Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jeff Bridges, Pam Grier, Rob Reiner, Barry Bostwick, Michael McKean, John Turturro, Gary Busey, Jeff Goldblum, Fran Drescher, Penelope Spheeris, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Hill, Sid Haig, Bruce Vilanch, Fred Willard, Ken Foree, Amy Heckerling, John Doe, Adam Rifkin, Gina Gershon, Peter Farrelly, Danny Peary, Allan Arkush, P.J. Soles, Rob Zombie, Lori Williams, Larry Karaszewski, Penelope Spheeris, Austin Stoker, David Patrick Kelly, Ken Foree, Fred Williamson, Tom Savini, David Edelstein, Ashlynn Yennie, Amy Nicholson, Bruce Campbell, Bill Moseley, Tom Six, Stuart Gordon, Tobe Hooper, Mike Judge, Roger Corman, Mary Woronov, Malcolm McDowell, Sean Young, Amy Heckerling, Martha Coolidge, E.G. (Elizabeth) Daily, Jon Heder, John Gries, Kevin Smith, Ron Livingston, Mike Judge, Diedrich Bader, Vanessa Angel, Jay Chandrasekhar, Jim Gaffigan, John Cleese, Marcia McBroom, Dolly Read, John Lazar, Erica Gavin, Rena Riffel, Robert Davi, John Cameron Mitchell, David Cross, Greg Sestero, Tina Majorino, Joe Dante, John Waters, Ileana Douglas, Kevin Pollak
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Danny Wolf
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 313
Date: 04/21/2020

Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All Time (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Passion Replay

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Directed by Danny Wolf, Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All Time is a three-part, nearly 5-1/2 hour examination of, yes, cult films. Hosted by Joe Dante, Illeana Douglas, Kevin Pollak, and John Waters, sitting together in director's chairs, the doc is a pretty standard talking-head-and-clip show, but the benefit of this long running time is that Wolf can devote several minutes to each one of its 47 specific titles. And while it's far from any kind of complex critical analysis, it does cover most of the bases. Plus it's great fun, especially if you're also a fan of these kind of films (I am). Wolf has also assembled an impressive list of interviewees, including cast members of the various movies, directors, writers, other filmmakers and crew members, and film critics.

The films discussed in Volume One: Midnight Madness are: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), The Big Lebowski (1988), Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974), Reefer Madness (1936), Freaks (1932), Eraserhead (1977), Pink Flamingos (1972), Harold and Maude (1971), This Is Spinal Tap (1984), Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), The Naked Kiss (1964), The Warriors (1979), and Point Break (1991).

Each interviewee is either a fan of the films, or else incredibly happy to have been part of making them. (Only Penelope Spheeris, director of The Decline of Western Civilization, seems kind of grumpy about being here, hiding behind a pair of dark sunglasses.) Best of all is Gary Busey, here talking about Point Break, and Wolf lets the camera run on him as he goes loony and says whatever stream-of-consciousness thing pops into his head. (Jeff Goldblum also offers some goofy comments.) The film critic Owen Gleiberman perhaps had the most intriguing thing to say, that all good cult films should have a "quality of danger." That, perhaps, explains why author Danny Peary, who wrote one of the first serious studies of cult movies, says that Samuel Fuller's brutal The Naked Kiss is his "masterpiece."

Volume Two focuses on horror films: Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), The Evil Dead (1983), The Human Centipede (2010), The Devil's Rejects (2005), Re-Animator (1985), and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and sci-fi films: Death Race 2000 (1975), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Blade Runner (1982), The Brother from Another Planet (1984), Liquid Sky (1982), and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (1984).

The selection of films is clever, since it almost guarantees that most viewers will like at least one of the films, while everyone will also despise at least one. Horror is my particular wheelhouse, and I think that Wolf has chosen five masterpieces and two others that I could live without. I am not a fan of The Human Centipede, for instance. Even host Waters talks about it with a measure of admiration, but admits that he hasn't seen the two sequels (I haven't either). And The Devil's Rejects, it seems to me, breaks the rule that everyone mentions here over and over again, which is that you can't actually set out to make a cult film.

Malcolm McDowell is always a great interview, and he tells a great story about meeting Gene Kelly after having performed his own subversive "Singin' in the Rain" in A Clockwork Orange. Bruce Campbell is hilarious, and informative, as always in talking about The Evil Dead, and, interestingly, Joel Coen's contribution as assistant editor. Sean Young sounds a little arrogant when she says that Blade Runner is the greatest film of all time. She's not terribly wrong (it's certainly up there), but her tone sounds like she's insulted at the possible suggestion that her film is something less. And Roger Corman himself offers his own elegant definition of a cult film: "generally a genre film that has some element in it that goes beyond the limitations of genre." Volume Two, both luckily and sadly, has what appears to be a new interview with Tobe Hooper, who passed away in 2017, and a new one with Stuart Gordon, who passed away just weeks ago, in March of 2020. There's also what appears to be an archival interview with the great George A. Romero, who also passed away in 2017.

Volume Three tackles comedies and camp movies: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979), Valley Girl (1983), Napoleon Dynamite (2004), Clerks (1994), Office Space (1999), Best in Show (2000), Kingpin (1996), Super Troopers (2001), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), Showgirls (1995), Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), Glen or Glenda (1953), Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), Female Trouble (1974), Eating Raoul (1982), and The Room (2003).

Stories about one of my favorites, Rock 'n' Roll High School, are hilarious, including that the Ramones couldn't say their lines and mostly stayed inside a room watching TV and eating potato chips, and that Cheap Trick was once considered to be the movie's band. (Mary Woronov sneers at the idea of the Ramones, but Corman states that they're his favorite group.) Allan Arkush adds that cult films are "like albums," in that you play them over and over again, hoping to re-capture the way they once made you feel, or perhaps hoping to discover something new. Peter Farrelly reveals what it was like to cast and work with Bill Murray on Kingpin, and it's every bit as cool as you might hope. On Monty Python and the Holy Grail, John Cleese says that the first 50 minutes are very funny, and then it "goes off a bit."

There are, of course, quite a few omissions (see my own Cult Film page for a few of them). My ultimate cult film is Alex Cox's Repo Man (1984), which I've probably seen more than 30 times. I'm also a little puzzled by the choice of the four hosts. Waters has a film represented, but the others do not, even though Dante has made many cult films (Gremlins and Gremlins 2 chief among them, and is a co-writer on Rock 'n' Roll High School), Douglas is known for Ghost World (2001) and Pollak for The Usual Suspects (1995). Aside from noting the films in titles onscreen when introducing the hosts, these films are not mentioned. But of course, even with this many hours, there are so many films and so little time.

In the end, I like the sentiment that Time Warp eventually solidifies, which is that there are many films that are seen by many people that are just "OK." But a cult film is a film that takes passion, is snubbed by the mainstream, the critics, and/or the business end of things, but eventually, finally comes to be loved.

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