The story of Michael and Richard Henderson, two stepbrothers from West Virginia who saw an opportunity in the burgeoning VHS market in the 1980s and made their own backyard horror movies, “The Curse of Stabberman” and “Cannibal Swim Club.”
One of the things I find sad is the loss of the mom and pop video stores. To see the latest movies after they’ve had their run in the theaters, you had to either rent them on tape from such a shop or wait until they showed up on the movie channels. Those mom and pop video stores could only provide limited copies of the newest releases, so getting them when they just hit the shelves was difficult. As a result, you tended to rent some of the other things they had available. This sometimes led to getting some of the B-movies instead. I still remember my own dad renting some of some low budget genre fare that ended up being fairly entertaining (or sometimes outright awful). During this era, there were more independent film makers showing up on the scene, emboldened by easier access to video and anxious to make their own mark. These movies tended to be no-budget flicks that were usually pretty bad, but there were still some hidden gems to be found.
Winner Tapes All is a mockumentary about the Henderson brothers, two step-brothers from West Virginia who in the mid-80s decided to make their own horror movies. They only made two films, Curse of Stabberman and Cannibal Swim Club, before they were forced to give up. A VHS collector recently discovered their movies at a convention and decided that he wanted to spread the word about the Hendersons. From there, we get interviews with the brothers as they reflect on their movies.
One of the things that really works for this movie is the sense of nostalgia it brings up. If you were a genre fan that grew up in the 80s, it’ll definitely bring back those memories of watching some blood-soaked amateurish horror that you would rent for the weekend. The clips of the Henderson’s “movies” will show cheap effects, shoddy cinematography, really bad acting, and theme music that sounds like it came straight from an old Atari game. The fun part is that the everyone involved did a fantastic job of recapturing the clothes and styles of the 80s.
Sadly, that sense of nostalgia is all this movie has to offer. If you’re too young to have experienced the joy of those experiences, this movie really won’t do much to win you over. You may enjoy the enthusiasm of the characters as they describe their motivations and the film they made, and the cheesiness of the Hendersons’ works are chuckle worthy as they are cringe worthy. However, Winner Tapes All seems aimed more towards people in my age range, and that works to it’s detriment. There’s a whole generation of people that never got to experience the joys of that decade, so they may not appreciate what the film is going for.
One thing that didn’t help is that the brothers themselves didn’t seem like real people. They were quirky and too goofy to seem genuine. Part of what makes mockumentaries work is that the characters you’re watching still have something that makes them feel like genuine people, and we get to see beyond their eccentricities. We never get to see more of the brothers’ personalities, so the actors lacked some authenticity in their roles.
I also didn’t get a feeling of real passion from the characters in what they did. To go out there and make a movie on your own, I have to believe that there has to be real drive to want to invest your money and time. Here, it seemed like these guys just decided to do it because they could. I don’t know if this is the fault of the actors or the script, but the lack of passion makes it hard to understand why these guys would want to make a movie. Most people in the movie industry have a dream, a vision, of what they want to accomplish beyond “Hey, we can make our own stuff”.
If you watch the documentary “Screaming in High Heels”, which goes over the careers of scream queens Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer, and Brinke Stevens, or read Bruce Campbell’s “If Chins Could Kill”, you can get a sense of the kind of dedication it took to make a “B” or lesser grade movie. Hearing about the hardships those people went through, and what they did to overcome them, gave you a feel for how much their work mattered to them. Maybe if Winner Tapes All gave us more anecdotes of similar struggles, it would have helped make their motiviations more believable.
Despite my criticisms, this movie isn’t without merit. It’s humorous and does capture some of the spirit of the 80s. If you remember that era as fondly as I do, you might find this nostalgia trip one worth taking. Otherwise, you may want to spend your time elsewhere.