehouses, petting zoos and video arcades is real period stuff. As for the graphics, I’m almost willing to bet that an ancient Video Toaster was resurrected – I recognize at least one transition from that venerable platform.

They work really hard to capture the moment in 1987 – there are at least two of those damned 1-900 phone call spots, the Satanic Panic is in full swing with a local band of fundamentalist crazies based on the Westboro Baptist Church waging a war on Halloween (their organization is called H.A.R.V.E.S.T., which is never explained, and I’m curious).

And as I said, Ghostwatch was serious, whereas The WNUF Halloween Special is largely not – from the oh-god-shoot-me-now japes of the newscasters to the ads, which never quite play as satire, but it’s there. I particularly like the anti-drug ad sponsored by “Parents Against Partying” and the spots for dreadful syndicated action and sci-fi shows that were the mainstay of independent UHF stations before they all got bought by conglomerates.

Like Ghostwatch, there a flock of looky-loos in various costumes outside the Webber house that Stewart interviews, but as they are Americans, they are all idiots.

There’s another level of self-referential humor in there, too. The IMDb states that:

The commercial for “High Pike Farms”, which is located on “Mundra Drive” is a nod to HACK O’ LANTERN, which starred Hy Pike and was directed by Jag Mundra

The police officer who gives a lengthy lecture on how to not fall into the trap of eating candy bars containing needles “laced with the AIDS virus” (this segment is sped over by whoever’s watching the videotape, thankfully) is named Officer Bookwalter, which seems a nod to low-budget guru J.R. Bookwalter. There are more in the movie, but I’m not chasing all of them down. When I start wondering if “Frank Stewart” is a nod to Fred Mustard Stewart, who wrote The Mephisto Waltz, I also wondering if I am too genre-aware.

Naaaaaaah, probably not.

So I find myself curiously torn by The WNUF Halloween Special. On the one hand, it looks like a fairly lackluster found-footage film. But on the other hand (and it is a large, imposing hand) there is so much work obvious in its making, a deliberate intention to grab the cheesiness of the concept and totally commit to it, that I am truly impressed.

Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.