It’s October 31, 1987, and WNUF reporter Frank Stewart leads a camera crew, a priest, a team of psychics, and a live television audience into the Webber House, where years before Donald Webber went on an occult driven killing spree, murdering both of his parents in a grisly fashion. Things begin innocently enough as they explore the infamous house looking for some ghostly activity, but soon this Halloween special goes from hokey fun to a living nightmare, and it’s live on the air for the world to see.
Directed by Chris LaMartina, WNUF Halloween Special is an interesting take on the found-footage genre in that it’s presented as an actual news special as it aired live on television in 1987. Complete with a live studio news broadcast featuring the day’s big news stories and retro-style commercial breaks, I’m honestly flabbergasted by just how authentic this faux-news special feels. While there is a clear tongue-in-cheek approach to the project as a whole, specifically with the hysterical commercial breaks, WNUF Halloween Special perfectly captures ‘80s local television and the VHS culture of the time.
In its 83 minute runtime, WNUF Halloween Special features retro-style commercials for orange juice, furniture stores, monster truck events, law firms, political attack ads, and so on and so forth. There are also a handful of Halloween-centric news features such as Trick or Treat safety tips and a look at a local dentist who is giving kids cash for candy to promote healthy dental care. One of my favorite stories comes from a news segment featuring a local conservative Christian group that’s protesting both Halloween and the news special for “turning our children into devil worshipers,” something that wasn’t at all uncommon in the 1980s (watch this Pagan Invasion video for further proof). These spots are as creative as they are amusing, but most importantly, they truly feel as if they leaped from the frames of a VHS tape filled with random shit recorded off TV in the ‘80s.
WNUF Halloween Special takes a good half hour to get to the actual ‘Halloween Special’, spending the first act with the aforementioned TV ads and the WNUF on set news anchors as they report the local news. When the special begins, host Frank Stewart spends some time with a live audience outside of the infamous Webber House where he talks about the history of the murders, which are also further explained in a nicely done docu-style overview of Donald Weber. After finally moving into the Webber House, Frank continues his “investigation” with the help of Father Joseph Matheson and a pair of clairvoyants named Louise and Claire Berger and their psychic cat, Shadow.
As WNUF goes back and forth between the investigative team and commercial breaks, there comes a point late in the movie where the shtick does begin to wear a tad thin. However, this is also around the point where things begin to pick up in terms of “paranormal activity,” so the lull is thankfully short lived. With that being said, while there seem to be paranormal events that occur, WNUF is not, in any way, effective as a horror film. It’s likely you will not find yourself a solid dose of white knuckled fright with this one, but in all fairness, that’s not necessarily what WNUF is trying to deliver.
The aim of WNUF Halloween Special is to capture a time period of television where Geraldo spent two hours breaking into Al Capone’s vault and George Hamilton explored Dracula’s castle live from Transylvania. In that sense, it certainly succeeds. Furthermore, WNUF effectively taps into the nostalgia that comes with popping in an old VHS tape filled with random commercials and whatever other weird shit people like me, who grew up with VCRs, would record off TV as a kid, and that is exactly the target audience of this sentimentally driven ode to horror kids of the ‘80s.