Underappreciated for its time, didn’t perform well at the box office, found its audience later, midnight screenings— all of these phrases get tossed around the red-headed stepchild of cinema, also known as the cult film. We quote these films constantly; groups of us will even attend conventions dedicated to their specialness. But, what is a cult movie, and why do we love them so much? Director Danny Wolf and Quiver Distribution‘s new three-part documentary series, TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL-TIME, succeeds at its effort to answer these questions in spades— and then some.
Volume 1, aka “Midnight Movies and the Birth of Repertory Cinema” starts with a bang, with edited clips from the likes of Malcolm McDowell, Jeff Bridges, Rob Zombie, Pam Grier, Kevin Smith, Jeff Goldblum, the late Sid Haig, Ken Foree, and John Waters, with their individual definitions of what constitutes a cult film. Hosted by Gremlins director Joe Dante (but I’d use the term “host” loosely, as he doesn’t receive a ton of screen time) “Midnight Movies” opens with a deep dive into one of the most renowned and beloved midnight movies to ever grace audiences, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Featuring much of the cast talking about their experience making the film and what life was like after it became a “cult film,” viewers will eat up the actors’ stories, as well as the discourse surrounding what the film has meant to fans and its everlasting message of social acceptance.
TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL-TIME Volume 1 then proceeds to take the deep-dive treatment with The Big Lebowski, noting its memorable quotes, scenes, and behind-the-scenes antics that have catapulted it into cult status. An excellent conversation with Pam Grier and the filmmakers behind Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Jackie Brown helps to define what the Blacksploitation subgenre is and its importance, as well as its flaws.
Some shorter segments discuss campy propaganda film Reefer Madness, the respectability of portraying characters with disabilities in Freaks, and the abstractness and multi-layered meanings within David Lynch’s Eraserhead. Other notable discussions surround John Waters’ distinctive satire Pink Flamingos, the beloved mockumentary Spinal Tap, and Russ Meyer’s work ethic during the shooting of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Tonally, TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL-TIME Volume 1 is fun and remains extremely engrossing, while succinctly never losing sight of answering its thesis: Why defines a midnight movie? Why are these specific films mentioned midnight movies? Why do we love them? (I also must mention it’s delightful to see other film critics and historians being interviewed outside of the usual film-filled cities like NYC and LA.)
TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL-TIME Volume 1 is a superb documentary to immerse yourself into the world of cult movies that shape us into the film lovers we are today. Whether you’ve seen them all or only a few, you’ll be anxious to watch and/or revisit many of the films listed through the lens of (even more) loving eyes, and that’s the highest compliment I could give.
You can catch TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL-TIME Volume 1: “Midnight Madness” on VOD and digital tomorrow, April 21, 2020.