Tag Archives: Joe Dante

CAPSULE: TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL TIME, VOL 3: COMEDY & CAMP (2020)

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DIRECTED BY: Danny Wolf

FEATURING: Joe Dante, John Waters, Illeana Douglas, Kevin Pollak

PLOT: The final installment of a three-part survey of cult films, focusing on comedies and films with a camp sensibility. (Volume 1 is reviewed here, Volume 2 here.)

Still from Time Warp Greatest Cult Movies of All Time Vol. 3: Comedy and Camp

COMMENTS: This omnibus collection of mini-documentaries confronts its most challenging subject matter here in the third act. In the case of comedy, the ability to make audiences laugh is subjective, underappreciated, and difficult to discuss without destroying the very qualities of humor. When it comes to discussing camp, the concept itself carries with it issues of gender, sexuality, race, and power. How would the producers of the Time Warp series address these important, sometimes even incendiary topics?

The answer is: pretty much not at all. Time Warp just wants to have fun and share some rabidly adored films. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. But the fact that the filmmakers don’t even want to engage with some of these interesting topics means that the whole enterprise carries about as much weight as “VH-1’s 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders.”

There’s a pretty straightforward recipe for Time Warp’s method: play some clips from a film that took time to find its audience, get some of the movie’s participants to recount tales from the production, throw in some well-chosen clips and a little commentary from talking heads to explain why the film has a devoted following, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Then queue up another movie and do it all again. The panel of hosts clocks in barely 5 minutes of screen time, and offers virtually nothing in the way of analysis, context, or debate. So you just kind of have to trust that the producers have done their best in picking the comedies and camp-fests that best exemplify the label of “greatest cult films of all time.” Clerks? Yeah, I can see that. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls? Yes, I am totally convinced. Super Troopers? Um… sure, I guess.

That said, the list assembled here is pretty entertaining. These actors and directors are genuinely and justifiably proud of their work, and thrilled that it has managed to endure and thrive over the years. Diedrich Bader and Jim Gaffigan tell stories of having their famous lines quoted back to them. B-movie legends Erica Gavin and Mary Woronov offer gleefully unrestrained accounts of the conditions in which their movies were made. Jon Gries (whose name is misspelled in his chyron) is interviewed while holding a noisy parrot, and why not. And it’s a bittersweet surprise to see the late Fred Willard show up. Interspersed with well-chosen clips and some thoughtful commentary from critics and other professionals (gold medal to Amy Nicholson for her explanation as to why John Lazar should have become a legend), Vol. 3 makes a pretty strong case that any one of these films could easily merit its own feature-length documentary.

But it’s hard to be sure what distinguishes this from a video version of a Buzzfeed listicle. As my colleague Terri McSorley noted in reviewing Vol. 2, these selections are pretty anodyne. These 18 films are almost wholly American (only Monty Python and the Holy Grail can legitimately call itself a non-US film), largely recent (more than half are less than 30 years old), and predominantly white (actresses Shondrella Avery and Marcia McBroom and actor/director Jay Chandrasekhar help vary the palette). This roster feels like a good place to start the conversation about cult movies, but hardly the end-all be-all of the form.

Maybe I’m just jaded by the extensive efforts of this website to justify the films we crown. After all, consider the fact that Danny Peary needed three volumes to chronicle 200 films in his “Cult Movies” series, or that Scott Tobias’ New Cult Canon accumulated 130 entries over the course of five years. To spend a decent amount of time with 47 films in less than six hours is really a solid achievement. But it still feels like the format makes it impossible to do much more than pay lip service to a handful of films that have earned passionate devotion, without examining the phenomenon or delving into why these films are such good ambassadors.

I’m including the complete list of films discussed in this volume, with links to our reviews. And it’s possibly instructive to compare our attention to campy vs. funny flicks. Guess a comedy’s got to work really hard to land on our radar.

* Part of the 366 Weird Movies Canon

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Wolf has a more interview-packed chapter to finish with, securing sunnier features to study, closing on a bright note of classic endeavors that provided a sense of danger, delirium, and human insight, brought to life by talented filmmakers. Any chance to spend time with these titles is most welcome.”–Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT MOVIES OF ALL TIME, PART 2: HORROR AND SCI-FI (2020)

DIRECTED BY: Danny Wolf

FEATURING: , , Illeana Douglas, Kevin Pollack

PLOT: This is part 2 of a three part documentary about cult films, focusing on horror and sci-fi featuring clips and interviews with critics and those associated with the films. (Volume 1 is reviewed here.)

Malcolm McDowell in Time Warp the Greatest Cult Movies of All Time, Vol 2 - Horror and Sci-Fi

COMMENTS: Joe Dante, John Waters, Kevin Pollack and Illeana Douglas host the documentary. Dante introduces each title, while his co-hosts add commentary between clips and interviews. At a running time of 1:23:22, each film is afforded a decent amount of coverage. Director Danny Wolf and his crew pull out all the stops on assembling a parade of entertaining and relevant interviewees. There are a handful of critics included, but most of the interviews are with the cast and crew of the films.

The always entertaining shares some great Evil Dead stories. Ken Foree discusses working on both Dawn of the Dead and The Devil’s Rejects. chats about Death Race 2000. If there was a competition for Queen of Cult I think Ms. Woronov, would have to be crowned. She also graces Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Eating Raoul, both of which will be covered in the documentary’s third part; and she appears in Night of the Comet, Terrorvision and Chopping Mall, any of which could easily make a list of cult horror films. Edwin Neal, who plays the hitchhiker in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, takes us on a tour of the old house, which is now the Grand Central Cafe. Director talks about Re-Animator (sadly, Gordon passed away in March of this year). Malcolm McDowell tells a funny story about meeting Gene Kelly. And there’s , , , archival interview footage of and ; the list goes on.

After watching this documentary I started a conversation on Twitter about cult film. I realized quickly that people had varying ideas on what exactly gives a film cult status. In my mind a cult film does not have mainstream appeal but, through word of mouth after a reasonable amount of time has passed, grows a small but ferociously dedicated audience. I don’t think that is the case any longer. Cult films have evolved simply due to the fact that everything is so easily accessible. The “reasonable amount of time” that must pass is no longer a factor. Home video wasn’t common until the early 1980s, so films remained in obscurity for years. Even with home video, there were films that were difficult or impossible to get. Social media has changed everything.

I don’t think any two people would create an identical list of their favorite cult films of all time; my own list would look quite different from this one. That said, there are two selections I must quibble over. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is without a doubt one of the greatest horror films ever made. It does buck all the rules of cultdom, though. It was successful on its release, was well-reviewed, and is probably one of the best known and most loved horror flicks of all time. Secondly, Human Centipede is the only film to make the cut that was not made in North America. Of all the amazing and unique horror films to come from other countries, they decided to include Human Centipede as one of the greatest cult horror films of all time! I actually liked the movie, but its inclusion here sincerely boggles my mind.

Still, overall this is a great list of films; I am particularly thrilled they included Liquid Sky. The absolute definition of a cult classic; a genuinely weird and one-of-a-kind flick. There is something to entertain everyone in this documentary, from the seasoned horror and sci-fi fan to the newcomer.

The complete list of titles featured:

Death Race 2000
Liquid Sky
Human Centipede
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension
The Brother from Another Planet
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Re-Animator
Blade Runner
Night of the Living Dead
Dawn of the Dead
Evil Dead
The Devil’s Rejects
A Clockwork Orange (1971)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Wolf also makes time for independent fare, surveying the strangeness and scrappiness of ‘The Brother from Another Planet’ and ‘Liquid Sky,’ with the latter title especially gonzo in terms of new wave immersion, limiting outside appreciation. ‘Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time Volume 2: Horror & Sci-Fi’ sustains the sugar rush of the previous endeavor, with Wolf once again providing a fun reminder of quirky and gruesome cinema achievements and the artists who brought them to life.”–Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL TIME, VOL 1: MIDNIGHT MADNESS (2020)

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DIRECTED BY: Danny Wolf

FEATURING: , , Ileana Douglas, Kevin Pollak

PLOT: Part one of a three part documentary on cult movies.

Still from Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All Time, Vol 1. Midnight Movies (2020)

COMMENTS: The charm of Danny Wolf’s talking-heads-plus-clips documentary Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All Time is that, at bottom, it’s just a bunch of knowledgeable film fans sitting around yakking about some of their favorite films, which just also happen to be some of the wildest, weirdest, and most unique visions ever committed to celluloid.

The presentation, however, is a bit ho-hum. There isn’t a great flow from one movie to the next. It starts with a panel briefly attempting to define the term “cult film” (John Waters proposes, “To Hollywood executives, ‘cult film’ means that twenty people who were smarter than them liked it and it lost a lot of money”). They start the survey with an examination of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), not because it was the first cult movie or midnight movie, but because it’s inarguably the most successful repertory feature film of all time. Coverage then segues into The Big Lebowski—because that’s the second most beloved film—and then wanders around, finding opportunity to slip in oddities like blaxploitation movies and Reefer Madness seemingly at random. A more structured approach might have allowed for a deeper appreciation of the historical context and development of these films, but that shouldn’t be a huge obstacle to your enjoyment. The ramshackle order of presentation arguably fits the subject: movies that captivate their audience through passion rather than logic.

Of course, the cult movie geek in me wants to point out that only a few of the pieces covered in this introductory volume were actually “midnight movies” intended to be shown at 12 AM screenings. With Ben Barenholtz (the inventor of the “midnight movie” as a marketing gimmick) on hand, the doc misses a great opportunity to explore a 1970s cultural phenomenon that endures (in an enervated form) to this day. Although it’s relatively senseless to complain about omissions in a subjective project like this, I do think ‘s El Topo (1970) deserved at least a name check, seeing as how it was the first film regularly and specifically programmed for midnight theatrical screenings.

But, to be honest, most true “midnight movies” dive deeper into the cult catalog than Time Warp cares to go. The “Midnight Movies” subtitle is therefore a misnomer for this particular doc (volumes two and three, covering “science fiction and horror” and “comedy and camp,” promise to be more tightly focused). But we’ll give them a break, because Time Warp isn’t a graduate cinema course; it’s a freshman “Introduction to Cult Movies 101” offering. And that’s absolutely fine. While I can think of a number of recommended documentaries devoted to individual films or cult figures (Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s ApocalypseI Am Divine), I’m not aware of another film that covers quite the same introductory ground. Time Warp therefore fills a gap. And even if there is a similar documentary out there that I’m overlooking, there’s no way it got this incredible lineup of celebs and icons to chip in their thoughts. I mean, if I told you I had a movie whose cast featured Jeff Bridges, Gary Busey, Fran Drescher, , , and Pam Grier, would you watch it?

Four of the sixteen movies discussed here are canonized on our own list of the best weird movies ever made, with Freaks, Pink Flamingos and Eraserhead joining Rocky Horror. I’ll let you tune in yourself for the reveal of the full list of titles they highlight. As we here know as well as anyone, large part of the enjoyment of any list are friendly arguments about what should and shouldn’t have made the cut. We’ll bring you the scoop on the other two volumes as they are released (the horror is set for May 19, while the camp and comedy one drops on June 23).

At the moment, it appears that Time Warp can be rented on Itunes, Vudu, or Fandango Now. We’ll try to update this post if it shows up on other services.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“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.”–Christopher Llewellyn Reed, Film Festival Today (contemporaneous)

2018 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: A SLICE OF STRANGE

Arrival

Anyone traveling internationally should heed this advice: nothing hurries customs agents along faster than the phrase, “I’ll be covering a film festival.” Two years in a row now I’ve seen the Dear God, All Right, Moving on… expression at the border when explaining the reason for my trip.

So without further ado, the reason for my trip: Fantasia Festival movies!

7/12: Nightmare Cinema (Anthology)

Still from Nightmare Cinema (2018)“Horror” isn’t really my preferred genre—I either find it too pointless, or too scary (!).  “Anthology” also isn’t my preferred film format — I typically want one movie to carry itself. Combining the two, however, works out well: it allows for a taste of a director’s work without committing the viewer to overkill. Mick Garris, supervising a clutch of Horror luminaries, has put together a string of varyingly good vignettes. “The Thing in the Woods” (dir. by Alejandro Brugues) tells the tale of a handful of  twenty-somethings  making incredibly bad, incrediblier rapid-fire decisions as if they can’t get to their gruesome fates fast enough. “Mirari” (dir. by [the Legendary] Joe Dante!) deftly taps into the fears of plastic surgery gone awry. “Mashit” (dir. by Ryuhei Kitamura) is pretty ho-hum, until the very Catholic (that is to say, “Unorthodox”) slaughterhouse finale. And “Dead”(?) concerns a boy who, having been … dead … for seventeen minutes can now see the … dead.

What stood out with its bleak tone, creepy understatement, and grisly ambiance, however, was “This Way to Egress” directed by David Slade of Thirty Days of Night fame. A mother of two boys is growing increasingly unhinged after her husband leaves her, resulting in her seeing her surroundings and people she meets looking ghastlier and uglier as the hours go on. Her psychologist  just about recommends suicide before heading off to a meeting. This short stood out even moreso because, unlike Thirty Days of Night, it is well-written, very unnerving, and left me creeped the Hell out. (Somewhat appropriately.)

7/13: La Nuit a dévoré le monde (The Night Eats the World)

Still fromThe Night Eats the World (2018)If any of our readers are fans of the zombie/undead/shuffling corpse-people genre, they should check out Dominique Rocher’s directorial debut. Our hero, Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie), passes out in the back room of his ex-girlfriend’s apartment after an awkward encounter at a party. Upon Continue reading 2018 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: A SLICE OF STRANGE

CAPSULE: AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON (1987)

DIRECTED BY: Joe Dante, Carl Gottlieb, Peter Horton, John Landis, Robert K. Weiss

FEATURING: “Lots of Actors”, including Arsenio Hall, , , Steve Forrest, David Alan Grier, B. B. King, , Steve Guttenberg, , Kelly Preston, , , Andrew Dice Clay, Griffin Dunne

PLOT: A collection of sketches parodying late-night TV content, anchored by a specific parody of goofy 1950s space operas.

Still from Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The sketch film has always been rare enough to merit a double take when one appears in cinemas, but this particular example of the form isn’t especially unusual, with nothing particularly outlandish or shocking, and the majority of sketches being of the one-joke variety.

COMMENTS: Although anthologies have been a recurring genre since early cinema, the heyday of the “sketch film” variant was the early 1970s: The Groove Tube, TunnelVision, and king-of-the-form Kentucky Fried Movie all parodied television’s challenge to attention spans. The form was also fairly economical, providing quick work to underemployed actors and aspiring comedy writers alike. None of these were box office bonanzas, though, so when Amazon Women on the Moon came along more than a decade later, it was fair to ask if it was a bold attempt to refresh the formula, or a last gasp for a format that had never truly lived.

Let’s go with B. First and foremost, Amazon Women is a comedy, but while it has quite a few solid jokes, it reveals time and again that it doesn’t have much else. Let’s consider one of the film’s best sequences, a vivid re-creation of 1930-era Universal horror movies starring Ed Begley, Jr. as the son of ’ Invisible Man. The black-and-white atmosphere is rich, and Begley even gets to repeat the famous bandage-removal scene. The catch: he’s not invisible at all. It’s a funny joke, as he obliviously cavorts about the room in the nude. The problem is, the sketch has another two minutes to go, and so we get more variations on the same joke, searching for an end.

This happens a lot. Scenes have a funny premise at their core, but then they have to keep going to justify their presence in a Hollywood motion picture: David Alan Grier sings in a super-white way—then he does it some more. A funeral turns into a Catskills roast—and we get the whole roast. Other sketches are shorter, but their jokes are smaller, too, and the scenes still feel stretched and padded. Amazon Women on the Moon has a tight five minutes; it gets an hour-and-a-half.

The film is not without its charms. The parodies have a clever eye for their sources, such as a 30s-era scare propaganda film that subtly re-dresses the same set over and over. Several performances capture the desired anarchic spirit, such as Griffin Dunne’s incompetent doctor and Carrie Fisher’s gullible ingénue. And every now and then, the film manages to tap into something sublimely silly; my personal favorite is an In Search Of/Unsolved Mysteries amalgam that manages to mashup the sordid deeds of Jack the Ripper with a more supernatural tale. But Moon’s a film that earns smiles more than laughs.

Ultimately, Amazon Women on the Moon is “Saturday Night Live” with slightly better production values: the jokes are hit and miss, and there’s a lot of work to get to the end of each sketch. It’s not the worst of its kind (that would be the execrable Movie 43), but it’s far from the finest. That honor probably belongs to Kentucky Fried Movie, and the filmmakers know it; references to fictional producer Samuel L. Bronkowitz mark Moon as Movie‘s spiritual sequel. But bad news, Sam: Amazon Women on the Moon is no Fistful of Yen.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Amazon Women on the Moon is everything that Movie 43 wished it could have been, trenchant, hilarious, weird, and just plain fun.” — Sean Patrick, Geeks

(This movie was nominated for review by roastphoenix. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Mark Hartley

FEATURING: Roger Corman, Eddie Romero, , Pete Tombs, , , ,  Marlene Clark, Judy Brown, R. Lee Ermey, Danny Peary,

PLOT: Documentary covering exploitation films made in the Philippines in the 1970s and 1980s, both by Filipinos and by American companies looking for cheap labor and exotic locations.

Still from Machete Maidens Unleashed!

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A few of the films mentioned (For Y’ur Height Only?) might be worthy of consideration for the List, but this documentary survey is a curiosity piece—and possibly a place to get ideas for your Netflix queue.

COMMENTS: There are two strands to Machete Maidens. One is the history of an enterprising but anarchic third-word film industry and the American carpetbaggers who flocked there to make cheap pictures, packed with war stories from those who were there. Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos (who loaned army helicopters to American filmmakers in the evenings after they’d spent the mornings strafing Islamic rebels) and notorious first lady Imelda (who allegedly ordered dead workers’ bodies to be left in the cement of the Manila Film Center so the project could be completed in time to host a film festival) remain in the background as villains throughout the entire epic. On the front lines, American filmmakers and actors relate stories of pistol-packing makeup men and cockroach-infested living conditions (at one point Sid Haig describes his accommodations by saying “I saw a rat carrying a kitten out the window”).

But as interesting as this backdrop might be, the main attraction is not the island’s political scenery, but the movies made there for export. These reflected the evolving shock aesthetic of the American drive-ins, not tropical politics. The scandalous profit margins of native filmmaker Eddie Romero’s “Blood Island” horror movies, with their cheap rubber-masked monsters menacing topless Filipino babes, were the proof-of-concept legendary low-budget producer Roger Corman needed to ship contract director Jack Hill off to the islands to produce his smash hit The Big Doll House.  This revolutionary sleaze introduced the world to the concept of women’s prisons as topless entertainment centers, and also to the enormous talents of burgeoning bust icon  Continue reading CAPSULE: MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! (2010)

DOCUMENTARY DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2009)/AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2010)

This post was written in contemplation of the Juxtaposition Blogathon at Pussy Goes Grrr.

In 2008 documentarian Mark Hartley scored an unanticipated film festival hit with Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, an examination of obscure Australian exploitation movies of the 70s and 80s.  (Striking while the iron was hot, Hartley rolled out a spiritual sequel of sorts with Machete Maidens Unleashed!, which braved the even more bizarre jungle of Filipino exploitation cinema).  2009 saw another surprise critical success in Best Worst Movie, the story of the disastrous making, and triumphant cult legacy, of the ultra-ridiculous vegetarian-goblin horror movie Troll II, which managed to score an astonishing 95% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer.  Whatever the reason (maybe its the flowering of seeds planted by Quentin Tarantino), at this moment in time mainstream critics seem eager to recognize, examine, and even embrace the pleasures of schlock.  Since the last horror/exploitation doc cycle—the duo of The American Nightmare (2000) and Mau Mau Sex Sex (2001)—came about a decade ago, it appears the time is ripe for another down-home survey of the dark and shady sides of American cinema.

Still from Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film (2009)The thesis of Nightmares in Red, White and Blue, the 2009 examination of the American horror film, is that particular social conditions and historical anxieties shape the nature of the shock genre from decade to decade.  Brian Yuzna asserts that the variety of disfigured, limbless freaks specialized in playing in the twenties were inspired by the horrors of World War I and the sights of returning veterans maimed by modern munitions.  The viewpoint that American horror is strictly linked to American angst breaks down fairly early Continue reading DOCUMENTARY DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2009)/AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2010)