Local film buff explores what makes a movie a cult classic

Irv Slifkin’s documentary features interviews with actors who have starred in the likes of ‘The Big Leboowski’ and 'Point Break.'

Courtesy of Irv Slifkin.

Maybe it didn’t do well in theaters, but it’s that movie you turn on when you’re sick, when the weather outside is a bit dreary or when you’re in quarantine due to a global pandemic. 

Cult films, according to Irv Slifkin, are movies that weren’t necessarily hits but have gained a strong following in the years since their release. Slifkin’s documentary, “Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All Time,” explores an array of movies through interviews with their stars and directors and film critics. The first episode of the three-part mini-series began streaming on April 21.

The Cherry Hill resident serves as the documentary’s co-producer and co-writer. A longtime cinephile, Slifkin has shared his passion for movies on a weekly basis through his film series,  “First Monday Films,” at the Moorestown Library. Now he’s eager to explore the cult film genre with a larger audience.

Slifkin’s work on the project came about following a conversation with a friend who was toying with the idea of a series exploring cult films. Slifkin said if that was the subject matter, he wanted to be involved. So, the pair met with director Danny Wolf and began brainstorming a master list of the films they wanted to touch on.

They quickly realized they had more than 150 films on their list, so they decided to narrow it  based on who they could get to speak on each film. From there, they cut a sizzle reel and sent it to the managers and agents of their interview prospects. Along the way, Slifkin and his friend were excited to snag some big names for interviews, among them Jeff Bridges to talk about “The Big Lebowski,” Jeff Goldblum to discuss “Buckaroo Banzai” and Gary Busey to chat about “Point Break.” 

“It just sort of grew bigger and bigger as we went along,” Slifkin noted. “It took us a good two years to complete it and get pretty much everybody we wanted to get in the film. Eventually almost everybody came aboard to talk to us about the films we had.”

Slifkin and Wolf would write questions and trade them back and forth. The former said he was interested to learn how the definition of a cult film varies so much from person to person. Slifkin said the director proposed films like “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Valley Girl” that weren’t on his radar but that he learned have massive followings nevertheless. 

The films featured by Slifkin run the gamut, but some of the defining characteristics are that they’re typically offbeat and feature quirky characters. He said audiences are often drawn to one defining element of a film. In “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” it’s the music, while for “The Big Lebowski,” it might be the bowling.

When Slifkin and company finally finished more than 100 interviews, they sat down and cut their footage into a five- or six-episode series, but when they shopped the film around, they learned several companies had similar projects. They decided to make the project into two films. But, when that proved too long to watch, they decided on a mini-series with three parts: “Midnight Madness,” “Horror & Sci-Fi” and “Comedy and Camp.” The team found a distributor and the series will air over a three-month time span.

Slifkin said for those who have never seen a cult film, the documentary offers a thorough and entertaining overview on the subject, and for those who are well-versed, he expects the interviews may be revealing. 

“Even if they know the film, the people we have in it will tell [them] something they didn’t know; we have a lot of great great stories in there,” Slifkin enthused.

“Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All Time” is available on: Apple TV, iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, FandangoNow, Redbox, Dish Network, Xbox/Microsoft Store, DirecTV, Playstation, Hoopla and Kanopy.