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With game actors, spot-on authenticity, plenty of wit and humor, and some satisfying scares, “Haunted Ulster Live” is an absolute joy.

Haunted Ulster Live

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In the tradition of films like Rec, Ghostwatch, the excellent WNUF Halloween Special, and Orson Welles’ fabled 1938 mock-news presentation of War of the Worlds, Haunted Ulster Live presents itself as an authentic live Halloween broadcast that descends into supernatural and multi-dimensional chaos.

Irish co-hosts Gerry Burns (Mark Claney) and Michelle Kelly (Aimee Richardson; Game of Thrones), reporters for TVNI, bring us into the Belfast home of the McKillen family for their Haunted Halloween Spooktacular special event. In addition to the hosts, fan-favorite DJ Declan spins tunes and eats sandwiches in the haunted attic as the show simulcasts on IceFM radio.

The show is set up similarly to something like Ghost Adventures, except it gives off a much creepier vibe of authenticity since it is a local broadcast.

In fact, one of the shining (pun intended) lights of this delightful found footage gem is its authenticity.

It begins with an opening show sequence that looks like it was made in a high school AV room. It features a pentagram displayed in a much more appropriate way for a horror movie (a complaint I often have about other horrors), sprawling maps of leylines, famous ghost photos, and the word “supernatural” changing into the word “rational” like a strobe light.

In between live segments, we get hilarious BTS footage, minor tech issues, and somewhat awkward interviews you’d expect from an independent local broadcast. The actors are exceptional, feeling very much like real people while still being perfectly entertaining and nailing the comedic timing.

The McKillen family, at the center of the special, claims to be haunted by an enraged poltergeist who initially identifies himself as John Newell but later reveals that he is actually the local legend, an ageless and evil presence known as Blackfoot Jack.

To confront John/Jack, a campy medium named Sinead Love (the excellent Antoinette Morelli) and a leyline researcher, Robert, are brought in to intervene and save the family. Sinead (“My name is Sinead Love, and I talk to ghosts.”) is convinced the haunting is malevolent, sensing the ghost of an angry man. The kooky Robert lends credibility to her psychic impressions by sharing some creepy research he uncovered about the house.

Meanwhile, Michelle interviews some neighbors and over-enthusiastic fans gathered outside the house, which is one of the funniest parts of the film.

This is when things begin to go entertainingly wrong, and all the while, the hosts attempt to maintain professional on-air decorum.

Attempt to.

Exceptionally powerful, supernatural leylines that cause beings to slip in and out of our plane of existence are used to explain the ghost, and an unexpected time-travel sequence throws a third-act curveball.

Written and directed by Dominic O’Neill, who also did the film’s music, the story of Haunted Ulster Live is fascinating, and the writing is simple but effective. With its brief runtime (one hour and seventeen minutes), pitch-perfect performances, and great visuals — including killer interstitials, segment titles, and low-tech reenactments — it’s an easy movie to sink into.

I’ll offer a word of caution (or encouragement) that there are some very effective jump-scares. Combined with the fact that there is no direct violence, this makes an ideal gateway sleepover horror movie for tweens. However, even seasoned horror fans should appreciate this delightfully nostalgic sendup of ghost-hunting shows and charmingly low-budget Halloween specials.

With a spastic and topspinning mind-hump of an ending, Haunted Ulster Live is an above-average entry in the found-footage stakes.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3.5
Haunted Ulster Live made its US Premiere at the 2024 Unnamed Footage Festival (UFF), where it was screened for this review. The film will next screen virtually on April 7th at Panic Fest. So, if you missed it at UFF, you still have a chance to catch this gem. 

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