Depending on who you ask, the term “cult classic” in regard to filmmaking may be applied as a compliment or an insult. Motion pictures acquire this status based on a variety of factors. Perhaps the film flew under the radar and has a deep well of technical and narrative proficiency to be appreciated by wider audiences. One can look to the likes of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi dystopian commentary Blade Runner (1982), which has steadily grown a fanbase comprised of genre devotees and dedicated cinephiles alike in the decades since its original release. On the other hand, disturbing genre pieces like The Human Centipede (2009) are generally panned by critics on the basis of their unnecessary, overpowering grotesqueness which ultimately serves no greater purpose beyond shock value. Still, a certain subset of audience members are strangely attracted to this kind of cinematic experience, for better or for worse. In an effort to evaluate the history of the notorious cult classic film, director Danny Wolf has created a three-volume documentary series with Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All Time. The focus of this review will be placed on Time Warp Vol. 2: Horror and Sci-Fi, which examines cult hits ranging from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) to the aforementioned Blade Runner, Human Centipede, and many things in between. Unfortunately, the ability of the documentary itself to coherently focus on its own subject matter is severely deficient.
For a documentary on cult films to achieve its objectives, it has to hit at least a few specific marks. If it wants to bring in new viewers and convince the common crowd outside of the cult following that these motion pictures are worth their time, it must provide substantial defense for the artistic merits of the film. The concept of convincing newcomers to join the cult film movement is entirely possible, but takes some discipline and patience. Still, perhaps the director’s intent in this documentary was to compose a love letter to the faithful followers who have zealously treasured and admired these films for years on end. Neither one of these approaches is inherently right or wrong, but there must be a general path to which the filmmakers adhere. There should be at least a clear intended audience. This is something that cannot be said for Time Warp Vol. 2: Horror and Sci-Fi. Nothing essential is communicated to the outside audience to pique their interest in giving the film a shot. Quite on the contrary. The uncomfortable, disconcerting characteristics of movies such as Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects (2005) are highlighted in this documentary, effectively alienating anyone not fascinated by such an unsettling cinematic entity, but, this estrangement from one portion of the audience may yet be salvaged. With compelling supplementary material added in the form of obscure production details and unique anecdotes from the cast and crew, the die-hards in the cult may find that this documentary was made just for them. Even so, Time Warp Vol. 2 is not even supported by this insurance package.
For reference, one of the most significant detractors from the effectiveness of Time Warp Vol. 2is its commitment to quantity over quality. With approximately a dozen cult classics commentated upon during the 83-minute runtime of this feature, the rapid-fire flow of information coming at you is overwhelming. The documentary abruptly transitions from one cult film to the next, with no time to properly meditate on any of the bits of trivia. Paradoxically, these factoids are not even engaging enough to be given a second thought. The content is bogged down by dull, mundane summarization of the stories of these films, which cuts into the valuable time that could be spent conveying riveting tales from behind-the-scenes. The missed opportunities become even more apparent when considering the eclectic personalities brought in for interviews, including George Romero (Night of the Living Dead), Roger Corman (Death Race), Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead), Sean Young (Blade Runner), Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), and Jeff Goldblum (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension), to name a few. There is the vast potential of delightful narratives to be spun by these icons in regard to the cult film productions, which is almost completely squandered. What’s more, the quartet of hosts for the documentary — Joe Dante, John Waters, Ileana Douglas, and Kevin Pollak — feel out of place, failing to donate anything impressionable to the conversation. Even cutting out their segments entirely may have mitigated some of this damage.
To put it bluntly, Time Warp Vol. 2: Horror and Sci-Fi will leave audience members from all backgrounds of cult fandoms, or lack thereof, with a feeling that they had just binge-watched an assorted dozen of sluggish, shallow behind-the-scenes extras from YouTube. In theory, this documentary could have been an enriching annexation to the legendary tapestry of cult filmmaking. Regrettably, the final result is uninspired, forgettable, and, to be frank skippable.
Available on VOD and digital May 19th, 2020.
Final Score: 2 out of 5.
*This review was originally published by Elements of Madness on May 17, 2020, at https://elementsofmadness.com/2020/05/17/time-warp-v2/.