Monday, September 9, 2013

WNUF Halloween Special (2013) dir. Chris LaMartina

Logline: Halloween, 1987: Local television station WNUF sent a field reporter and a team of experts into the abandoned Webber House, site of the horrific Spirit Board Murders several decades prior, to broadcast a live television special that would confirm or put to rest the ceaseless rumors of the house's alleged haunting. The reporter and his team were never seen again. The television special presented to you is exactly what hit the airwaves on 10/31/1987, unedited and salvaged from the recycling bin of time.

A nostalgia project with an uncommon quaintness in its approach to reconstructing wistful approximations of yesteryear, the WNUF Halloween Special is also an aesthetic artifact of a cultural practice that's been lost to lossless encodes and streaming media in the cloud: the film is (at the moment) only available as a limited edition VHS tape, scribbled on with a felt tip marker and then shoved into an unadorned sleeve, as if it had been recorded off the television screen by a fellow discerning viewer as it aired and then exchanged discretely among like-minded friends or mailed to your doorstep through the machinations of some illicit underground bootleg service. Degraded, snowed-out magnetic tape recordings of television broadcasts (be they movies, television programs, marathons, or specials) were, for those of us who were children in the years before commercial home video became an affordable obsession, the stuff we were weaned on. Perhaps the most admirable quality of Chris LaMartina's faux found footage film is its devotion to recreating that singular viewing experience, annoyances and all, down to the commercial interruptions every couple minutes, irritating station call letter jingles, and that ad for the carpet warehouse that seems to never stop running. Considering the fact that these commercials make up the bulk of the film's length, it's to the filmmakers' credit that they're never a chore to watch and that-- barring a few promos for obviously nonexistent syndicated '80s TV series-- they rarely violate the appearance of verisimilitude. (Having fed her the phony story of the special's history and left off the fact of its more recent vintage, my partner discerned that the bloody special itself was staged but failed to suspect that it wasn't a genuine article of 1980s television.) 

Necessarily, the plot of the WNUF Halloween Special is secondary to the experience itself. As the tape rolls, we're greeted at first by a pair of cloyingly bubbly news anchors in costume on that specialist of days in 1987. This insipid, charmingly hokey duo introduce a few local interest pieces with holiday twists (like that of a local dentist who's running a candy buyback program) while teasing the start of the titular WNUF Halloween Special, which will see brash reporter Frank Stewart (Paul Fahrenkopf) and a team of paranormal investigators enter an allegedly haunted house in the hope of discovering the truth about its ghostly rumors. (An inspiration for LaMartina and his collaborators may have been the excellent Morton Downey Jr.-starring episode of Tales from the Crypt, "Television Terror," which bears a remarkably similar plot and also partially employs the found footage medium to tell its tale.) WNUF doesn't work as a film, but why should it? Was your town's local holiday news special ever worthy of the multiplexes? The moments in the film that most find their mark are those in which the ornery Frank Stewart interviews the assembled costumed audience for some unintentionally awkward local flavor. It feels trite to say, but WNUF succeeds in reminding us of, if not a simpler time, a slightly more innocent time in American history, when-- as various pretend commercials remind us-- we encouraged grown men to be big buddies to small boys, the Twins Towers still stood, and the biggest evil that the religious right saw itself fit to combat was the pagan ritual of one dark night in October. It's Ghostwatch (1992) for us Yanks, but-- unlike that artfully executed primetime ruse-- it's less attempting to play a trick on us than it is reassuring us that it loves our childhood, too.


  1. In 1949, the radio show SUSPENSE aired the episode "Ghost Hunt".

    'In this story about a stunt that goes wrong, radio personality Smiley Smith and paranormal investigator, Dr. Reed tour a haunted house in Malibu, California. Their experiences are recorded for playback on Smith's show. The house, known as "The Death Trap," has a bad reputation because four of its residents have committed suicide.' (

    Sound familiar?

    It's scary as all heck and holds up well to repeated listening. I have not read the original story on which it is supposedly based, but I would consider it a possible inspiration for Antonio Margheriti's CASTLE OF BLOOD as well.

    Thanks for turning me on to the WFNU special ! I will seek it out.

    1. Oh, wow! "Ghost Hunt" sounds incredible. I'm going to pick a spooky night this October to listen to this. Thanks for the heads up!

      Also, CASTLE OF BLOOD is one of my favorites. I think an essay about it on here would be in order for sometime in the near future.

  2. A great companion listen is "House in Cypress Canyon", also from SUSPENSE. It makes my hair stand up on my neck!

    mp3s can be found on, or I'm happy to send them to you.