Familiarity and Nostalgia: The Perfect Time Machine in the Form of ‘WNUF Halloween Special’
By Jerry Smith
The smell of cardboard boxes and housing plastic costumes; the scent of pumpkins and the Autumn air blowing through your hair; the spooky atmosphere filling the nighttime surroundings. My childhood, like many others, was filled with these things growing up in the 1980s. Our Halloween festivities felt akin to being alive and full of youth. There was something special about that time, the same something that was lost as the years went by — the candy cigarettes and razor-blade myths long gone by the time the 1990s arrived.
Revisiting Chris LaMartina’s WNUF Halloween Special (2013) recently, thanks to the excellent Blu-ray release from film boutique imprint Terror Vision, I found myself transported back to a time that I, to this day, still hold so very close to my monster kid heart. A film so deeply has its finger on what made growing up in the 1980s so wonderful yet equally scary, and it does it with reverence more than any other film, asking its viewer to believe that they’re right back there.
Right from the first frame, WNUF Halloween Special allows its viewer to step back into a time machine and does it in a way that never feels like it’s just a Stranger Things-like homage to that decade. With this film, you’re immediately taken back into that time. In addition to the authentic costumes in the film, the quality of the video itself is so far into the VHS-tape-twice-dubbed-over area that you could swear you’re watching a TV station’s new Halloween special gone terribly wrong and dangerously real. The authenticity that LaMartina cooked up with co-writers Jimmy George, Jamie Nash and a handful of others (the way the film is presented requires multiple writers and directors — more on than in a bit) feels so eerily accurate, the legend that seems to surround the film grew through word of mouth for years.
Following a recorded special in which newscaster Frank Stewart (Paul Fahrenkopf) is set to enter an abandoned and supposedly haunted house live and on the air, the film shows the special as if you are watching somebody’s taped copy of the program, including commercials for everything from dentists offering money for candy, carpet store commercials, and a group of religious people knee-deep in the Satanic Panic so many of us had to endure during that time telling us that Halloween is of the devil. The commercials act as buffers from newscasts and stretch the program’s time before the actual live and on-the-air entering of the house; it feels slow and dull as it should. It immediately reminded me of having to fast forward through commercials when watching Halloween II (1981) on TV as a kid.
There’s an excitement and anxious energy that you get as a viewer while waiting — and waiting — for Stewart to finally bring us into the house so we can see if it is indeed haunted or if it’s just a setup, like the famous (or better yet, infamous) Geraldo Rivera special so many of us watched with tension when it originally aired. We’re asked to take the ride with the special. What the film is and isn’t changes as it goes on, giving its viewer such an entertaining time.
Showing the film to my children, their mouths were agape the moment it ended. I was tempted to play along and allow them to believe that they had just seen a real taped TV special gone horribly wrong. That temptation transported me back to my own father telling me that Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) was indeed real and that Leatherface was just a town over.
The fear, the Satanic Panic era of shock, the era of VCRs and arcades and Pizza Hut “Book It” promotions, the live and on-the-air presentations with awkward pauses, the uncomfortable long commercial breaks…there’s something so wonderful and telling about the care that goes into bringing WNUF Halloween Special’s audience truly into these special moments so brilliantly held in time. I can’t help but feel emotional every time I revisit the film — it really feels like I’m reliving a time that kept me sane as a kid, a time that acted as a sanctuary.
Films like WNUF Halloween Special are able to recapture life’s time capsules in a way that so many other films and shows attempt to achieve but ultimately fail to do so. There’s a reverence, love, and joy that speaks volumes when you watch the film, and I am so grateful that this one exists. It’s a true testament to what outside-the-box horror can be. A cross between Ghostwatch (1992) and The Blair Witch Project (1999), WNUF Halloween Special is something so close to 1980s bliss that it’s hard not to be swept up by this gem. 🩸
Jerry Smith is a film journalist and composer, hailing from the Central Valley of California. For over a decade now, they have annoyed readers of many sites and magazines with an overabundance of Halloween 4 love and personal essays. Follow them on Twitter @JerryisjustOK and visit their website Rainydaysforghosts.bandcamp.com.
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