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Time Warp Documentary Steps Through Cult Film History

By Rod Lott.

Pop quiz, hotshot: What makes a film a cult film?

A. They have a quality of danger.

B. It has to be the audience finding the film, rather than the film finding the audience.

C. A film that is profoundly special and informative in a way that normal, mainstream stupid, common-denominator idiots can’t understand.

D. Every “fuck” is right where it should be.

The correct answer, of course, is E) Who knows?

But the new documentary with the unwieldy title of Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All Time – Midnight Madness gives answering the ol’ college try. (For the record, the four answers above are direct quotes from Owen Gleiberman, Michael McKean, Penelope Spheeris and Jeff Bridges, respectively discussing The Warriors, This Is Spinal Tap, The Decline of Western Civilization and The Big Lebowski.)  

Ostensibly hosted by Joe Dante, who seems to merit far less screen time than talking heads like Bruce Vilanch, Time Warp celebrates a seemingly random 16 movies, one at a time, across 102 minutes. You do the math.

In that running time, individually or collectively, the interviewees aren’t able to crack the code of a film’s qualifications to go cult as its thesis posits. After all, plenty of movies tick all the cited boxes — quotable lines, unpredictability, being good — yet are denied a similar longevity. What’s here, however, certainly qualify, including Freaks, Foxy Brown, Harold and Maude, Pink Flamingos, Assault on Precinct 13 and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Sharing their thoughts, Time Warp’s contributors run the gamut from intelligent (on the subject of Eraserhead, David Edelstein says David Lynch “has a pipeline from his id to the screen”) to the, um, obvious (“Dark,” says living ascot Peter Bogdanovich of Samuel Fuller’s The Naked Kiss).   

In 1983, J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote one of the definitive texts on cult films, Midnight Movies, which succeeded by focusing on only a few titles, all falling in the gourd-stoned category. Time Warp would benefit infinitely from such restraint, because as is, not only do viewers not receive the promised “deep-dive documentary,” but some flicks are practically glossed over — Reefer Madness given particular short shrift.

Debuting feature director Danny Wolf’s stack-the-deck approach makes one wonder whom his documentary is for; enthusiasts already are familiar with a majority (if not the whole) of the material, while newcomers may lack the interest to dip their big toe.

If nothing else, the interviewees do share a few great stories.

For example, Ray Murray of Philadelphia’s TLA Cinema recalls “Rocky Horror paid our rent” … and resulted in a rat infestation on account of all the leftover toast and rice. Meanwhile, X frontman John Doe expresses displeasure with the way he appears in Spheeris’ Decline doc, to which she responds with a curt, hilarious “Too bad.” 

And who knew Point Break was originally to be helmed by Ridley Scott starring James Garner?

Note the subtitle’s inclusion of Midnight Madness, as Wolf has prepped a trilogy of Time Warps for your streaming enjoyment. Part two covers horror and science fiction, while the third and final tackles comedies — intentional and otherwise.

Rod Lott runs the genre film website FlickAttack.com. A former professional journalist, he has written for Psychotronic Video, Something Weird Video and numerous books.  

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