WNUF Halloween Special (Chris LaMartina et al., 2013)
I watched a lot of movies this weekend—eight features so far and a whole lot of shorts. If you count each short as a separate movie, I’m over fifty so far and Sunday’s not over. (Hey, when the family’s away, most people get drunk and party down. I binge on shorts from Unseen Cinema and Lovecraft Film Festival and no-budget zombie movie compilation DVDs.) There’s been a good deal of crap, some mediocre stuff, and a few real gems. I still have a few hours to go and a bunch more stuff mapped out, including some things I’ve been dying to get to for quite a while…and I am still supremely confident in saying that WNUF Halloween Special is the weekend’s runaway winner. As a horror film, it’s okay at best. As a cultural artifact, a document of a specific time in history, I’m not sure I have ever seen a movie that is such a loving, and perfect, re-creation. The downside is that this movie is most likely only going to appeal to those who were there. On the other hand, if you were there, I can pretty much guarantee you are going to love this movie up, down, and sideways.
We begin with a newscast that sets the tone—it is Halloween 1987 and, they tell us, following the news, investigative reporter Frank Stevens (Excision‘s Paul Fahrenkopf) will be the first person to set foot in the local haunted house, which has lain vacant for twenty years. Along with his cameraman, he will be accompanied by a husband-and-wife investigative team, Louis and Claire Berger (Reunion‘s Brian St. August and 7th Day‘s Helenmary Ball respectively), and a local priest, Father Matheson (Her Morbid Desires‘ Robert Long II). They’ll be connected to the outside world via a van parked outside and manned by WNUF producer Veronica Stanze (President’s Day‘s Nicolette le Faye). Their goal: to determine if the house, the site of a number of murders, is as haunted as the local legends would have people believe.
The plot, and the way the plot pans out, are pretty predictable, though LaMartina (Dead Teenagers) throws a curve ball or two that keeps things amusing, and the Big Reveal(TM) is bound to stir up some controversy. But you’re not here for the plot. TV was a different beast in 1987, and it’s obvioius that everyone involved with this production watched a helluva lot of it. The commercials, the PSAs, the promos for other shows, are all spot-on. This is exactly what an indie UHF station felt like in 1987. (Back in 1987, for those of you who might be too young to remember, all major networks—and we only had three of them, as Fox would not debut as a major nationwide network until 1989—were VHF, and independent stations were almost always UHF. The only network that crossed the lines with impunity was PBS.) When they crossed into safe haven and the first commercial for a 1-900 number came on, I literally laughed out loud.
But it’s not just the trappings of the surroundings that do it. The newscasters, Gavin Gordon (National Treasure: Book of Secrets‘ Richard Cutting) and Deborah Merritt (Harvesters‘ Leanna Chamish), are dead on, while Fahrenkopf’s world-weariness and increasing impatience with everyone around him is believable enough that I actually wondered if his character was based on a couple of specific investigative reporters I’ve seen over the years in the American midwest. (The location of WNUF is never disclosed. All of the markers you would use to pick up on such things are consciously generic save two, one of which implies the station is somewhere in Florida, the other of which implies it’s somewhere in New England. I suspect that was deliberate, rather than a case of an overlooked detail, in order to make the film a more universal experience.)
WNUF Halloween Special is not a perfect film—though if as much care had been put into the plot in the final fifteen minutes of the film as was put into the recreation of 1987 American television culture, it would be—but I am still going to tell you that if you were alive, American, and aware enough to be watching TV in 1987, and understand how much things have changed in the past twenty-five years, then run, do not walk, to rent a copy of this right now. Easily, as of this writing, one of the ten best movies I have seen so far in 2014. ****