– By Derek Brown –
When Henry Weintraub was 10-years-old his dad brought home a film called “The Toxic Avenger.” The film, now regarded as a cult classic, tells the story of a clumsy janitor who brutally takes vengeance on the corrupt underpinnings of his city after he suffers an acid accident that lends him the powers to become “The Toxic Avenger.” Produced by Troma Entertainment, it epitomized the independent film company’s approach of low-budget films laced with heavy violence and aggressive humor. That night, Weintraub popped in the unrated VHS after his father had gone to bed. The film left him bewildered, and would prove to play a momentous role in his life.
Now, movie posters hang in black frames in his office. The poster closest to his door is titled “Melvin” with splatters of blood dripping off the “v.” The next reads “Killing Me,” and features illustrations of some of the most infamous murderers in American history including Charles Manson, and Ted Kaczynski. The last poster is a black and white photo of a skinny man’s face who is looking at the ground and appears to have been on the loosing end of a fight. These aren’t posters of a fanatic, they are the proud declarations of accomplishment by an independent filmmaker.
In the past four years, Henry Weintraub has made four films, gaining recognition locally as a skilled and productive filmmaker. After moving to Eugene in 2001, he bought a camera with some spare cash and began making films with his friends. He says that these short films lacked structure and compelling content, but they proved to be valuable building blocks that his filmmaking techniques are based on today.
His work has reflected his love of Troma films that began when he was ten, as they are mostly horror films with an underline theme of dark comedy. Horror offers leeway for beginning filmmakers, he says, “when you mess up you can laugh at it, or laugh with it.”
However, the creative capabilities of making horror films also offer an additional perk for Weintraub. “That’s the fun part about horror movies, thinking up fun ways to kill people in movies,” he says.
His first full feature, and perhaps, most violent, film, “Melvin,” centers around a awkward high school student who takes vicious revenge on all who have crossed him. Though the film garnered praise in film festivals through out the United States, winning multiple awards, it was received with hostility by some within the community. Eugene residents wrote letters to editors of multiple local newspapers that covered the movie, leading some newspapers to cut off ties with Weintraub. However, he remains unfazed by the criticism, “I personally think I didn’t ever do anything that crazy,” he says. “Some people just don’t get it (the genre). It was just a loud few (who criticized him).”
He gained acceptance back into the more moderate local film community with his 2010 film “The Darkest Corner of Paradise.” This neo noir, drama was his first step towards making more series films. It proved to be the correct artistic direction to take his work, as it is Weintraub’s favorite movie of own making to date.
Filmed primarily in Portland, he recalls that it was an “intimate” production experience, saying that it was often only he and the lead actor and fellow producer, Patrick O’Driscoll, on set.
O’Driscoll is a mainstay in Weintraub’s work, playing the lead role in his last three films. Their relationship began in 2008 when Weintraub was casting for “Melvin,” and found O’Driscoll in acting in a play in Eugene. After the play, Weintraub immediately rewrote the script to suit O’Driscoll’s abilities, beginning the prolific partnership and close friendship that they share today.
In 2012, they teamed up again as co-producers to make “Killing Me.” In this film Weintraub found a balance between the seriousness of “The Darkest Corner of Paradise” and what he calls the “cartoon violence” of his past horror films.
This mixture earned applause from his local audience. Edward Schiessl , a fellow independent filmmaker and owner of the local theater, Bijou Art Cinemas, says “Killing Me” illustrates Weintraub’s largest step towards reaching a wider audience as a filmmaker.
However, his audience will have to wait before they see a new film of his. Weintraub says that he is taking a break from filmmaking, as producing four films in only four years has taken its toll. With that being said, he says that his hiatus is only temporary, and when he does return, he will continue to follow the path that began with “The Toxic Avenger” more than 20 years ago.