I recently saw a movie on Shudder that I’d like to talk about. We usually don’t use this space for individual reviews, but this was so unique, and so bothersome for me, that I thought I’d change up the formula.
If you don’t have Shudder, it’s the Netflix for horror films. From classics to a lot of new, to some original.. it really is a great mix of the genre. That said, horror is one of the easiest genres to do poorly, so there is quite a bit of bad amongst the brilliant.
Amongst them was a movie called ‘WNUF Halloween Special’ that came out in 2013. The reason that it is notable is that it is framed like a syndicated news report. I’m sure if you live near a larger city, you have your ‘WNYC NEW YORK’ affiliate with its ‘GOOD MORNING, DAYTON’ morning show and its weekend ‘PORTLAND LIFE WITH CHIP MOCKLY’ or whatever. They talked about the big stories, too, but they always felt a little more personal and it wasn’t unheard of to even know or run into the anchors.
Well, WNUF frames their handcam-horror show based on a report that came out in the late 80s, early 90s as a reporter and camera person go into a supposedly haunted house to perform a seance on Halloween. The anchors are smarmy, the host is a jaded old news rat, the locals that have gathered are awkward and have no idea how to talk into a mic. It feels as real as it possibly could. The first five minutes, I was floored that this concept had never been concieved of doing before.
Then the commercials. If the news spots were good, the commercials are amazing. Each one handcrafted to taste like some local business. State fairs, late movie creature features, car salesman in stupid outfits.. its all there with this grainyness and audio tinnyness that feels like it comes straight from its era and was ripped off VHS. Again – if you have nostalgia for this period of time – you will be blown away how hard it hits the nail on the head.
So we should watch it, you ask…
No – no you shouldn’t. Because what it succeeds in framing and graphical expertise in making everything feel and sound beautifully period, it fails in a story. It goes to commercials all too often, which is period accurate, but narratively frustrating as hell. In the same ways I was astounded that they made me feel like I was watching WPIX NY, I got angrier and angrier as a steady dose of nothing continued to happen.
I watch a lot of bad cinema, and I walk away going ‘well, they did what they set out to do’, but rarely does a piece of work make me feel anger at how much potential it gave up. If this is what my parents meant when they said ‘I’m not mad, just disappointed’ – then I finally get it.
If you have Shudder, do yourself a favor and watch the first 15 minutes of this… then turn it off, and imagine a really great movie they could have made. It will be better than the one you skipped.
You can find more reviews like this, over at my LETTERBOXD account where I catalog everything I watch when I remember to.