Chris LaMartina is an awesome filmmaker and a really fun person to talk to. He is currently raising money to make the sequel to The WNUF Halloween Special, a fantastic, low-budget throwback that’s hard not to enjoy. We had the chance to catch up with him about the new film, his previous work, and more. Check it out below and make sure you consider giving to the new project, it’s sure to be a blast!
So, Chris, you’re the guy behind the WNUF Halloween Special, eh? Before we dig into that baby, let’s start with you and who exactly you are.
Since 2006, I’ve been writing, directing, and producing scrappy little DIY horror movies,including the slasher satire President’s Day (2010) and the Lovecraft love letter/horror comedy Call Girl of Cthulhu (2014). Outside of directing horror movies, I’ve worked in marketing and advertising as a Creative Director or Director of Storytelling for several mid-Atlantic-based agencies. Besides, I run an oddities museum, Dr. Gloom’s Crypt of Curiosities located here in Baltimore, Maryland. I’m available for parties.
When did the horror bug first bite you?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to the strange and spooky. As a little kid, episodes of The Real Ghostbusters led me to dictate “scary stories” to my godmother. She’d sit down at the typewriter and knock out these goofy little tales of cliched non-sequiturs. She was (and still is) a very superstitious Italian Catholic and she’d tell me these insane stories about the saints when we’d go visit our relatives in the cemetery every Friday. I was learning about stigmata when other kids were watching Sesame Street.
As I got older, I stumbled upon the family camcorder and started producing my own horror stories every day after school. At the same time, I’d discovered punk rock and the idea of doing it yourself paired with horror movies just made sense. Over time, I’d seen so many terrible DIY horror flicks that I thought, “Y’know, I could probably make something just as terrible!”
The WNUF Halloween Special has gotten a great reaction, and rightfully so. How did that project come about for you guys and what was it like getting it “out there” once it was ready?
The origin of WNUF is really twofold. It had been a year since Jimmy George (my frequent co-writer/co-producer) and I had made a feature and I was getting itchy to direct again. We knew we didn’t have the time or budget to make a full-blown feature and my movie, Witch’s Brew (a dark comedy about cursed beer), had left us pretty drained. It seemed like a found footage movie would be the only way we could do something new because it wouldn’t be as much of a commitment. The problem was that we (mostly) hated found footage movies. So, I sat down and rifled on everything I despised about the subgenre. Through this process, I came up with unique solutions on how to combat my issues with common mistakes in other movies we would be compared to. Quickly described, here’s those challenges and our solutions:
CHALLENGE: Why do folks keep filming after insane things happen to them?
SOLUTION: Maybe they have to film. Maybe they’re being paid to film and if they stop filming, there goes their livelihood.
CHALLENGE: Found footage movies are so monotonous. One location. Minimal characters.
SOLUTION: We needed to break it up and that’s when the idea of actual commercial breaks hit me.
CHALLENGE: The conceit of found footage dies when a film is released with a UPC code. No way it’s real, right?
SOLUTION: For the first months of release, you could only get WNUF on VHS tapes with a white spine label and handwritten title, and for the very first few months, we attempted a whisper campaign by driving around and leaving VHS tapes at thrift stores and horror conventions.
The whisper campaign worked very well. New York Times ended-up covering it as well as NPR, Vice, and MTV. It was pretty incredible and honestly, I didn’t expect it at all.
Now that it’s out there streaming on Amazon Prime, it seems like it’s becoming a go-to recommendation for the Halloween season. What about the crowd reaction most excites you?
WNUF has been this beautiful gift that re-blooms every October. I’ve just started to realize how unique of an experience it really is. Traveling the country for screenings or stumbling across folks sharing their love for it on social media, it’s an honor. My favorite part of it is how people get excited or laugh at different moments or characters. The movie is really a potpourri of seasonal kitsch and it’s rad to watch an audience find what works for them specifically. Additionally, I love when fans make their own art for characters in the movie. I’ve seen Frank Stewart action figures, Frank Stewart “video games” and a ton of artist renditions. It’s very special!
You’ve launched a fundraiser to help get the sequel off the ground, can you tell us a bit about the fundraiser, the plans for the sequel, and some of the perks folks get for donating?
Right after WNUF was finished editing, I was a bit melancholy because I knew those characters and that universe weren’t over for me. Even back then, I had ideas for a sequel and over the past two years, I’d started to research and pull resources for the “next chapter.” I didn’t want to repeat the same story, but rather, explore how media changed going into the 1990s. I’ve been a bit tight-lipped about what the sequel’s story is about because I want it to be a true surprise. Bottom line: it’s not a reboot or remake. It will take place in the 1990s, but there will be returning characters and not just who you’d expect.
We’re doing a crowdsource because I wanted to have full creative control over the story. Sure, that means a lower budget, but the fact is, this isn’t about money for me. It’s about making something special and appropriate for the world we created in the original. If you dig the first film, I can guarantee you’ll enjoy this follow-up.
For modest prices, you can get DVDs and special thanks in the liner notes. For higher backers, we’re offering your photo or voice in the film, bit roles, and even associate producer credits. Some folks have asked, “Why GoFundMe?” Simply put, that platform takes the lowest percentage and I want every little bit [on it].
While we’ve got you here, what are some of your favorite movies to watch during the Halloween season? Are there ones you watch every October?
My go-to must-watch October titles (in no particular order) are The Devonsville Terror, Subspecies, Fright Night, The Barn (which has a sequel raising money right now, too), Mad Monster Party, and The Midnight Hour. Right after Halloween, I transition to November with Lady in White!
That felt like a very appropriate question, because for the last couple of years, your film has become one of my “every single October” selections. I really do love it. I was turned on to it by Doug Tilley and his podcast No Budget Nightmares. Do you have a specific affinity for microbudget and no budget fare? Are there some films in this realm that you haven’t mentioned thus far that you consider inspirations?
I grew up watching monster movies, but the moment when I realized I wanted to make them was at age 9 or 10 when I saw my first low budget horror flick. It was exciting, because it broke down the mystic of “making movies.” It’s like when someone hears the Ramones for the first time and you go, “oh shit, I can learn three chords and start a band.” The SOV titles of the ’90s made me grow as a filmmaker more than any Spielberg movie did. Perhaps that sounds insane, but J.R. Bookwalter, Eric Stanze….those were my cinematic heroes and they inspired me to do whatever it took to make my first few flicks. To this day, I try hard to stay up to date on the latest no budget gems. It’s getting harder and hard because the algorithms bury anything without financial backing, but it’s important and you have to make the effort to hear new voices.
This site, Cinepunx, was founded by Liam and Josh as a way to marry their love of underground music and film. Are you a big music guy? Who are some of your favorite artists?
In high school, I started playing in punk bands and that transformed a lot surrounding how I make art. Around 2008, I started scoring my own films (including President’s Day, Witch’s Brew, and Call Girl of Cthulhu) and frankly, I’m a huge soundtrack nerd. In 2014, I started producing all of the social media videos for Terror Vision Records after they released the WNUF spoken word vinyl. Additionally, my wife Melissa and I have a folk band called the Vanishing Hitchhikers that performs songs specifically about urban legends. That project is on Bandcamp.
Personal taste wise, my favorite artists fluctuate, but the staples are Dead Kennedys, Roky Erickson, Violent Femmes, Harvey Danger, Streetlight Manifesto, Cat Stevens, Les Baxter, and Dead Milkmen.
Thanks again for taking the time to chat. Before we wrap, can you tell folks the best ways they can support your work and remind us where to find the fundraiser?
I’m an approachable guy and I love interacting with other creators on social media. My handles are below. The best way to get involved with the sequel is to back the GoFundMe first (even the smallest bit helps!) and then hit me up on Facebook. Thank you guys so much for covering the campaign and the film. It means a lot and I sincerely appreciate it. Happy Halloween!