Directed by Chris LaMartina
The WNUF Halloween Special DVD is available exclusively through Alternative Cinema.
It seems like horror, more than any other genre, runs in cyclical stages where most of the films produced during a certain period have strong connective tissue. Slashers, hauntings, vampires… once something is a hit, everything else tries to be that same hit. But one fad that has hung around in spite of a near-universal lack of support from horror fans has been found footage. Used sparingly, it can be an effective tool like any other cinematic device, but when you’ve got a studio like Paramount seriously considering taking that approach for a new Friday the 13th movie, it becomes clear that producers see it as a means to save money and nothing more. Many potentially good films are essentially ruined by eschewing traditional camera work for some idiot with a camcorder who would have dropped it at the first sign of trouble. Point is, very few films employ it in an organic fashion that feels logical to the storytelling. The WNUF Halloween Special (2013) not only presents itself in a way that could only have been done using found footage, but they produced the entire thing for $1500. And, no, I’m not missing a zero in there. What the filmmakers achieved is nothing less than making one of the most enjoyable, gloriously vintage DIY micro-budget horror films I’ve ever seen, trumping nearly every multi-million dollar effort I watched in theaters.
The conceit here is that what you are watching is a long lost 1987 live broadcast that ran on a local news channel. Reporter Frank Stewart (Paul Fahrenkopf) is taking you, the viewer, on a live tour of the infamous Webber House, the location of a grisly murder twenty years earlier. But that hook is really just the film’s MacGuffin, because the reason to watch this is to revel in all things 1980s. There is absolutely nothing cinematic about this film; it literally looks and sounds and plays exactly like a local news channel’s 1987 Halloween special, right down to the bumpers and commercials. An extreme amount of care and thought clearly went into this because the filmmakers wisely chose to produce it with respect to the period, not as some pastiche that many retro-modern filmmakers have been producing for the past few years. That’s been my main beef with filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez; the movies produced look like a modern interpretation of a vintage film, almost like a parody and less like the genuine article. Here, with the WNUF Halloween Special most viewers who aren’t privy to the concept might actually believe this is an authentic recording. There are only a few obvious tells that would clue someone in to what’s really happening.
In order to break up the monotony inherent to most found footage films, there are numerous commercial breaks scattered throughout. And if they don’t look and feel exactly like cheaply produced local business commercials, then I don’t know what else could. Director Chris LaMartina mentions in his commentary that he had lots of outside help in producing these, but he still ended up doing many himself. How, you ask? By purchasing cheap, standard definition stock footage, which he then laboriously went over to find the right bits needed for his ads. The results are phenomenal, looking exactly like all the ads I used to watch as a kid. They even made sure to run some ads more than once during the special, though thankfully the film’s unseen editor fast forwards through them. That was another aspect of this film I enjoyed: the skipping of “uninteresting” bits. Like how you used to impatiently wait by the VCR, finger over the “pause” button so all the commercials could be cut out of whatever you were recording off TV. This takes a different approach by actually showing the film FF through these extraneous bits, and even though that isn’t how a VCR works it does work for the film.
As for the main story, typical of any news broadcast our reporter, Frank, spends virtually the entire run time hyping up his big reveal. It takes a good amount of time before we finally go inside the house, but once we reach that point there’s never a sense of urgency to get to any sort of action. In some ways, the main story is eclipsed not only by the commercials but by the overall concept as a whole. This movie is fun. So, you can cut it a little slack when Frank brings in a couple of old, hammy mediums to conduct a live call-in séance in the house. The climax does get a little frustrating because as events occur, and Frank can’t explain them, he continually cuts to a commercial break, leaving us to watch more ads while anticipating what horror we might see once the broadcast comes back. Heavy actions are left for the film’s final moments, making all that build-up worthwhile thanks to a solid payoff.
As much as we all love theatrical features about our favorite holiday, there’s a certain magic to those nostalgic local cable Halloween specials that many of us were fortunate enough to grow up watching. Children of the new generation never experienced anything like this, and for that reason it’s likely many will be turned off to this film. It’s not done in an ironic, tongue-in-cheek kind of way; this is the kind of shocking verisimilitude that is rarely pulled off. I can’t recall the last time I watched a new production that immediately made me feel like a 7-year-old kid again. As a bonus, it’s also given me a new appreciation for mo-budget horror, proving that it absolutely does not require a large sum of cash to make good horror. It doesn’t even require a modest amount. The money spent on this movie wouldn’t cover an hour of craft service on a studio picture, yet this has loads more creativity, aesthetic value, and heart. One thing’s for sure, I know what I’m watching every Halloween from here on out.
The WNUF Halloween Special has seen release on both VHS and DVD, but DVD is the way to go for obvious reasons. I can’t imagine either version looking better than the other, since the film was shot 1.33:1 full frame and then passed through a VCR three times to achieve the aged, well-worn look they sought. The film itself was shot using a mix of DV and S-VHS cameras, but once the aging process was completed the results look no better than an old VHS tape. Expect lots of grain, de-saturated colors, tracking lines, softness… all the trappings of 1980s glory. The audio is similarly appropriate, with a simple 2.0 stereo offering that is very much in keeping with the concept.
You aren’t buying this DVD for improved A/V, though. You’re buying it for all these awesome bon us features. The main draw is an audio commentary from director Chris LaMartina, who reminded me of Quentin Tarantino in that this guy does not stop talking. And he talks very fast. LaMartina talks about why found footage was appealing, discussions he had on how to do it better than it’s usually done, creation of the ads, securing the actors, and more. Every base is covered because this guy literally does not stop talking for 90 minutes. It’s a great, great track. A reel of unused commercials is included, running for around seven minutes. Not that they’d ever do a sequel, but someone needs to find a use for these. They rule. “Aging WNUF” is a brief look at comparing the footage before and after the aging process. A “bloopers & outtakes” reel contains over seven minutes of flubs and behind-the-scenes direction. “Rewinding the Fast Forward” plays all of the bits that were shown quickly in the film in real time, running for under five minutes. A trailer for the film is included, too. We also get what appear to be two short films as part of a “Meadowlands Showcase”, both running for around 30 minutes. Finally, a “trailer vault” contains numerous ads for other micro-budget horror films.
I loved this movie. A lot. Easily my tops for the year, WNUF Halloween Special is something that a large segment of horror fans will eat right up. The attention to detail is exquisite, providing a conduit to transport viewers directly back to their halcyon days of youth, when there was nothing more important in the world than watching a cheesy Halloween special on TV and rejoicing in everything the holiday had to offer.
4 1/2 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5