Want to see a documentary overview of cult films that’s simple, to the point, and offers clips and commentary about several dozen of the most beloved midnight movies of all time? I give you Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All Time. This three-part documentary, which was released digitally throughout the spring, isn’t especially complicated or ground-breaking, but it’s a true joy to watch.
Directed by Danny Wolf, Time Warp has a simple format: It goes through the films one by one, combining clips with commentary from participants and other interested observers. A panel of hosts, which includes Joe Dante, Iliana Douglas, Kevin Pollak and John Waters, also weighs in at times (Pollak, for some reason, is the least talkative of the four).
The first part is about “Midnight Madness,” covering The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its many descendants, while the second focuses almost entirely on horror, with a side of sci-fi. The third deals with comedy and camp, leading up to the other pillar of the midnight movie canon, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.
Sure, the series isn’t especially consistent on the exact definition of what a “cult movie” is, and there’s a bit of an overlap in the three different assigned categories. And yes, some of the stories told about the movies are more than a little well-worn, especially since many of these movies have already been the subjects of entire books and even documentaries.
But Time Warp is still a wonderful achievement and a total blast to watch, with well-chosen talking heads, and an all-abiding love for cinema and what makes it connect with crowds, albeit often years after the film was originally released.
There are some true highlights, especially the commentary about the horror section, and an extended discussion of Samuel Fuller’s truly bonkers The Naked Kiss
There may not be much new left to say about Rocky Horror or The Room or The Big LebowskiorMonty Python and the Holy Grail or Showgirls (which is itself the subject of a whole other documentary that was just released, You Don’t Nomi). But there are some true highlights, especially the commentary about the horror section, and an extended discussion of Samuel Fuller’s truly bonkers The Naked Kiss, from 1964.
There’s also quite a bit of insight into the social implications of some parts of the horror canon, in that middle section. And there are multiple looks at the work of certain filmmakers, most notably John Waters and Russ Meyer.
Give the filmmakers credit, as well, for assembling quite a lineup of participants: There’s Malcolm McDowell, Bruce Campbell, Roger Corman, Jeff Bridges, Peter Bogdanovich, John Turturro, Pam Grier, Jeff Goldblum, and numerous critics and academics. Also included is Fred Willard, who died earlier this spring.
While the segment on Super Troopersraises some questions about the style of policing depicted in that movie, in light of recent events, director/star Jay Chandrasekhar shares an amazingly scatological story about the movie’s famous syrup-chugging scene. Then, in a discussion of Point Break, Gary Busey talks about how much he’d love to work with director Kathryn Bigelow again (that feeling, I would imagine, isn’t exactly mutual).
Also eyebrow-raising, in the third part, is a segment on Clerks, in which Kevin Smith talks about the film’s battle to avoid an NC-17 rating. Smith tells a story about how “the president of Miramax” – gee, what was that guy’s name again? – hired a high-powered attorney- Alan Dershowitz!- to fight the MPAA, successfully. Then, an MPAA executive is shown admitting that she checked UrbanDictionary for the definition of some gross phrase that Smith wanted in the movie. Which is impressive, considering UrbanDictionary didn’t come online until 1999, five years after Clerks was released.
If you like cult movies, including analysis of how they got to be cult movies, then Time Warp is certainly for you.