Eric’s Review: Survival of the Film Freaks (2018)

Scary DVDs! Woo!
Survival of the Film Freaks

A Documentary Celebration of the Cult film, from the glory days of Grindhouse and the VHS Era. If you are 35 or older, this will trigger some great memories. 

Coming soon to the Buried Alive Film Festival (BAFF 2018) in Atlanta!

★★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Because I love the genre)
★★★ out of ★★★★★ (If you’re not a fan of cult films)

Directed by Bill Fulkerson and Kyle Kuchta

When I was a young and impressionable genre film fan, in 1984, I bought a hefty tome by Michael Weldon titled The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.  It described the sleazy, distasteful, and fiercely independent world of the cult film.  I remember buying it in San Francisco, and it was a big taboo purchase for a 14-year-old, so it was a bit of a guilty pleasure. It was wonderful, and I couldn’t get enough.  It introduced me to movies like Maniac, Octaman, Graveyard Tramps, and Basket Case. I still have the book today, and it remains one of my prized references for my movie sourcing.

Survival of the Film Freaks, for me, is the documentary film embodiment of that book. It fully embraces these films, fully recognizing that most of them are terrible, in the best way possible, complete with a retro-80’s soundtrack pulsing in the background.  And, truth be told, this documentary is pitched to somebody just my age… somebody my age who loved trashy schlock, just like me!

This documentary features interviews with cult film luminaries and historians like Joe Bob Briggs, Ted Raimi, James Balsamo, Lloyd Kaufman, Andrea Wolanin, and William Sachs.  Icons and scions of the era of blood, boobs, exploding helicopters, and biker gangs.  Ya dig?  The interview content is full of loving homages and is supplemented with some fantastic footage of these movies, some very familiar, and others super obscure. Fulkerson and Kuchta interviewed 24 people, all of whom provide some fantastic perspectives on the era, but it would have been nice to have more than one woman on this panel.

Survival of the Film Freaks

The Survival of the Film Freaks Poster… a neat homage of the Maniac poster.

The documentary has a good flow to it, and by the end, you can sense the love of the genre that all these people have for the cheap and sleazy fare, and the simple structure of the production brings you through the beginnings of cult films all the way up to our current slate of independent genre fare.

By the 1970’s the B-movie of the matinee and drive-in era had not so much grown up, (The B-movie was still an inherently idiotic medium) but it definitely proliferated.  Independent directors now had the power to operate outside of the studio system, and with the availability of the R rating (and to a limited extent the X rating), the B movie transformed into the grindhouse cult film. The counterculture had arrived and was driving culture and the arts.

Kung-Fu, Blaxploitation, Nunsploitation, zombies, post-apocalyptic punks, chainmail bikini Viking women… anything that is beyond the taste of the mainstream public… there was now a forum and a home for it.  And because of VHS, and cable television, these movies found lasting audiences. As the documentary dove into some of these VHS classics, I found myself proclaiming “Oh yeah!  THAT movie!”  Deathstalker.  Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.  Star Crash, Heavy Metal. C.H.U.D., Hard Ticket To Hawaii… movies almost lost to time, but because of heavy rotation on pay channels, these movies are remembered and revered.

The second half of the film takes a bit of a maudlin turn, as the interviewees, and most particularly the producers and directors ponder the current state of affairs.  The merits or threats to the independent film production by streaming services is examined and fretted about.  The debate over how to make a cult film in this day and age was particularly fascinating.  An internal debate is whether current films can be cult films, and I particularly like what one reviewer said towards the end, it will be the fans that decide whether the film deserves to be a cult film or not.  I found particularly encouraging was that these people were proclaiming that directors should go for good movies, and not try and make bad movies to make them a Cult film.  Don’t try for Ed Wood.  Do the Babadook. (A hint to aspiring directors: I think there’s more profit to be made if you aim for quality in this Blumhouse/A24/IFC Midnight era!)

One omission I found curious was the connection of the independent genre film and the film festival.  For fans of the genre, some of the best ways to experience cult films is at a film festival, and as it so happens, Survival of the Film Freaks will be playing at the Buried Alive Film Festival in Atlanta on Sunday, November 18.

Survival of the Film Freaks is available free to watch streaming with an Amazon Prime account.

One big takeaway after seeing this.  I’m going to have to find out where I can stream a copy of Vasectomy, the Movie.

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