Our next Halloween Horrors: Years of Fears entry takes us back to the mid-1980’s for a look at a film from 2013. Yes, you read that correctly.
Long-time friend of mine, Dementia – The Conmother, returns for a 3rd year of the series. While somewhat less personal than her previous contributions on 1989’s Dance of the Damned and 2002’s May, her 2018 effort still provides an intimate glimpse of her upbringing, while still capturing a healthy dose of Halloween spirit… and perhaps a little Halloween fear.
This piece may also serve as a time capsule for some of our older readers, returning us to a time when Satan spoke to us through slabs of black vinyl and every Halloween candy was sure to be your last… or at least that’s what we were told.
UPDATE: A crowdfunding campaign was started earlier this month to help fund a sequel to the film. Backer rewards include letters from the director, DVDs, VHS copies, and more. Fund the film here: https://www.gofundme.com/wnuf-halloween-sequel
Being older than most of my peers, I openly admit that I have a bit of an overindulgent spot for the mid-80’s. I grew up in … very interesting times, and while I may not have reveled in them or even recognized them for what they were at the time, I certainly, in all my elder-wisdom, have come to appreciate the experience.
Many of my formative years were spent in a small conservative town, which most of you already know is the idyllic backdrop for countless horror films. While I’ve drifted from film to film to fit into my “Halloween tradition” queue, I do believe I’ve found a very original indie flick that I sure hope becomes a classic for its accuracy of being a near-perfect time capsule of the 1980’s during what was known as “The Satanic Panic”.
Released in 2013, this gem was only given an original run of 300 copies on VHS (later given a DVD release). The original gimmick for this technically ‘found-footage’ film (and don’t let that influence your opinion) was that copies were left around at conventions and thrift stores, under the premise that all known copies were destroyed and the event was forgotten about, until now.
It’s part black comedy, part mockumentary, and… its originality makes it a little hard to place into one sub-category. It’s a newscast done in 1987, “live”, all night during Halloween, including old school local commercials. I must say, this movie by far is the most believable ‘found footage’ movie I’ve ever seen.
Filmed much like something from a 3rd generation VHS, the newscasters of this local UHF station broadcast a “Halloween special”, which includes interviewing some local Halloweeners; spotlighting a special midnight séance and investigation into a local haunted house, even bringing in mediums to contact the spirits of those murdered there. There’s also hubbub about the instruments of “poisoning Halloween candy”, and missing pets being used for animal sacrifice are mentioned in the same context. The acting, while cheesy, is entertaining and spot-on for the time, and adds to the authentic feel of it all. It takes a comedic, then very dark turn, and that’s all I’ll say.
To be honest, this is not a movie you want to have even heard of before experiencing it, really. It’s available on VHS or DVD, but get it on VHS if you have a working VHS player, as I think getting this on DVD takes something away from the viewing. Don’t go in expecting a storyline, because there really isn’t one, not conventionally, which is part of the allure. You ARE watching a news broadcast on Halloween night in 1987. In my opinion, I can see how it maybe comes across as “cheesy” or even dull for a cliché audience, because the inanity, the mundane quality perfectly embodies how you had to be around at that time in some podunk town to understand how brilliant of a recreation this is. However, this also is a beautiful “retro” production that actually manages to keep its period immersion consistent throughout. If you ever were curious about the 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, you are sure to be captivated by this presentation.
Today, jokes abound about the era of the Satanic Panic, but I can tell you that mania was all too real. Around the mid-80’s, my adoptive mother had become born-again, and a member of a very evangelical Baptist church. Being the only daughter (with three brothers), and being of an adolescent age, naturally it was expected I would be the likely target of such perverse agendas, since the cults sought to invade and conquer secular society.. The hysteria was directed at anything not scrupulously Christian, and then-modern music was one of the first casualties. We were taught in Sunday School that Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates (the best musical duo in history, fight me) was actually a highly-appointed warlock in Hollywood.
Naturally, heavy metal was likely the most highly publicized mark, and while you may have heard the tall tales that crazed individuals believed that Satan spoke to you if you played the record backwards, I can speak from first-hand experience that these people existed, and truly believed that was the case. One of my favorite 80’s horror films is a satire that comes from that very backdrop, 1986’s Trick or Treat (not to be confused with Trick r Treat), starring Marc Price, and featuring metal icons Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne. It takes the “KISS means Knights In Satan’s Service” delirium to a ludicrous conclusion and plays out the “dead evil rock star come back to life, conjured through backwards-played hidden messages in records” scenario. You may have read all about the delirium that captured America; from the lawsuits against Judas Priest to Dee Snider speaking to Congress about the PMRC. I was one of those kids subjected to these deeply moral fearmongers. Movies like Trick or Treat or Spellbinder (1988) use this neurosis as a base to create fantastical spoof-art.
These films focus on ritual cults, on the fear that they actually exist in the most immoral form and seek to invoke mayhem in the most corrupt possible manner. One Halloween, when I was 12, my born-again fundamentalist adoptive mother refused to not only allow me to partake in Halloween, but she also decided to use it as a “teaching moment”. Back then, there was a “reformed Satanic priest” by the name of Mike Warnke, who was an author that penned all about his days as a high elder in the Satanic Church. He had recorded tapes about his experiences, and how depraved and immoral these “secret” cults had gotten. I was made to listen to one of these tapes. It was hours long, in which he described outlandish claims like how women were used as baby breeders so they could sacrifice the newborns in orgy rituals for the dark lord, *especially* on Halloween. Years later, in 1991, he was publicly exposed as a fraud, but he was one of the original names that was influential in that culture and its impact on the “Satanic Panic”. And I remember the extravagant and grotesque anecdotes he spewed while my undoubting adoptive mother “tried to save me” as you could hear the neighborhood children enjoying their trick-or-treating activities just outside. Christians just thought that was “good parenting”.
Newscasts like the one portrayed in WNUF realistically transport you to the middle of it all (Ouija boards and anything supernatural obviously being Satanic and evil) and show you, quite skillfully (without being facetious or overtly mocking) what you would have seen in the middle of all of this madness. I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say this: No matter the type of horror you enjoy, this is the perfect type of movie that you can put on while you have friends over and it makes the perfect ambiance for Halloween parties, especially for nostalgic horror fiends.
If you enjoy being a “horror historian” and enjoyed the era of late night horror TV hosts, WNUF effectively taps into the nostalgia that comes with popping in an old VHS tape filled with late night TV fare such as Tales from the Darkside (that kids like me had to sneak to get their fill of). That is exactly the target audience of this sentimentally driven ode to horror kids of (or wannabe horror kids of) the ‘80s. It’s currently on Amazon Prime and Shudder, so I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.