RUNNING TIME: 67 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A VHS collector and horror fan named Henry Jacob discovers the two horror films The Curse Of Stabberman and Cannibal Swim Club and, thinking they’re the greatest movies he’s ever seen, seeks out their creators, leading to the first on-camera interviews with the Henderson brothers, director/actor Michael and actor Richard, on a TV show. Bonded together by their love of horror movies at the age of 10 when their parents re-married, the step-brothers decided to pursue their dream of making horror movies no matter what….though maybe they weren’t as great as they remembered….
I sometimes yearn for the days of video, as well as feeling lucky that I’m of an age which enabled me to grow up when video was in its heyday and spend far too much of my time in video shops. The film fan has it easy today when he or she can watch or buy almost any film he or she wants at the click of a button, and it’s certainly now far easier to track down rare movies than it ever used to be, but I still get nostalgic for the days when I could walk into a video shop – and this was before Blockbuster took over and you could still find little video shops selling interesting stuff [and not mostly concentrating on the big new cinema releases] all over the place – and be drawn to a particular movie not by its star, or its director, or even its what its story seemed to be about, but just by its title and its often very stylish cover art which sometimes didn’t even describe the movie in question at all and could even be better than the film. The number of times I walked home with a piece of crap, especially of the horror kind, was considerable. Quite often a film would even look terrible [poor picture quality? Any picture quality would do]. I rarely regretted the experience though and occasionally you’d find a little gem [the law of averages demanded that you would]. It was a perfect time for filmmakers with little money or even skill at their disposal to be able to make films and get them distributed and make money, and fair play to them. Of course a similar thing still happens now as the internet age has made it possible to get films distributed and seen in so many ways, but not quite so much, and is it as exciting as picking up an actual physical item and thinking that it may be worth a go?
When I was waxing nostalgic for the days of video and video shops even of the sleazier kind some time ago, I thought that it would be great if there was a fake documentary centred around that great time about some supremely untalented filmmakers making it big through the video market, and Lo and Behold, we at HCF get sent Winners Tape All: The Henderson Brothers Story to review. It is itself a very low budget production that is a straight-to-home-viewing release, which seems rather appropriate really. In any case, it’s a charming, even poignant, but also very funny, production that does what the best of films like this do; makes fun at its subject but does it with respect. Very much in the vein of This Is Spinal Tap, it’s a love letter to the days of 80’s and even 90’s VHS DIY horror, but also gave me more chuckles than any new film I’ve so far seen this year. And it’s also, in a way, kind of inspiring, which should help it provide entertainment even if you were born into the digital age and have never had the pleasure of holding a video in your life.
The opening titles, looking like they’ve been transferred from video, and the cheesy [but rather catchy and even dancey] synth music immediately set the right mood, though what really sent me into extremes of both happiness and sadness at exactly the right time were the shots of a convention where people were rifling through boxes full of videos. I once went through a lengthy phase where I would go to similar conventions looking for obscure and – I don’t mind admitting – not always legal releases of horror films [so many movies were banned or heavily cut back then in the UK] and come home with piles of the things. Then we meet Henry Jacob, a horror fan with an almost Quentin Tarantino-like enthusiasm as he talks about finding The Curse Of Stabberman and Cannibal Swim Club in a video store, falling in love with these, in his words: “amazing cultural artifacts” which were shot in his home town, then going to return them the next day and finding that the shop is closed….meaning that the films were now his! He talks about contacting the filmmakers,and what follows is the brothers – or rather half-brothers – talking about their life and work on the Eye Of The Cinema TV programme, with additions from Jacob who won’t change his opinion that that the Hendersons are truly great filmmakers.
They talk about their childhood and how they got into filmmaking, which begun with making a Dracula picture which may have had too many Draculas, then went on to them seeing a film, a true masterpiece of cinema going by the name of I Piss On Your Guts, which changed their lives. After this, the bulk of Winners Tape All consists of clips from The Curse Of Stabberman and Cannibal Swim Club with the brothers talking about them. The former is a shoddy slasher movie of the kind most horror fans, at least of an older age, probably encountered very often back in the day. The latter is a more blackly comic affair and it’s during the section covering that film which has the best laughs, be it Richard’s obsession with trying to imitate Quint out of Jaws, the guy playing the swim club owner [who’s inspired in his method acting by “Marilyn Branto”, that actor in “The Gatfather”], constantly explaining the puns he’s just said, or the way that the constant rain is continuingly over-emphasised in the script. But to be honest you’re never a minute away from a laugh as long as you like this deadpan kind of comedy. And Channell perfectly recreates the terrible acting, stupid writing, continuity errors, padding [“walk time” becomes “swim time” in the second movie], shoddy picture, less than special effects and other “qualities” that fans of these kinds of movies will recognise or at least lovingly recall. The appallingly acted and staged murder scenes are especially funny.
It’s patently obvious that the brothers have no filmmaking talent whatsoever, but they aren’t aware of it. Then again, they’re not the brightest sparks, Michael in particular being especially dim-witted. He thinks that everyone who dies coughs up blood and says that he’s going to use most of the money he makes to invest in hover board technology because that’s the future. I could not help but like these guys though, which meant that, for once, I was happy when the film [nice little dig at Blockbuster by the way] ended on a very hopeful and positive note. Jacob becomes a little bit annoying the way he constantly extols the virtues of the Henderson’s [one of their major plus points, according to him, being that everything on the video covers of their films is actually in their movies], but that was obviously the intention. The main problem I had with Winner Tapes All is that it’s just not long enough. It’s possible that the low budget required the running time to be just a little over an hour, but I just wanted the film to dig a bit deeper and the result sometimes feels like a cut down version of a longer movie. But maybe that was also because I enjoyed spending time with these guys so much.
Zane Crosby and Josh Lively play their characters very well and you get a sense of their bond. Their performances actually seem to get better and better, as if the film was shot in sequence. The performers in the movie scenes do a great job of acting atrociously [watch out for one slow kill scene of one female character where her death throes were so funny that I had to view the scene three times]. Pointed, yet full of warmth and humanity in a way that at times gives Christopher Guest a run for his money, Winners Tape All is overall an impressive example of what can be achieved with little money, which I supoose isn’t entirely dissimilar to The Curse Of Stabberman and Cannibal Swim Club ….except that, unlike the poor Henderson brothers, writer/director and co-writer Justin Channell and his team clearly do have talent, and plenty of it.
STREAMING RENTAL: £2
DOWNLOAD VERSION: $5
DELUXE DOWNLOAD VERSION: $10, includes 18 minutes of outtakes, HD versions of the Henderson brothers’ films (which are presented in VHS-quality in the film for authenticity’s sake) and a feature-length audio commentary with Michael Henderson.
All of the bonus features are also available on the DVD release. The film is also available in a handmade VHS and Blu-Ray combo pack. Winners Tape All is also expected to be available through Amazon video-on-demand and DVD sometime later in 2016.