It’s entirely possible that the best new movie for this Halloween season is a scrappy, DIY found-footage effort from Baltimore called WNUF Halloween Special. Writer-director Chris LaMartina has been toiling in the no-budget horror trenches for awhile, but WNUF (cowritten by Jimmy George and Pat Storck) could be his hot ticket to cult success. I doubt any other movie in 2013 debuted on VHS before DVD, but that’s just one of the many things that makes WNUF Halloween Special special.
The movie is presented as a taped broadcast of a late-'80s news program where some local anchors are trying their hand at getting as sensational as the big leagues by executing a live, Halloween-night investigation into the supposedly haunted Weber House where a mass murder occurred. The backstory of the house mirrors the real-life story of Ronald DeFeo Jr., whose killings inspired The Amityville Horror, but an even bigger influence on the WNUF Halloween Special seems to be the much-hyped live opening of Al Capone’s vault by Geraldo Rivera in 1986. It’s got the same lurid live-TV feel, where the rewards to stay tuned-in are teased every seven minutes or so, then impotently brushed off to the next station break. It’s hilariously spot-on. WNUF Halloween Special might just end up in your permanent rotation of Halloween classics.
WNUF Halloween Special manages to out-VHS the film V/H/S in its authentic look and feel. There’s a very good chance that you could pass WNUF off as the real deal and fool most everyone at your Halloween party - particularly if they were alive in the '80s. The newscasters are as wooden as real broadcasters stuck in a rut in a dead-end market, and the presentation includes appropriate video degradation, graphics, music, styles and, best of all, commercials.
WNUF is loaded with commercial breaks, and they’re so pitch perfect you’ll look forward to each one. They skirt a fine line right next to parody. It’s not that they aren’t intentionally funny, but if you find yourself laughing, it’s almost always due to how they tickle your nostalgia bone. They brought me back to childhood afternoons in the summer, watching sitcom reruns on UHF stations until cartoons came on, and the feeling was so damned specific, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face while WNUF was on. Heavy metal record compilations, local carpet warehouses, 1-900 numbers -- every type of ad you remember is lovingly and painstakingly re-created here.
If there’s one actor who carries much of WNUF, it’s Paul Fahrenkopf as Frank Stewart, the tired-but-willing host of the expose on the Weber House “Spirit Board Murders.” It’s difficult to call upon actors to act like they aren’t acting, and Fahrenkopf is the film’s secret weapon. His glib, disheveled skeptic carries most of the plot of the movie, and he’s a believable, welcome presence as the wild card, tell-it-like-it-is guy from any local news crew.
Overall, the name of the game in WNUF Halloween Special is fun. Its lighter moments reach for Christopher Guest-style improv, while its horror trades more on anticipation than effects that would be beyond the scope of its budget. In short, it makes the most of what it has and does it with style to spare.
You can order WNUF Halloween Special on DVD or limited-edition VHS here.
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