The WNUF Halloween Special is a unique (mostly) take on the found footage horror genre. I first became aware of it thanks to a review by Jay of Red Letter Media fame. I was intrigued by the premise: In 1987 a local news station aired a Halloween special that went horrifically wrong and this movie captures the entire event.
What was even cooler to me was that the WNUF Halloween Special was available on VHS! I love this idea, because you’re not even watching the original recording of the tape. You’re watching a dub (or maybe dub of a dub) of the original. The fact that you’re watching a VHS tape helps to pull you into the world a bit more. It’s a gimmick for sure, but one that helps break the barrier between film and reality just a little bit.
It’s worth noting that this idea of a TV special gone wrong has been done before, most notably Ghostwatch. However, this isn’t very well known in the U.S.. It’s out of print on VHS, and I haven’t been able to find it in Region 1 DVD even. Frustrating.
I went ahead and ordered The WNUF Halloween Special from Alternative Cinema. I only say where I got it from, because it’s surprisingly hard to find. Anyway, the tape came in the mail and it was just as I’d hoped. It comes in a plain sleeve that shows the label on the top, which appears to be hand written. That’s such a cool touch.
Putting the tape into the player yielded a fun result. The WNUF Halloween Special starts playing right away. There’s no FBI Warning (remember those?) and there’s no credits. It just starts off like a real dubbed tape would. I was watching The WNUF Halloween Special on circa 2001 VCR on a flat screen TV. Yeah, we used to have it hooked up to an old CRT, but that one’s speaker started going, so admittedly I didn’t get the “full” effect. However, I have to say that the VHS tape quality was terrible, but in a good way! It really helps with the immersion to see these images with their terrible colors and audible hissing throughout the film.
As for the “plot” The WNUF Halloween Special’s structure works unlike almost unlike any other film. You have a regular newscast with some bits of reporter Frank Stewart reporting from a haunted house. Eventually the parts with Frank Stewart take over completely from the anchors. In order for this to work you have to have the full news segment complete with all the commercials. You can’t really skimp on the commercials or the news segments to pull this off and they really don’t. The problem with this sort of structure is that you run the risk of over half the movie being completely unrelated to the scary part. The makers of The WNUF Halloween Special get around this a bit by having the mysterious person who dubbed the tape fast forward through some of the commercials and the weather (the one news segment that was missing was sports, but I didn’t notice that at first). By fast forwarding you get to the good stuff a bit quicker, but there are a lot of commercials. On a side note, clearly the person doing the dubbing didn’t realize you could hit pause on the VCR doing the recording during the commercial breaks… Anyway, one of the more realistic aspects is some of the commercials will air more than once, just like in real life! Thankfully the fast forwarding dubber skips through those, like a carpet commercial that airs a third time.
It’s really surprising how many commercials the filmmakers were able to come up with and they’re almost all great. You get a huge nostalgia rush from seeing commercials for products, services, and other shows that never existed, but could have in 1987. A lot of them appear to use stock footage from that era and I’m not complaining about that. It lends a great deal of authenticity to the proceedings. And while these commercials don’t directly tie into the horror aspect of the film, they serve some useful purposes. The first is they illustrate how different the 80s were to today. For instance it plays upon the fears of kids and drugs and the growing awareness about the environment.
Likewise many of the news segments don’t directly tie into the film, but help get a good look at 1980s culture. One news segment in particular plays upon the fear of Satanism, which I believe was earlier in the 80s, but nonetheless it provides a great picture of people’s paranoia at the time.
The acting in The WNUF Halloween Special was pretty solid over all. There are a few points where poor acting pulls you out of the thing. The best actor by far in this flick is Paul Fahrenkopf who plays news reporter Frank Stewart. Stewart comes off a bit like a sleaze while never being too slimy. I could have totally believed that he was a reporter in 1987.
Overall The WNUF Halloween Special works extremely well until the ending of which I’ll spoil in the clearly marked section below. If you want to know if the The WNUF Halloween Special is scary, I’ll say that for awhile it is, however it fell apart for me at the end. The thing that I have kept in mind is that it’s more of an experience overall than just the horror bits. From the nostalgic inducing commercials to the funny moments throughout you’re in for a treat if you’re looking for a different kind of movie going experience.
I’ve read that the DVD of The WNUF Halloween Special features extras that help give you a lot of insight on the making of the film. I think I’d like to have that as well, but for my money having the VHS was more of a creepy and fun experience.
Score: 4 severed thumbs out of 5
I MEAN IT!
Okay, so the ending it is revealed that it wasn’t ghosts at all. I realize that the budget might made it difficult to have a supernatural element, but it was rather disappointing to get the crazy religious people. It’s a huge cliche and it just didn’t work for me. Furthermore, the bit of tape that shows the final fate of Frank Stewart helped give you some resolution, but at the same time it was really out of place for the rest of the film. How did it get there? My girlfriend theorized that it was put there by the person dubbing the tape. I guess that makes sense somehow, but if they were murderers you wouldn’t want that evidence getting out there. I guess they might have not been the brightest people. Still, it was a rather disappointing resolution for an otherwise cool experience.