Thursday, January 7, 2016

Justin Channell's Winners Tape All: The Henderson Brothers Story

Cody checks out an indie mockumentary that will be released later this year.

2013 saw the release of director Chris LaMartina's WNUF Halloween Special, a horror/comedy that also served as an awesome, nostalgic recreation of the look and feel of watching local TV in the late 1980s. LaMartina serves as one of the three lead actors in director Justin Channell's Winners Tape All, which is also a nostalgic look back at the 1980s, the focus this time being on the independent, micro-budget, shot-on-video horror films that were released during the VHS boom. Channell has described his movie as being like "if Christopher Guest made a movie about the Polonia brothers", and if you know who the Polonia brothers are, you'll no doubt be entertained by Winners Tape All.

Presented as being an episode of a documentary show called Eye on the Cinema that's being aired on a public access channel in Smithville, West Virginia, Winners features LaMartina as movie fanatic Henry Jacoby, whose quest to expand his VHS collection leads him to discovering the works of step-brothers Michael and Richard Henderson (Channell's co-writers Zane Crosby and Josh Lively), who made a pair of SOV slashers in the '80s: Curse of Stabberman and Cannibal Swim Club.

In their first ever on-camera interview, actor - writer - producer Richard and writer - director - actor - producer - stuntman - special effects artist Michael reminisce about their experiences making their two bargain basement entries in the horror genre.

These interviews with the Henderson brothers and Jacoby make up a large part of the movie, but watching these guys talk into the camera never gets dull, partly due to the running time - this clocks in at just over an hour - but mainly because the things they are saying, lines which were mostly improvised, are always interesting and amusing.

Winners isn't just a "talking heads" movie, though. Intercut with the interviews are clips from the Hendersons' movies, frequently hilarious scenes that show off the brothers' skills, or lack thereof. It may come off to the viewer like these guys were incompetent filmmakers, but they don't seem to be too ashamed. Actually, they seem pretty proud of their accomplishments, and why shouldn't they be? They gathered together some friends on two separate occasions, shot a couple very cheap movies on VHS, and got huge distribution deals for them. Even if the movies weren't particularly good, at least they got them out into the world in a big way.

Anyone who has seen movies from the SOV days will be familiar with the look and amateurish feel of the Hendersons' movies, as well as the sort of bad acting on display in them, and anyone who has ever attempted to make their own micro or no budget movie will relate to the stories the brothers tell about casting anyone they could get to agree to be in a movie, having a lack of supplies, not being able to secure locations, and having people flake out on them. As comedic as all of this is, it also rings very true.

With great performances from its leads, a nice cameo by movie reviewer/convention regular Tim Gross, and a clear, deep love for the type of movies it's paying homage to, Winners Tape All succeeds at being a much better movie than either Curse of Stabberman or Cannibal Swim Club appear to have been. If you're a fan of the SOV era, Winners is well worth checking out, and it's even more fun to watch if you have some indie filmmaking experience of your own.

Winners Tape All: The Henderson Brothers Story is expected to be released sometime in 2016, and I highly recommend picking up a copy when it becomes available. Keep an eye on its Facebook page for distribution news.

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