Wednesday, July 12, 2017


4th of July weekend was a hot 'n muggy one here in LA, and the heat didn't let up after the sun set - at least, not in our apartment. The only thing I wanted to do was lay on the couch in the dark with the fan pointed directly at me and watch horror movies. Mr. Spooky and I finally signed up for Shudder recently, so we had our work cut out for us in terms of selection. (Look, I know we all miss the horror sections of brick and mortar video stores - their charms were undeniable - but I still can't get over how FUCKING DOPE it is to have the entire horror section in my living room, ready to watch at a moment's notice.)

SIDE NOTE: I assume I'm late to the party, but just in case - you're signed up for Shudder, right? For just $5 a month (less if you pay for the entire year at once) you get access to so many cool horror movies. As far as I'm concerned, it's already paid for itself, because that weekend we discovered two new (old) favorites via what turned out to be an ideal double feature of Halloween-set retro found footage horror: WNUF Halloween Special (2013) and Ghostwatch (1992). 

WNUF Halloween Special has been on my radar for a while, and it was one of the films I was most excited to find on Shudder. The movie is a tape-recorded broadcast of a local TV station's Halloween night programming in 1987, complete with commercials. For fans of '70s, '80s and '90s nostalgia, this is exactly the kind of gem you're always hoping to unearth every time you watch an old VHS tape you found in a thriftstore (or just click on one of Dinosaur Dracula's Retro TV Commercials posts). The period setting feels so true to life and the Halloween atmosphere is so intoxicating that it starts to feel like you're in an honest-to-god timewarp.

The film begins with the evening news, complete with co-anchors in flimsy costumes awkwardly cracking cheesy jokes, introducing sensationalist segments on the dangers of trick-or-treating, and hyping the station's big Halloween special: A live on-air investigation of a neighborhood house that was the site of a grisly murder that may or may not be attributable to supernatural forces. 

Host Frank Stewart, who seems to be something of a fixture on WNUF, is clearly eye-rollingly skeptical about the location's potential as a hub of demonic activity, but he gamely interviews the crowd of costumed onlookers gathered outside before introducing his fellow investigators: A pair of paranormal experts in the vein of Ed and Lorraine Warren, their allegedly psychic cat, and a local priest who may or may not be called upon to perform an exorcism, should the need arise. Before long, truly terrifying events are taking place despite Frank's best efforts at maintaining that veneer of television normalcy.

This movie gets every detail just right, from those aforementioned glorious commercials to the grainy VHS feel to the styling and wardrobe of every character. Above all else, it's fun - and I look forward to adding this to my October horror must-watch movie list. A new Halloween favorite.

Still unable - or at least unwilling - to move off the couch and away from the fan, we queued up Ghostwatch, another movie I've been dying to check out. I knew very little about this one going in, apart from the fact that it's an early (pre-Blair Witch!) example of found footage - does it still count as "found" footage if the movie is a faux live broadcast? - it's British, and it's about a paranormal TV show a la Ghost Hunters or Most Haunted

The movie - also set on Halloween night - follows a broadcast of the titular show as investigators attempt to get to the bottom of a haunting that's been plaguing a single mom and her two daughters in their typical suburban home. Interviews with the family and creepy occurrences at the house are intercut with live commentary from the studio, where the host invites researchers to weigh in and fields calls from viewers.

Before long, genuine ghostly activity appears to be taking place, to the consternation of the hosts and crew. If you enjoyed The Conjuring movies and/or the Paranormal Activity series, you'll probably love Ghostwatch. It's creepy, understated, and practically screams October.

Given their "found footage" format and retro Halloween setting, these two movies were an incredibly complementary double feature, and a great starting point for my love affair with Shudder. If you're looking for a way to bring a little fall into your summer, this is just the ticket. Crank that A/C, turn up those fans, drop some ice cubes in that drink, and don't forget the Jiffy Pop! It might be 90 degrees outside, but autumn's starting early at your place. Enjoy!

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