Howdy, y'all! McEric here with news that the final installment in Danny Wolf's timely and enjoyable documentary series TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL-TIME releases today on all streaming platforms, and he's saved the best for last: Comedy.
Check out the trailer:
"That’s the thing about cult films," says director Danny Wolf. "When you’re doing it you can’t predict what your movie will become down the road. It’s up to the fans, it’s not up to anyone who has anything to do with the movie."
That's certainly seen in this collection of cult comedy classics, starting with FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and running all over the comedic map to MONTY PYTHON & THE HOLY GRAIL, which owes its very existence to rock-n-roll. The film never would have been made without large sums of money supplied by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Genesis.
Moving on to "Campy Cult Cinema," we finally discuss Ed Wood, and John Waters gets another nod in the series for FEMALE TROUBLE.
The documentary series ends much as it began, with a deep dive into a midnight madness film that is "the closest thing to ROCKY HORROR since ROCKY HORROR," Tommy Wiseau's 2003 drama THE ROOM. I'm sure I don't need to say anything more about that, except to say that it is the perfect bookend to this stellar series.
I had a chance to chat with director Danny Wolf about this wonderful series and the nature of cult films yesterday afternoon and thank him personally for this gift to movie lovers everywhere.
Eric McClanahan: Thank you so much for TIME WARP. It is, I think, the perfect salve for these times.
Danny Wolf: Yeah, it came out good for something that was nine hours, originally. Then it was cut painstakingly down like eight and then it finally capped out at around 5-and-a-half but it went through different iterations along the way. Once it was going to be a two-parter and then it was going to be a series and it ended up as three-parter. So kind of went through different avenues to end up where it’s at.
EM: So you say at one point it could’ve been a series?
DW: That’s why there’s four hosts. Originally we brought in Joe Dante. We wanted four experts and Joe does “Trailers from Hell” and knows just about more than anybody else in the world about movies. John Waters, again, knows everything, and we have two of his movies that we didn’t interview him for so it made sense to have him as a host so he could comment on PINK FLAMINGOS and FEMALE TROUBLE. Then we needed a female so Illeana Douglas, who has or had a show on Turner, so she knows her movies. And then Kevin Pollak, I think we just kind of wanted somebody who was an actor and has done some directing and is funny. We kind of wanted like an actor/director/actress and then some film nerds of authorities, and those four seemed to be it, even though John Waters and Joe Dante do most of the talking. Just because they talk a lot and they know a lot.
EM: Yeah, Pollak did kind of seem the wild card.
DW: Yeah, he didn’t do a lot of talking, but between Joe Dante and John Waters it’s hard to get in there. That day I was directing that segment and I was thinking “Oh my God, these two just keep going back and forth…” but they’re good. Joe and John and great at what they do but it’s hard to get a word in.
EM: I can see that but I do agree that it’s best they did most of the talking because they know what they’re talking about.
DW: They really do. And John’s funny and comes up with funny things to say, and Joe’s a good host and knows his shit really well. That work really began when we thought we were going to do a five-part series so we felt like if we had hosts they could do wrap-arounds, but when we decided to do the three-part avenue we didn’t want to ditch them because it costs so much money to do that, so we kept him in at the beginning of each genre and then sprinkle them throughout and that’s how it ended up.
EM: So did you do most of the editing yourself?
DW: I did the editing, not physically myself, but I sat with our editor Steve Austin and Eric Mittleman; we had two editors. And, again, it was nine hours and we had so much good stuff that we just couldn’t use because at some point you go “It’s just too long.” I mean FROM DUSK TIL DAWN was in, because I did interviews with Tom Savini and Fred Williamson who were in the doc, but I took it out. I think that’s the only one we scrapped because just not having Tarantino or Harvey Keitel or Robert Rodriguez, and just having Savini and Williamson kind of didn’t do it justice enough. That was the only movie that came out that was originally in.
EM: That would’ve been in the ‘Horror’ feature?
DW: Yeah, in the Horror and Sci-Fi.
EM: I would definitely say that was a cult classic. It was one of those films that befuddled viewers when it hit theaters but has found another life past that initial run.
DW: Yeah, sure, and having Savini there who’d already talked about DAWN OF THE DEAD and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and having Fred Williamson on talking about Blacksploitation, I thought yeah, FROM DUSK TIL DAWN! But not having Tarantino or Rodriguez, I thought we could take that one out. Pretty much everything else, nothing got killed. Our original board, we had about 150 titles, and we kind of tiered them. We had the automatics, the non-negotiables, like we’ve got to have ERASERHEAD and ROCKY HORROR. Then we had the B-list, the C-list, and the D-list. Some of it just came down to, “Well, these are obvious; we have to do this.” Some it was “Well, we got Rob Reiner and Michael McKean, so we’ve got to include THIS IS SPINAL TAP.” You know, availability. A movie like EL TOPO, we probably should’ve done. THE HARDER THEY COME, we probably should’ve done. Absolutely, one of the movies I wanted to do, a great cult film and one of my favorites, it’s PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. We tried to get Brian DePalma, and he said no. Then tried to get Paul Williams, and his manager, who I left messages for three times, never got back to me. Hence, what ended up happening, because I have a friend who is now doing a play with Paul Williams, he never got the message that we wanted to interview him, and we would’ve done it. Gladly. So PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is one movie that should be in there but because we couldn’t get anybody, we didn’t put it in. The other movie would be MOMMIE DEAREST. Absolute cult movie, probably top ten.
EM: Yeah, that definitely would’ve been a midnight madness feature.
DW: Easily, but Faye Dunaway is impossible, doesn’t do a lot of talking. And Diana Scarwid, she’s like in South Carolina and wasn’t feeling well health-wise, and asked us to circle back in a year, so we left it out. But I would say that MOMMIE DEAREST and PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE for sure are obvious omissions that should be there.
EM: So it sounds like there could be additional coverage in the future, in say something like a podcast or an online video series. Is that something you’d consider?
DW: I haven’t considered that yet because I’ve been finishing up this other documentary that’s coming out in August, but is something that I would love to do, because there is so much you can talk about. Like, I would’ve loved to interview Joe Don Baker, and I caught WALKING TALL on TV a few months after we’d done all this and I thought “Ugh, we totally could’ve done WALKING TALL!” and interview Joe Don Baker. I mean that movie had two sequels, a remake with the Rock, a TV series, a museum in Tennessee, etc. So if we did this again, that would go in. BILLY JACK would go in. For sure. Every time I would do an interview, whether it was a critic or a director, they would mention something, like “Well are you guys doing CADDYSHACK?” “Are you doing SLAP SHOT?” “Are you doing STAR WARS?” was mentioned several times. Rob Reiner asked if we were doing THE PRINCESS BRIDE. There are so many subjects, so many cult films that you could do, that in our case at some point you have to go “This is it. We can’t do a hundred.” And we want to spend some time on each one. But if someone asked if I could do another one and pick another thirty movies? Easily. But the ones we picked were kind of the obvious ones, I think. You know, you’ve got to do HAROLD & MAUDE. We tried to get Bud Cort, but he does not like the movie being referred to as a cult film. My producer talked to him on the phone and he wasn’t even happy it was included in the collection. He says “it’s not a cult film, I don’t like the term ‘cult film’. It’s a great American classic.” He doesn’t like it being referred to as a cult film because he thinks it belittles the film, which I think is bullshit. Bud Cort would’ve been a great interview but he won’t talk about the movie.
EM: In that framework.
DW: Yeah, in that way. And THE ROOM was kind of the same way. We got Greg Sestero and he was relatively easy to get and it was great, but we couldn’t get Tommy Wiseau. Even with Greg pushing him. It’s the same thing, Tommy doesn’t like THE ROOM being called a cult film. He thinks it’s an insult, a slight. So when they hear the word “cult” they think it’s kind of a put-down of their film, when in reality they’re lucky that people are still talking about your movie or people are still wanting to discover your movie, or people are hearing about it for the first time and will check it out. It’s not an insult in any way to call a film a cult film. Jeff Bridges loves that THE BIG LEBOWSKI is a cult film because they do the Lebowski Fest every year and people show up dressed in character and he plays with his band. It keeps these movies alive, and new audiences keep finding them. So it’s weird when you hear of cult being an insult when it’s the obvious.
EM: Well it shows that there’s a different interpretation of that term and what it might look like to someone on the inside of it.
DW: Yeah but who wouldn’t want to have their film discovered by new generations every five to ten to fifteen years? I mean PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE has a Phantompalooza in, I think, Winnipeg every year. So new people keep finding this thing to love and celebrate it every year. How many films have -paloozas? I mean THE WARRIORS is another great example. They’ll do fests and bring some of the stars of the movie and they get thousands of fans of the movie to come out for stars and photos. So someone like Micheal Beck totally embraces the status of the cult film.
EM: So speaking of movies that find second life and new audiences, I love that you included the movie SHOWGIRLS. It is such an anomaly of filmmaking, Paul Verhoeven, it-- I’m curious how it ended up on the board and what reasoning you had in putting it in the film series.
DW: SHOWGIRLS was an absolute no-brainer to be in our doc, for a couple of reasons. First off, I was able to attend one of the midnight screenings where they acted it out, like ROCKY HORROR, years ago, like right when it first came out, like it was just finishing its run in the theater. This was in San Francisco and they had a midnight showing with performers in drag, so it had a cult audience almost immediately. And you know, Joe Eszterhas, coming off of BASIC INSTINCT, he’d done a couple of big movies, and this movie was so panned and so ripped, I think, because of Elizabeth Berkley’s acting, the movie didn’t really have a niche. Was it a comedy? Was it a dark comedy? Is it supposed to be taken seriously? It sort of depends on who you ask right now. Like Rena Riffel, a friend of mine whom we interviewed in the doc, she thinks no one really knew what they were making when they made this movie.
EM: Yeah, I can see that.
DW: They didn’t have an understanding of “What is this movie, really?” Gina Gershon, now, totally embraces it, but she didn’t for a long time. She didn’t do a lot of interviews about SHOWGIRLS so we were lucky to get her and she was so cool and had a lot of great stories, but she totally embraces people dressing up as Cristal now. And as far Eszterhas, I think he got paid the most for any script almost of all time, and because the movie did so badly at the box office, he was never the same as a “respected” screenwriter. Verhoeven also took a hit, even though he’d done all these great movies like STARSHIP TROOPERS and TOTAL RECALL. It was one of the movies like “Oh it’s going to ruin your career. It’s terrible!” Gina Gershon made a great point. All these critics ripped it, and now when she sees them, they praise it to her. She’s like “Where were you when this movie came out and you hated it and tore it apart and now it’s high acclaim and you praise its camp?” It was one of these movies that was just so torn apart when it first came out. I’m one of those people that knew when I first saw it in theaters that it was going to be a cult film. I had no doubt about it. Because it was so campy and gaudy, kind of an oddball movie, and people are going to find this movie for decades. And I think, as Rena said it, it made more money on VHS and DVD sales than any film for a long time. So the movie ended up making a ton of money, even though it failed at the box office. It’s something of a guilty pleasure. It’s one of those movies that when they first saw it they’d ask how can you watch that piece of shit but now they’ve watched it like six, seven, eight times and watch it at parties and quote every line and they think it’s genius.
EM: So tell me about finishing out the series on comedy, then particularly having the last feature you cover being THE ROOM, which you defined as “A Cult Film Today” even though it’s not the newest film in the series?
DW: Yeah, THE ROOM. We kind of wanted to bookend it by starting with ROCKY HORROR, which is the biggest cult film in all of history, there will never be a bigger cult film than that. It’s still playing in midnight screenings across the country, and then you have THE ROOM which has the same treatment. You can go see it at midnight and people are shouting the lines and throwing spoons. It’s the closest thing to ROCKY HORROR since ROCKY HORROR. So it made sense to look at, like “Where did this start?” and “Where has it ended up?” in the sense that there aren’t many midnight showings anymore with that level of audience participation since THE ROOM, so even though it’s been out a while, it’s still showing at midnight and selling out midnight shows. So even though there are more recent movies on the list, like THE DEVIL’S REJECTS or HUMAN CENTIPEDE, THE ROOM is the only one that lent itself to these midnight showings, that possibly could have that appeal. Maybe MANDY could be the next one, that Nicolas Cage movie?
EM: That’s a great movie.
DW: Yeah, I went to the premiere and Nic was there and the director, and you could tell just from the energy of the crowd that night that this is a movie that in ten, twenty years will be playing at midnight.
EM: I’d like to see the cosplay for that, too. That’d be trippy.
DW: Yeah, for sure. That would be the next one. If I had to pick the next sort of big cult film in time it would be MANDY.
EM: So you said you’ve got something coming out in August? What’s that?
DW: The film is a documentary, that only has one part, it’s about two hours, and it’s called SKIN. It’s about nudity in the movies. It’s really good, and it follows the evolution of nudity in mainstream movies, not adult or porn, starting in the 1880’s with BODIES IN MOTION, which was the first nudity ever caught on film, all the way through the 1920s and 30s to the Production Code, where there was a code that stated that you couldn’t show nudity, and certain directors were breaking the code and still putting nudity, like Cecille B. Demille. All the way through the 60s to MIDNIGHT COWBOY, which was the Best Film in 1970 and had nudity in it, it was X-rated. Then we go through the 70s and the 80s with the sex comedies, like LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN, FAST TIMES again, PRIVATE SCHOOL, then we do horror, where you see a lot of nudity in horror films, and it comes all the way up through the #MeToo movement. So it’s really a historical look at nudity from the very beginning to where we are today. And now there’s CGI, where some nudity is not even the actor or actress being nude.
EM: Yeah I saw an article the other day that CGI sex scenes might be the future of provocative cinema.
DW: Very well could be. You don’t need body doubles if you’re going to use CGI for, like, a woman’s breasts, you just do it through a computer. But it was interesting because we got to interview Malcom McDowell for CALIGULA, and Eric Roberts and Mariel Hemingway for STAR 80, and Traci Lords for ZACK AND MIRI, along with, of course, Kevin Smith. A lot of male and female nudity is covered in the film. Sean Young for NO WAY OUT. There’s about sixty celebrities in it. And they talk about how nudity affected their career, and was it positive or negative. Were they only being asked to do roles because they’d take their top off? It really delves deep into “How does an actor deal with nudity and what does it do to their career? Are there other repercussions?” Diane Franklin, who starred in THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN said the first three movies she did, she was asked to take her top off, and then it became only getting offers of nudity, like Shannon Elizabeth, because they were willing to do it. So certain producers would think “Oh she has no problem taking her top off so let’s cast her.” So we kind of go into that. It’s good. It came out really well.
EM: What about the inclusion of recent films, like THE DEVIL’S REJECTS or THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE?
DW: Like, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS has a cult following. It spawned a sequel, you see Captain Spaulding t-shirts, I see them all around, and people dress up like Captain Spaulding, it’s a Halloween costume. Not really a horror movie but worth inclusion. Same with a movie like THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, which a lot of people haven’t seen, but really became a cult film, not in theaters, but as a video-on-demand.
EM: HUMAN CENTIPEDE, I think, is one of those films that became a cult film even before it was released. You didn’t even have to see it. People would talk about it and you’d say “Oh my goodness! What?!?”
DW: Absolutely. I remember hearing about it and reading about it and seeing the poster, and I loved that tagline: “100% Medically Accurate.” You’re right, that movie was already getting a cult audience before it came out, and then it spawned two crazy sequels, and he’s a character in his own right. Tom Six, but he’s cool.
EM: Now what about THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT?
DW: Hmm. We considered that, but sometimes when a movie is too big, we skip it. Like, it did really well, but then it wasn’t one of those movies that people discovered or re-discovered afterwards. It kind of had this big wave, and it was a big movie and made all this money, but then that was it. Made a sequel no one cared about, and that’s that. Tommy Wiseau is kind of the same way. Tommy had lightning in a bottle with THE ROOM. He didn’t intend to make that a cult film. He intended to make a really good movie, but it’s so bad it became this cult film. He’s made two or three movies since, no one can name or has seen. And if he made THE ROOM 2, no one would go see it, trust me. These movies are all, truly, lightning in a bottle. You made something, it kind of clicks at some point in time, and then it gets a life of its own. You can’t try to make a cult film; you don’t know how the audience will accept it, you don’t know what’s going to happen. A few times people said “Why don’t you do some of the Troma movies, like THE TOXIC AVENGER?” Well those are made to be cult films.
EM: Yeah, Kaufman knows what he’s doing when he’s making those features.
DW: Exactly. Those are not cult films. They’re made to be what they are but they don’t really go anywhere pretty much after. But when the Coen Brothers are doing THE BIG LEBOWSKI, there’s no way of knowing that ten years later there’s going to be Lebowski Fests or midnight showings where people are dressed as the characters. There’s no way of knowing that. That, the fans have to make that happen. I’m sure when they were making THE WARRIORS they weren’t thinking that twenty or thirty years later they’d go to Coney Island and five thousand fans would show up dressed as the characters. How would they know? You can’t predict that. That’s the thing about cult films: when you’re doing it you can’t predict what your movie will become down the road. It’s up to the fans, it’s not up to anyone who has anything to do with the movie. Do you really think Elizabeth Berkley would think that there’d be two documentaries about SHOWGIRLS in 2020? Do you really think when she was making SHOWGIRLS she ever would have guessed that? No way! There’s a drinking game and a board game, and the Blu-Ray has all these extras. There’s no way when you’re making that you have any idea any of that’ll happen.
TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL-TIME, VOLUME 3 - COMEDY & CAMP is available today on all major streaming platforms. Check it out and relive some of your favorite laughs. Big thanks to Danny Wolf for chatting with me and we're looking forward to his next feature documentary out in August.
Until then, stay safe and sane!
-McEric, aka Eric McClanahan-