This week, I chose to review a “movie” that I first came across a couple of years ago. It’s a copy of an old VHS recording of a 1980’s television broadcast, documenting the story of a television crew who, along with two paranormal Investigators and a Catholic Priest, investigate the infamous Webber house. An allegedly haunted estate which was the site of the grisly “Spirit Board Murders”, an event that took place 20 years earlier when Donald Webber brutally murdered his parents. His claim was that he was forced to by demonic entities whom he’d first contacted using a Ouija board that he’d found in the family’s attic.
The WNUF crew, including veteran correspondent Frank Stewart, broadcast their investigation live as a Halloween special, as they attempt to prove or disprove the supernatural claims about the site. What starts out as a light-hearted and spooky adventure, turns dark as ominous events begin to take place in the abandoned house.
Ok, so there never really was a Webber House, or even a WNUF for that matter. The “WNUF Halloween Special” is a 2013 film by Director Chris LaMartina. Filmed in a type of found footage style, it imitates a 1980’s television broadcast, giving the illusion that one is watching actual recorded footage of the events on screen, complete with parody commercials, station identification and sitcom promos. The concept is similar to that of the controversial “live” broadcast mockumentary Ghostwatch which aired on British Television in 1992.
After a few commercials, the movie begins with a news broadcast featuring hosts Gavin Gordon and Deborah Merritt, typical talking head news anchors of the period, reporting serious news with oversized fake smiles and corny jokes. Their studio is decorated for the holiday and they’re dressed in costume, engaging in deliberately artificial banter while they discuss a number of Halloween related local news stories. Their segment soon ends and the viewer is introduced to Frank Stewart and the infamous Webber House.
When I first saw this movie it was a strange experience for the first few minutes. With no context whatsoever, I was confused about what I was watching and honestly went back and forth a couple of times between being sure it was a parody, and wondering if maybe it was the real deal. The video quality perfectly emulates the look of a real, poor quality, VHS recording, down to the occasional tracking glitches and other artifacts. The actors, for the most part, play it perfectly straight, inching close to the edge of parody, without pushing it too far and ruining the effect. There are a few “winks” throughout the movie, but they are subtle and can be overlooked without the viewer losing their immersion in the story.
Paul Fahrenkopf, who plays Frank Stewart, is truly convincing as the smug and somewhat jaded reporter who does his best to keep the action moving and create interest in the viewership, while having to deal with his less-than-helpful co-investigators. His frustration comes through in an authentic way as he interviews a group of slack-jawed bystanders. The husband and wife psychics, Dr. Louis and Claire Berger, refuse to play along with Frank’s attempt at showmanship, balking as he tries to hurry them into producing some results for the camera. Father Joseph Matheson is similarly uncooperative and non-committal about his role in the evening’s events. The awkward interaction between these characters feels genuine and cringeworthy.
The commercials are well done, following the theme and look of the rest of the movie. They bring back a lot of memories with their crazy narration and cheesy puns. There are so many of them I lost count. There were ads for video arcades, demolition derbies, 1-900 numbers, and well as a whole host of Halloween themed commercials for costume makeup kits, pumpkin carving kits, and pumpkin farms, each one featuring period-accurate clothing, props, and sets. Some commercials were run more than once. Some of them tied into the news broadcast—or even other commercials—in different ways, adding to the overall realism of the movie.
A work of art in its own way, the only shortcoming I saw in this movie is the story itself. It started out promising enough with a decent setup, but I feel like they missed opportunities for some really scary moments. The ending was a bit rushed and the climax seemed too abrupt. I realize that the format of the film may have created some limitations in terms of storytelling and pacing, but I wish they’d found a way to build up to the final events more gradually and give them a better payoff.
It may not be for everyone. If you’re looking for a more standard Halloween/horror movie it will likely not be what you had in mind. But, with a running time of only 83 minutes, if you’re looking for an experience that’s more quirky and unique, and if you were around to experience late 1980’s television, it’s worth a watch. Likely to become a cult favorite, it’s a skillfully executed time capsule of a movie that you won’t find anywhere else. I give it three and a half psychic cats out of five.