The genesis and evolution of cult movies is traced in this entertaining documentary
The Buried Alive Film Fest ran from Nov. 14–18, 2018, in Atlanta.
As a young movie lover, the idea of a cult classic always made a little nervous. For me, the term signified a certain class of movie that was separate from me, that only certain people in touch with a particular level of filmmaking were allowed to experience and appreciate. Years later, with a hefty collection of my own, my relationship with such movies has certainly changed. Now I realize that cult films are, for the most part, undefinable cinematic entities which speak to virtually every niche of the collective movie world. Everyone has a cult favorite, whether they know it or not. Anyone who loves movies is inevitably attracted to movies which exist somewhere off the beaten path that speak to them for reasons which may or may not be too clear. Directors Bill Fulkerson and Kyle Kuchta have clearly realized this, as their feature documentary Survival of the Film Freaks looks to not only pay homage to the evolution of the cult film, but also to uncover the essence of one of the most undefinable sub-genres of film.
There’s a strong balance between playfulness and earnestness throughout Survival of the Film Freaks and its efforts to pay tribute to one of the most unclassifiable kinds of films. Moments featuring vintage commercials and reminiscing about favorite cult titles provide plenty of enjoyment to be had here. At the same time, the doc brings up key areas worthy of debate such as the practice of reviving older rare movies online, the endless controversy surrounding the act of piracy, and the recent crop of boutique home video labels whose mission it is to restore and preserve these little-known films for the audiences who have never forgotten them. There’s also some talk about the influence of cult movies on latter day titles that try to be “purposely cult” and why they oftentimes don’t work. The main issue on hand here though is what the current level of accessibility to cult films has done for the viewing experience and the serendipitous factor regarding titles potential fans have yet to discover.
As a documentary effort, Survival of the Film Freaks thankfully isn’t too heavy on the montage factor, although such moments are still there. At a certain point, the doc can’t help but fall into the sort of “research paper”-like trap so many of its kind do where the film becomes a historical chronicle rather than an exploration. The movie notes the power of midnight screenings in giving cult films valuable exposure and the death of major studio practices in the ‘70s which led to the vast production of titles which would come to be known as cult. Survival of the Film Freaks loses a little bit of focus by the time the advent of streaming and the overall changing forms of media used to watch cult films are introduced. It’s not that the information isn’t valuable and important to the journey of this specific kind of cinema, but you can’t help but feel that the time may have been better spent by further dissecting the essence of what makes a true cult film.
Survival of the Film Freaks isn’t short on an assortment of eclectic commentators who add their proven expertise to the doc. Folks such as Shout Factory’s Jeff Nelson, actor Ted Raimi, director Adam Green and legendary USA Network cult movie host Joe Bob Briggs all offer up their takes on the glory of the cult film, making the movie all the more credible while adding some levity in the process. A number of cult favorites are name checked, including horror titles Driller Killer and The Sentinel as well as The Apple and Pink Flamingos, showing the variety to be found within cult cinema. Survival of the Film Freaks also shows how the plethora of little-known, yet fiercely beloved cult titles paved the way for movies such as Showgirls, The Room, and Sharknado to flourish, contributing to their visibility and embracing from the public. In the end, however, what the film does best is celebrate the beauty of the cult movie while making sure their fans know they’re not alone in liking whatever cinematic curio they find themselves latching onto for reasons usually unknown.