In 1967, Donald Webber murdered and decapitated his parents after consulting with a spirit board, in what came to be known as The Spirit Board Murders. The house remained boarded up for two decades, until a local public access station, WNUF, ran a Halloween special like no other. Reporter Frank Stuart lead a live, televised investigation of the infamous Webber house. He brought along Louis and Claire Berger, a husband-and-wife team of paranormal investigators (with their trusty cat, Shadow), Father Joseph Matheson, a Catholic priest trained in art of exorcism, and a pair of cameramen to film the action.
Among the occurrences, the investigation featured the world’s first televised seance, potential proof of demonic entities and a shocking, graphic conclusion. Collectors have sought out the rare footage for years, but only now is it surfacing, under the apt title WNUF Halloween Special. The black market footage is in rough shape; the source material is an old, generational VHS tape recorded from TV, with commercials still intact.
As much as I’d like it to be, none of the above information is true. WNUF Halloween Special is actually a found footage movie posed as a genuine relic. It’s the latest crash course in nostalgia by indie filmmaker Chris LaMartina, who previously showed his appreciation and understanding of the ’80s with his throwback slasher President’s Day. To really sell it, the film is being released straight-to-video (yes, on VHS) via Camp Motion Pictures and Alternative Cinema.
If not for its horrific subject matter, you would never know the movie was fake when watching it. WNUF Halloween Special is a more accurate representation of an old VHS recording than anything in the V/H/S films or other such modern attempts. It appears to be straight out of ’87, with a soft-focused, full-screen, analog picture complete with ghosting, fuzz and other aged effects. The schlocky public access style is pitch perfect.
And then there are the commercials, which stunningly recreate the style of advertisements from that era, largely using stock footage. From the fonts and graphics to the voice overs and subject matter (cheesy local businesses, anti-drug ads and even a horror hotline!), watching WNUF Halloween Special is like stepping into a time machine. The most entertaining commercials are those for the network’s original TV programs, many of which I would gladly watch – if they actually existed.
The fake commercials and news stories are flawless – I cannot stress that enough – but they ultimately become frustrating. The movie begins with 20 minutes of a Halloween edition of the local news, which is highly amusing, before the titular Halloween Special begins. Then it’s another 20 minutes before the crew actually enter the house. And, throughout the entire feature, the broadcast is periodically interrupted by a commercial break. It’s genuinely impressive how many fictitious advertisements LaMartina created.
While they are a welcome addition in the first half of the movie, the commercials become unwanted interruptions once the story begins to unfold. Granted, this issue is true to actual TV specials, but in the movie they come at the expensive of pacing. Authenticity over accessibility, I suppose. Still, with a thumb on the fast forward button, one could essentially view only the Halloween Special segments in half of the film’s 83-minute runtime.
Paul Fahrenkopf stars as Frank Stuart, and he knocks it out of the park. Not only has he mastered the stereotypical reporter bravado, but Fahrenkopf also delivers some great humor. Between him and the rest of the intentionally-cheesy program, WNUF Halloween Special can be classified as a horror-comedy, despite the ominous marketing campaign. There are numerous funny moments, although the setup seems like a missed opportunity for genuine scares.
Of the many ’80s homage horror pictures we’ve seen in the last decade, WNUF Halloween Special ranks alongside The House of the Devil as one of the best recreations of the time period. Although both the retro style and found footage angles have been overdone as of the late, WNUF Halloween Special breathes new life into the tired concepts.