Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: The WNUF Halloween Special

I've mentioned before how Halloween, more than any other major holiday (JUST beating out Christmas), seems to practically run on nostalgia. So much of what we love about October 31st is wrapped up in the experiences we've already had, the candy we received last year or the haunted house we walked through a decade ago. And of course, the cheesy TV specials that have became a ritual of required viewing every season, cartoons and grisly horror and quaint old commercials for shampoo and fast food and department stores that no longer exist. Turns out, the people behind tonight's movie also recognize the power of memories. Let's dive into the WNUF Halloween Special.

Considered lost since its one and only airing back on Halloween night 1987, we can finally view this infamous broadcast for ourselves. Things kick off with the local TV28 news, the anchors all gussied up for Halloween. After features regarding safety tips for kids, a fundamentalist group protesting the celebrations, and local weather, the next program is investigative journalist Frank Stewart hosting the WNUF Halloween special, a live exploration of the Webber house, where a young man famously axed his parents decades ago. Frank's brought a priest and the world-famous spiritualists the Bergers with him, to determine if all the hauntings are rumors and hoaxes or if the old house really does harbor malevolent spirits. There are of course several commercial breaks to get through, being such an old tape, but you can always fast forward. Things are kinda boring until the Bergers start using their audio equipment, at which point it becomes clear that something is not right. And once Frank and co. find out the truth, it's anyone's guess how this live special will end.

I'm not going to be coy about it: this is my new favorite film and has automatically been added to my Halloween playlist from this year on. The look, the audio, the jokes, the small-town TV vibe is all perfect. I have stacks of VHS tapes I pull out to watch every October, and WNUF is JUST like them. Everything from the endless VCR tracking lines to the ads for pumpkin patches and low-budget kids' sci-fi shows would not be at all out of place, and if not for the main attraction, I could believe that this tape was really from the late 80s. Completed in 2013 and recently added to streaming service Shudder, the filmmakers went the extra mile not just recording on vintage film stock, but running the footage through several VCRS until the quality had degraded enough to fit the look they needed. 300 VHS copies were even given away at cons or thrown out of cars at people to build word-of-mouth. What fun. I won't go into too much detail about what you'll see, but if you were born before, say, 1992, you'll get a big kick out of this.

The special itself is basically a found-footage parody, with a lot of intentionally awkward jokes and bad camerawork. But again, it's supposed to be a local news crew live on location, so the bad camerawork fits. The actor portraying Frank is a great talent, he reminded me quite a bit of J.K. Simmons. Everyone else is fine, but it's literally and figuratively Frank's show.

There are some flaws. The seance scene drags a bit, the story doesn't really start until about 35 minutes in (not a problem if you view it as the "old news and broadcast special" it's pretending to be), and the ending is underwhelming. No spoilers, but I wish they'd gone bigger with it. It was likely a budget thing. Besides, going bigger may have hurt the aesthetic anyway. This is is local access, Up All Night, retro Halloween horror, and it's a friggin' blast. Put on your PJs, turn out the lights, and grab some popcorn, because you're in for a scary good time. I love the 80s.


  1. I have heard about this before but never went out and watched it. Added this to my watchlist thanks to you. :)

    1. So glad to hear it Joe! Thanks for commenting, it feels good to be back at the Drive-in! >:0)