Ty Burr
July 19, 1991 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Sure, a film may have virtuoso direction, magnificent performances, and a grabby plot, but what good are they without the really important stuff — distribution and merchandising? All kinds of extra-aesthetic muck-ups can maim or virtually kill a film on the way from the wrap party to the premiere. Here are four movies that were made right and then somehow done wrong.

Citizen’s Band/Handle With Care (1977)
A rueful human comedy from the then-33- year-old Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), Citizen’s Band was dumped in drive-ins by distributors hoping to cash in on the CB radio craze. After the New York Film Festival picked it up under a new name, Handle With Care, the movie acquired a hot critical reputation. But audiences still inexplicably stayed away, even when theaters let people in free to build word of mouth.

Winter Kills (1979/1983)
Director William Richert fashioned this nutty exercise in political paranoia, with bamboozled Jeff Bridges investigating his President-brother’s assassination and John Huston as their father, a barely disguised Joe Kennedy figure. Distributor Avco Embassy re-edited the film into a straight thriller and released it to wide indifference. Four years later Richert recut it, got it back into theaters, and found the cult audience he had wanted all along.

Nightbreed (1990)
Horror writer Clive Barker’s second stab at directing was an imaginative creature feature, but a housecleaning new regime at Twentieth Century Fox rushed it out with a junky ad campaign aimed at dice-and-slice fanatics — with a poster photo from another movie entirely! Only when video independent Media Home Entertainment released it with a new and accurate marketing blitz did Barker’s creepy fantasy get pitched to its intended audience.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990)
In 1985, director John McNaughton got backing from MPI Home Video to make this now-notorious art-house splatter flick featuring Michael Rooker’s chilling title performance. MPI may have known it had something special, but the MPAA ratings board gave the film the kiss of death, an X. Five years later, the MPAA itself was under attack, an X looked like a badge of artistic integrity, and the company dusted Henry off for a successful theatrical release.

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