The first of a three-part documentary series on the history of some of the most famous cult films in history (calling something a “famous” cult film may be a bit of a oxymoron, I know) from director Danny Wolf, Time Warp, Vol. 1–Midnight Madness is essentially a detailed discussion of cult films that don’t quite fit into the specialized genres assigned to volumes 2 & 3 of this series. Vol. 2–Horror and SciFi is released May 19 and Vol. 3–Comedy and Camp hits June 23. Which by no means indicates that the films featured in Midnight Madness are disposable in any way.
The series is hosted (somewhat superfluously) by Joe Dante, with a panel including director John Waters and actors Illeana Douglas and Kevin Pollak, all of whom sit on directors chairs and introduce each new group of movies—only Dante and Waters add anything meaningful to the conversation (at least in Vol. 1). The meat of the film comes in the short profiles of the handful of titles discussed by those who made or starred in them, as well as film critics, historians, and other filmmakers who are just fans of these enormously entertaining works that often share the common thread of being box office failures that somehow caught on while on the midnight circuit long after their release.
The film begins with the longest-running cult film in history, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which still enjoys a robust popularity with interactive screenings around the world. Its origins were humble, and according to some of the actors, its cult status took everyone by surprise. This is a point made repeatedly in the documentary: that you cannot make a cult film intentionally and that cult films are supremely unaware of their value. Audiences alone make things cult hits, not the filmmakers—although most agree that these are not, by and large, bad movies that people love to make fun of. These are films that are great in unusual way and thereby allow those who love them to feel a little less alone in their tastes.
Midnight Madness covers everything from blaxploitation movies (in particular the films of director Jack Hill and actress Pam Grier), John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap, Tod Browning’s Freaks, the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski, Reefer Madness, David Lynch’s Eraserhead, Samuel Fuller’s The Naked Kiss, Russ Meyers’ Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break, Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization, Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude, John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, and Walter Hill’s The Warriors. With nearly every film discussed, the filmmakers offer not only a perspective on the making of the movie, but on the path each film took to gaining an amount of cult recognition. Very often, that was the result of one theater playing the movie for a series of midnight slots and audiences discovering it in ways that most smaller, poorly received films don’t get a shot at today.
As much as I enjoyed revisiting some of these films (most of which occupy a place of honor on my media shelves), I wish the film had dug a little deeper and singled out a few lesser-known titles, even if that would go against the grain of the doc’s subtitle, The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time. Still, I can’t wait to check out the next two chapters, especially the one covering horror and science fiction, since those were my gateways genres into cult movies. For younger filmgoers looking for a jumping off point, it’s hard to argue with any of the choices in this movie; if you’re a more seasoned film lover, it’s a great deal of fun revisiting these works.
The film is available beginning today On Demand and on most digital platforms.
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