Winners Tape All: The Henderson Brothers Story
The ‘80s really want to live on in the indie horror mockumentary Winners Tape All: The Henderson Brothers Story. Sadly, all the film will do is make you long for the more personal and laughable moments from your own (possible) filmmaking attempts as a kid — the trials, the tribulations and some of the utter crap you may have created.
As a film that’s meant to entertain, however – it’s best you record over this one with something that may actually accomplish both – entertain and allow you to take a trip down memory lane.
The story is a “documentary” retrospective of two local West Virginia filmmakers – stepbrothers Michael and Richard Henderson (co-writers Zane Crosby and Josh Lively; respectively) – taking a look back on their personal movie history – via the only two films they completed, The Curse of Stabberman and Cannibal Swim Club. There’s background on how they became stepbrothers, discovered their mutual love of horror (told with footage of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead) and then – with old school video stores as a backdrop and an inspiration – decided to make their own perceived mark on the horror genre. There are also interviews with one of their longtime fans and eventual producers, Henry Jacoby (played by Chris LaMartina) and plenty of footage of their terrible film creations. It’s all done in fun, but…
The film’s jokes very rarely hit their mark. And so we’re left with a drawn-out short or feature length film (depending on which agency’s standards you follow – the film is only a sparse 67 minutes) which was ultimately a fun and potentially funny idea, but which falls flat 95% of the time. It didn’t work, folks.
Where the film almost succeeds, is the “footage” of the brothers’ two film efforts. They’re impossibly (and hysterically) terrible – in their production aspects, their dialogue and in the performances of their “actors”. But, far too many times, it became difficult for me to look past the bad “bad” acting.
Let me explain: As the actors portrayed their characters as “acting”, it became irritating when they seemed to try too hard to be “bad actors” in their films. Does this make sense? It didn’t ring true.
For example, as Michael played Matthew Rowe – one of the lifeguards in their film Cannibal Swim Club – what was supposed to be bad acting, as “Michael” is a bad actor, was actually bad, ‘cause Zane Crosby was trying too hard to be bad. If this is confusing, I apologize.
Here’s an example to assist in my explanation: If you’ll recall, Cameron Diaz as “Kimmy” did a terrible job of singing karaoke in My Best Friend’s Wedding (we’re horror film fans, you’re saying – what do I care about a Julia Roberts’ rom-com? – hear me out), but because Diaz can actually sing, she can properly portray bad singing. In the case of Winners Tape All, something similar applies. I don’t think the actors are that good to begin with, thus their attempts at “bad” acting simply don’t work. And a lot of the film relies on the success of this.
That was exhausting. But I hope my point was made.
The film did manage to evoke my own personal nostalgia (and I’m sure it will do the same for many of you), taking me back to my own early attempts at horror filmmaking – in my case, my high school best friend and I tried to complete several zombie films with one of those nightmarishly large VHS camcorders (rented from Sears) and did actually succeed in completing an intentionally cheesy (and full of planned continuity errors) short slasher film. So on that token of fond remembrances, Winners Tape All is a winner.
As far as the ‘80s picture quality, the “films” being examined really capture the feel of that grainy, shaky home-video of this era. Everything’s poorly edited and shot on the fly and this is one of the only places where the film actually works.
The gore effects (obviously in the two “films” being remembered) evoke some genuine laughter. Predictably, these bloody moments are terribly executed – my favorites being the close-ups of the flat-ended knife slipping out of place, where it should be penetrating the victim’s skin and the rubbery severed hand which appears in both “films”.
The film is a display of local yokels believing they’ve changed the world with their art – reminiscent of Christopher Guest’s community theatre mockumentary Waiting for Guffman or the believe-it-or-not actual documentary American Movie – following Wisconsin filmmaker Mark Borchardt and his buddy Mike Schank as they attempt to complete their long abandoned horror movie, Coven. But while those films have heart and effective over-the-top humor, Winners Tape All may reach for those heights of greatness, but never even comes close.
Filmmakers are walking a fine line when they take on pictures of this ilk – faux-documentaries (the terrifying Lake Mungo comes to mind as a mockumentary triumph), for one misstep shatters the suspension of disbelief. And in Winners Tape All, I don’t believe we’re meant to take it as “real”, but if you’re doing what is meant to be “real people” talking about “real things”, nodding winks to the audience don’t seem appropriate.
Knowing nothing about this project going in – the cover art on the DVD looked promising – clearly ‘80s, clearly some sort of fun take on horror nerds and wannabe horror filmmakers – thus I had high hopes. And unless you’re someone like the aforementioned master of mockumentaries (Christopher Guest) you may be better off trying something else.
This project brings up plenty of memories of times past and abandoned childhood film projects – but it never gets the humor right. And we’re left with 67 minutes of bad jokes, bad delivery and ultimately not a good use of your movie-going time.
Winner Tapes All: The Henderson Brothers Story is now available on DVD and VOD outlets.