• 'Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films' (Distributor)Source: Distributor
From Tod Browning’s ‘Freaks’ to David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’ and more, this exhaustive documentary celebrates the strangest movies of all time.
Travis Johnson

4 Feb 2022 - 3:41 PM  UPDATED 7 Feb 2022 - 12:10 PM

What makes a cult film? It’s a question that comes up a lot in Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films, a boundlessly enthusiastic three-part documentary series that attempts to encompass the entire world of midnight movies, VHS mainstays, outsider film, B-grade favourites and more.

It’s a daunting task, if only because the boundaries are blurry: Tod Browning’s Freaks is a cult film, and so are Pam Grier’s blaxploitation flicks such as Coffy and Foxy Brown. George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Walter Hill’s The Warriors and John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (hell, John Carpenter’s entire filmography) belong on the shelf. But what’s the criteria?

Time Warp is framed by a panel discussion involving directors Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling) and John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Hairspray), and actors Kevin Pollak (The Usual Suspects) and Illeana Douglas (Goodfellas), but also features a staggering number of talking head interviews with actors, filmmakers and critics.

Waters says that to producers, “cult” means “20 people smarter than them liked it, and it lost a lot of money”. Jeff Bridges, largely on hand to talk about the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski, champions obscurity, musing “There’s something to turning your friends onto something rare”. Barry Bostwick, who starred in the unarguably cultish The Rocky Horror Picture Show, understandably praises audience ownership and participation: “It’s as if they make [the movie] again every time they go to the theatre”.

Boiled down to the basics, a cult movie is a film that fell through the cracks of mainstream appreciation on release, but has attracted a hardcore following of fans since. David Lynch’s Eraserhead is held up as a key example – only 24 people showed up to opening night, and now the poster, with Jack Nance’s monochrome Easter Island Head staring out, adorns the bedroom walls of film fans around the world.

Elsewhere, we dig into the joys of works as varied as Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap (rocker and filmmaker Rob Zombie calls it “…the most accurate music movie ever made.”), Hal Hartley’s age-gap romance Harold & Maude, Samuel Fuller’s The Naked Kiss and even Kathryn Bigelow’s surf-actioner Point Break, which has spawned a camp, improvisational stage adaptation. And that’s just in the first of three feature-length episodes, which takes in the Midnight Movies scene, leaving Horror and Science Fiction and Comedy to episodes two and three, respectively – obviously cult movies are a broad church.

For many fans, the value here will be in the anecdotes; actor David Patrick Kelly recalls how a creepy neighbour inspired his chant “Warriors, come out to plaaaay!”, while Rob Reiner recalls Sting singing Spinal Tap’s praises, while Black Sabbath thought the Stonehenge gag was a direct swipe at them. But deeper issues are also touched upon.

Recalling the blaxsploitation boom of the ‘70s, director Jack Hall and actors Pam Grier and Fred Williamson identify the subgenre as an important milestone in Black representation on screen, although Grier recalls having to teach the very white Hall about life in the hood. The famously sexed-up cinema of Russ Meyer is noted as landmark feminist cinema, with his revered Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! called “a first run at Thelma and Louise”. And, of course, the transgressive queer cinema of John Waters speaks for itself. Fringe cinema has ever been a place for fringe voices to be heard.

For fans of the outrageous and connoisseurs of the crazy, Time Warp is an absolute must-see. It’s a lovingly crafted, affectionate but irreverent look at the entire sweep of weird cinema that’ll delight the faithful and doubtless make new converts as well, offering up dozens of freaky films to add to your To Watch list. And the fact that it’s available on SBS On Demand, long the home of cult film and TV in Australia, is just icing on the cake.

Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films parts 1–3 are streaming now at SBS On Demand.


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