Being a horror fan comes with its set of ups and downs. Sure, there are plenty of classic and masterful films in the genre, but for every one of those, there are usually 7 sub-par sequels and dozens of blatant ripoffs to go along with them. There's also a special love that exists for the schlock, the low budget films that reigned supreme in the VHS boom of the 80s and 90s. Amateur filmmakers were able to get their own visions on the shelves next to the films of Carpenter or Cronenberg, just because there was such a big demand to fill up the racks at every video store. The distributors couldn't keep up and the relatively cheap and easy nature of producing these VHS wonders somewhat leveled the playing field between Hollywood and Backwoods. It was the equivalent of what digital and streaming is doing today for the independent filmmaker. As Blockbuster Video and other chains took over the market and pushed out the local mom and pop stores, only to become outdated and irrelevant themselves a decade later, so went with them the strange and independent oddities of the era, replaced almost completely with the standard and banal. Gone are the days of flashy and beautiful VHS box art that captured the attention and imagination, only to provide a lackluster half-film or hidden masterpiece within...well, not entirely gone. This tradition lives on in hardcore horror fans that still collect, trade, and sell these relics of a bygone era. It's an analog nostalgic niche surviving in a digital world, and sometimes benefiting from it. While most of these films are forgotten, never making the jump to DVD, many have found new life in VHS rips on YouTube or seeing special edition releases by some small revival house (I just took a break from writing this to buy a copy of Splatter Farm, which I haven't seen, but feel I NEED to). The love of the weird and by most standards “bad” no-budget horror films is an almost inexplicable one. It's a mix of the DIY attitude and the camp aesthetic. It's the heart and passion on display, despite little to no resources, that most blockbusters can't match. It's because they seem like horror films made by horror fans that grew up on and devoured the same influences as we did. Now these films are inspiring the next generation in a new and really fucking funny way.
Winners Tape All: The Henderson Brothers Story is a mockumentary about a pair of step brothers that made two DTV horror films in the late 80s, under the guise of a local Eye on the Cinema TV broadcast. It starts with an interview of their one local superfan, Henry Jacoby (Chris LaMartina), as he explains the brothers brief foray into horror films. It also features in depth interviews with the brothers Henderson, Michael and Richard (Zane Crosby and Josh Lively, who also co-wrote and produced with director Justin Channell). The brothers talk about making the two films and where their lives went after. It's a really clever idea that nails every aspect of what it's parodying, from the no-budget 80s horror films to the local public access-style show that contains the film. The grainy shot on video look is spot on and really makes the two faux films, The Curse of Stabberman and Cannibal Swim Club, feel real. Channell so perfectly captures the charm and silliness of these lost 80s horror relics that I found myself legitimately wishing these two films existed. The brothers' story is at once ridiculous and actually kind of sad, as their meteoric rise and fall mirrors that of many no-name horror directors that came and went with the VHS boom and eventual dry out. Channell uses every opportunity to poke fun at the clichés of these films, while still making what would be welcome entries to the genre.
Winners breezes by in just over an hour, like it knows not to overstay its welcome. I honestly could have dealt with a feature length version of this story though, as it's a joy to watch. A lot of that comes from the lead performances, which are hilarious. Crosby and Lively breathe real life into their characters as brothers that couldn't be more different, but come together in (and clash over) their love of film. Just watching these two actors riff with each other is enough to carry the film, but the detail put into the films within the film take this one over the hurdle of good to great. The style of humor ranges from subtle to absurdist and surprisingly, for an independent low-budget film riffing on independent low-budget films, all of the jokes land really well. There are a lot of great little touches, like how all of their death scenes have someone spitting out a mouthful of fake blood (“that's science!”) or how everyone involved with making the brothers' films are now dead (“like a poor man's Poltergeist”). I love how even though they make these characters kind of dumb and clueless for the sake of comedy, it still views them with respect and as a weird sort of inspiration. These guys went out and made two films, one that surprisingly made them money and the other that broke them and left them writing children's films (that Dinosores box art might have gotten one of the biggest laughs out of me), but their passion and limited know-how let them live their dream, however briefly.
I can't recommend this film enough, fans of campy horror and clever spoofs will have a blast watching it. This is the first thing I've seen from Channell, but it makes me want to go search out his previous work and has me looking forward to whatever he does next. You can stream the film here for 2 bucks (5 to buy, 10 to get a deluxe package with outtakes, commentary, etc.). You can also buy the DVD or a handmade Blu-ray/VHS combo with box art slips from the two films featured in the movie here for 25 bucks (that's where my money is going). Winners Tape All was a surprise treat that blew away my expectations and shows that a good idea and the passion/talent to execute it is all it takes to make something really special.
10 out of 10 Quint Impressions, Chief
(Yeah, this movie really got me.)