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Film Review: Messy “Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time – Vol. 1 Midnight Madness” At Least Showcases Great Material

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | April 21st, 2020

Film poster: “Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time – Vol. 1 Midnight Madness”

Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time – Vol. 1 Midnight Madness (Danny Wolf, 2019) 2½ out of 4 stars.

What makes a particular movie a cult favorite? What qualities must it have to exit the realm of the ordinary and live in eternity (moving-image eternity, at least) as an aficionado’s bizarro objet d’art? That, indeed, is the question in director Danny Wolf’s three-part documentary series Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time, of which Volume 1 (“Midnight Madness”) is now out (the next two will drop on May 19 and June 23, respectively). Though anything but impressive in its mise-en-scène, the first entry entertains with fun interviews and clips from the subject matter, holding viewer interest despite the unremarkable talking-head compositions and prosaic editing.

There’s enough experimentation and invention in the cited footage for this to be an enjoyable enough showcase, no matter its structural weaknesses. Over the course of a little more than 100 minutes, Wolf walks us through films like The Big Lebowski, Coffy, The Decline of Western Civilization, Eraserhead, Freaks, Pink Flamingos, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, This Is Spinal Tap and more. Our guides on this journey are the likes of directors Joe Dante, Amy Heckerling, Rob Reiner, Penelope Spheeris and John Waters; actors Barry Bostwick, Jeff Bridges, Jeff Goldblum, Pam Grier, Michael McKean and John Turturro; and critics Owen Gleiberman, Amy Nicholson, Carrie Rickey and Gene Seymour, among others. Though we jump from topic to topic somewhat randomly, it is still good fun to hear people’s thoughts on the movies dear to them and to see the supporting examples.

(L-R) Joe Dante as himself, Illeana Douglas as herself, Kevin Pollak as himself and John Waters as himself in TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL-TIME, VOLUME 1 MIDNIGHT MADNESS, a Quiver Distribution release. Photo courtesy of Quiver Distribution.

Strangest of all is the opening (and recurring, at intervals) setup, of a conversation between Dante, Waters, and actors Illeana Douglas and Kevin Pollak (who, poor guy, never opens his mouth). Other than the perpetual joy of hearing whatever pours forth from Waters’ mouth (go Baltimore!), their arrangement of four chairs side by side in a black soundstage feels like something tacked on from a different production, as is the “hosted by Joe Dante” credit at the start. Hosted? How and why? Was this supposed to be a television program that then morphed into this feature-length documentary? That’s as interesting a question as that of what makes a cult film (which at least gets answered). Beyond the clunkiness of its construction, however, Time Warp nevertheless does cinephiles a great service with its homage to the oddities of the cinematic past. I, for one, was not unhappy with the visit.

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Associate Editor and film critic at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed; a film commentator for the Roughly Speaking podcast with Dan Rodricks at The Baltimore Sun; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema (available wherever podcasts are found).

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