What do you think of when you think about the Halloween season? Do you have any coveted memories about dressing up as your favorite slasher villain or gluing fur to your body and becoming the Wolf Man? For me, I had a lot of fund memories about watching my favorite television program, and seeing how they would bend themselves to the will of All Hallows’ Eve. Whether it be watching an ongoing marathon of a horror series on the Sci Fi channel, or the million installments they made of that Scary Godmother series on Cartoon Network, or watching a block of sitcoms unravel ridiculous, outlandish storylines in commemoration of the season. I have a lot of nostalgic memories, not only of my own experiences, but of the season itself and the connections I make to it.
Although it may have some other representation or explanation, or cause for celebration, I choose to whittle it down to what matters most for me – a celebration of dark fiction and all things that go bump in the night. It has been tradition the last couple years to spend Halloween with a couple friends watching horror films, shooting the breeze, and catching up on old times. This year, we decided to watch a 2013 comedy horror film called WNUF Halloween Special.
If you are not familiar with the film, I would not blame you in the least. Certainly, I knew nothing about the film prior, selecting it off the Shudder streaming service on my friend’s request. Let’s say, firstly, that the WNUF Halloween Special is a very peculiar film to say the least. This is not peculiar in the same way that a normal horror film is peculiar, mind you, but both from a structural standpoint and in its intent.
The film was directed primarily by Chris LaMartina, although there is a stockpile of names who were also involved in the project. The film was shot reportedly for about $1,500, but has surprisingly released a generally warm reception from critics and moviegoers alike. Granted, I will preface early on that this is a feature that will not be for everyone and, if asked by the average person, I would not necessarily recommend it to them.
This is because WNUF Halloween Special is meant as a “parody” of an old school local news broadcast done for the holiday season. I hesitate to call it a parody of an old school local news broadcast, however, because it does not holdback in the slightest. This film went all out to try and recreate the feeling of a public television broadcast. This film has a handful of commercials and segments incorporated into it. This film has localized commercials for mattress warehouses and committees against partying teenagers, and a lot of other things, and although there is humor in them, they feel like actual commercials made by a mattress warehouse and committees against partying.
In that respect, WNUF Halloween Special is fantastically made, in terms of its realistic depiction of the source inspiration. However, in that same breath, by doing so well at capturing that, it highlights and celebrates the badness of the entertainment medium as well.
In WNUF Halloween Special, the major storyline is muffled under a lot of other content, but, is basically this – a television reporter named Frank Stewart has decided to investigate the Webber House, the site of a brutal murder that took place years ago. The house has since carried this mystique around it, with some even claiming it is haunted by evil spirits. Frank brings with him, a man named Father Joseph Matheson, who Frank claims is versed in Catholic exorcism rites, and a couple named Louis and Claire Berger, two paranormal investigators who are meant to help wade away the evil spirits.
As you might have already assumed, Louis and Claire Berger do appear to be, at least, inspired by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.
Something I love about the WNUF Halloween Special is that it mostly plays it straight and does not appear to be laughing with you at the joke. This is obviously a parody by definition, but it does not hammer in every joke or every absurdity, allowing you to make the observation yourself and put it in context with what you’ve actually seen in real life. For instance, I know we have all seen the preachy commercials about Halloween being Satanic and all the other religiouss fanatic mumbo jumbo that happens you allow whackos a way to broadcast themselves. I also know that every time I watch a paranormal investigator on television explain themselves, I snicker at their apparent lack of self-awareness. Like those guys who would say you could hear the Devil speaking if you played a Beatles album in reverse.
The film is clearly drawing attention to those particular aspects about public television broadcasts, but it does not feel like an actual parody, more like a long-lost videotape from an actual broadcast. In general, that in itself and how they are able to do it so well is so cool. And the commercials offer the same cringeworthy realness of a local broadcast advertisement. Every time the narrator welcomes us to the “WNUF Halloween Special” after commercials, met with the same cheap blood pouring special effect, it feels thematic and genuine.
Actor Paul Fahrenkopf does well in his role, embodying a public broadcast newsperson in a very believable fashion, and in fact, most everyone involved feels believable in their portrayal. Something that benefits them is the fact that, because of the concept’s format, their imperfections or the instances when it feels like they are acting or performing, only helps the immersion into the idea. For the most part, everything’s played straight and serious, with the humor arising because how familiar and yet stupid it is, but I will be honest – there is a scene when the newsman is trying to convince the Priest to perform an exorcism, which the Priest declines, saying they would be better off calling the cops. The newsman looks him dead in the eye and says, “You can’t put handcuffs on a ghost!” and I, … just, … muah.
I will admit, early on, I did not like this film. Once the initial novelty wares thin, you are not left with a lot else? The film martyrs itself, in that respect, willing to take a hit for the benefit of its premise. I work the night shift, and, during it, I find myself occasionally in the break room. There is a large flat screen television that no one uses, right? Normally, it is always on Comedy Central, because that’s South Park, and I mean, South Park, right? Well, on occasion, someone flips the channel and no one cares to change it back. That’s when the infomercials play – and, I will be honest, I have watched a man sell his quarter collection more often than I care to admit. That’s about what the first half hour of this eighty-three minute film feels like.
However, as the main storyline is allowed to unpack itself, the novelty returns, oozing with charm, and it carries you to a payoff that is both impactful and memorable. I liked the WNUF Halloween Special film a lot, but I had to adjust my expectation inline with their intent. As a film, you have to accept that half of it, while charming, is deliberately dull as old dishwater, but I did start to warm up to it and become genuinely entertained by it beyond the simple novelty of its concept. This is a film I feel you could have playing in the background of a party, and it would fill that Halloween vibe into the room. I would recommend it in that respect, with the right frame of mind.