Sunday, July 10, 2016

Review: Winners Tape All: The Henderson Brothers Story

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Winners Tape All: The Henderson Brothers Story
Directed and edited by Justin Channell
IWC Films / Brainwrap Media
67 minutes, 2016

The timing of this film is very – er – timely. What I mean by that is there is a wave of nostalgia in the genre market for the quickie and cheap films that arose during the 1980s, flooding the hungry retail market for horror films and giving birth to the B-level slashers. Okay, sometimes C- or D-level. Yet, were these films actually any good?

Don’t get me wrong, I was one of those renting and watching as many as my time and money (and occasional schoolwork) would allow. Even then, as now, I preferred the indie, micro-budget films like The Orbitrons (1990), as I do now, and I wallowed in the Foreign releases that glorified (and rightfully so) the likes of Fulci and Argento, but also (and perhaps not as rightfully so) Paul Naschy. It also gave prominence those such as Fred Olen Ray and Jesse Franco. Thankfully it also began the careers of the Scream Queen royalty, such as Brinke, Linnea and (my then-personal fave) Michelle Bauer.

If one were to look back at some of these releases that we enjoyed so much, if we haven’t kept watching them over and over, would we still find them so fascinating? Would The Boogey Man (1980), Creepozoids (1987) and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988) still retain their charms? That is the premise of this mockumentary.

During the late ‘80s, the fictional West Virginia-based Henderson Brothers, Michael (Zane Crosby) and Richard (Josh Lively), made two straight-to-video films, The Curse of Stabberman and Cannibal Swim Club. And much like Nicholas Garreau did in real life as an obsessed fan of George Romero in Fan of the Dead (2007), the Hendersons also have their own both charming and creepy uber cheerleader in Henry Jacoby (Chris LaMartina).

Richard (Josh Lively) and Michael (Zane Crosby)
Bonded together by their love of horror films at the age of 10 when their parents re-married, the step-brothers took advantage of both the outlet for indie VHS and their lives basically being in the crapper (e.g., dropping out of college), to live their dream.

Mixed in with the talking-head interviews with the brothers (and Henry, of course doing solo “analysis” of their releases), sometimes together and sometimes by themselves, is scenes from the two films, …Stabberman and Cannibal…, with Michael and Richard giving play-by-plays that essentially are like commentary tracks. Of the two, the latter is the more wacky one, and thereby all the more fun. Many of the scenes are joyfully stolen by the horrendous acting of the “swim club owner,” Jerry McElroy. His cackling and on-screen script reading (like Brando in the “Gatfather” [sic] says Michael), kept me more than amused, as well as his tendency to Jay Leno a pun by explaining it, such as, “I don’t see this new job panning out for you. ‘Cause it’s a pan!”

Not only financial constraints darken the Bros filmmaking, but so do the occasional rise of sibling rivalry, or weird choices, such as Richard’s tendency to put on a Quint/Robert Shaw type gruff New England accent when one is not called for the story.

Henry (Chris LaMartina)
A reality of this piece is how one of the main props (a hand) is used in both films. If you tend to listen to as many commentaries as I do, you often hear the directors or SFX people talking about the appropriation of sets, people and paraphernalia in future endeavours. It was a wise choice to do this here, in a bit of a subtle way as they don’t discuss it, though it is prominently placed.

Starting especially in the ‘80s was the use of “themes” (as Michael Henderson might say), which would become tropes used even to this day. There are a bunch of them that are touched on here, such as one camper giving the history of the villain (i.e., Stabberman, whose real name made me laugh hard enough to pause the film) to the others (and us viewers) around a campfire. But there is also taking advantage of the moment scenes that are used (e.g., rain), which often happens in fly-by-seat-of-pants productions.

There is also a bit of reality in this story as well, being this is sort of how Hershell Gordon Lewis became an icon after a series of fun and badly shot films reached a fan, Jim Vraney (d. 2014) who promoted him (and others) via a VHS distribution company called Something Weird Video (I own a number of SWV films; yes, on VHS). Lewis was a direct marketing guru at the time of his re-emergence (and still is), and now his films from the early 1960s and ‘70s are considered horror classics – and rightfully so – even though they are not exactly strong in the writing or acting.

Even now, thanks to digital technology, people are shooting their own films and then editing it on computers, such as then 15-year-old Johnny Dickie’s Slaughter Tales (2013; reviewed HERE).Will Dickie be a future Lewis or Henderson Brothers? Time will tell, but I bet there will be “Henry Jacoby”-type fans to support him and others like him.

So this particular film also looks like it was made on a dime (and the use of a 110 camera, apparently!), but to the better of the result than the hindrance, since that is the look it was going for, in the long run.

Any fan of micro-budget films, be it from the 1980s VHS boom to digi productions now, is going to get the elbow in the ribs humor that runs from beginning to end. If you’re more used to the bigger budget Sinister or Insidious kinds of films, it may be a bit over your head (or under it), but I know I was smirking at the least and laughing at the high-jinx of these three guys (including Henry). The outtakes near the end with Michael and his whistle are particularly enjoyable.

Be sure to stick around and read the credits, as there are little “Easter Eggs” of humor throughout the text and visuals.

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