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John Waters: Still Demented After All These Years - Cecil B. Demented Movie Review by Spyder Darling

 Cecil B. Demented
Stephen Dorff as Cecil B. Demented
John Shaft isn't the only bad mother making a comeback this summer. John Waters, Baltimore's ambassador of bad taste and director of "divine" comedies, has finally returned to fetid form with Cecil B. Demented, an ice pick to the face of mainstream cinema that's the most scathing, raving and entertaining piece of trailer trash Waters has dished up since 1990's Crybaby. His latest is a deliciously depraved depiction of an outlaw movie company that kidnaps a superstar actress and brainwashes her into helping them terrorize the mainstream film industry, all in the name of artistic freedom and cheaper, healthier popcorn. The movie is relentlessly funny, gross, and outrageous in its satiric condemnation of current filmmaking and almost redeems Waters for the mediocrity of his last picture, 1998's Pecker, which was the one thing you never expect his films to be – boring.

Stephen Dorff is devilishly decadent and diabolical as the title character Cecil B. Demented. For those who didn't go to film school, the name is a pun based on legendary silent-film director Cecil B. DeMille. Demented is an insane independent film maker – part David Koresh, part David Lynch – who kidnaps actress Honey Whitlock with the help of his Waco-worthy crew of whackos, nicknamed the Sprocket Holes. Honey (played with surprising style by the actress formerly known as Mrs. Don Johnson, Melanie Griffith) is a martini-swilling thespian, benevolent to her public, but so bitchy in private she makes Sharon Stone look like Mother Theresa. Cecil wants Honey to star in his own film, Raving Beauties, a heavily improvised and heavily armed docu-drama indicting everything from corporate movie making and its endorsement of censorship under the guise of "family entertainment" to the high price of snacks at theater candy counters. Apparently the only things Cecil approves of currently are Kung Fu movies and pornography. Fans of the latter genre rise up and help the Sprocket Holes out of a sticky situation in one of the movie's more disgusting sequences. It's not as gross as Divine gagging on dog-doo at the end of Pink Flamingos, but it's damn close and damn funny too.

Melanie Griffith
Melanie Griffith
as Honey Whitlock
Honey is understandably reluctant to follow Cecil's manic direction, seeing how she's just been taken by farce, stripped of her status and her hair color. Eventually, Cecil's snake-like charm and the fact that Honey's supposed friends and fans quickly turn on her when they suspect she's become a cinema terrorist herself convince Miss Whitlock to join Cecil on his Kamikaze crusade for "ultimate reality." It all ends in a blazing glory at a drive-in where a retrospective of Honey's films is shown complete with a giant ham given away to the best Whitlock look-a-like. Honey is hauled away more famous than ever and Cecil is guaranteed a place in guerilla cinema history. Wow, all that and more in only 88 minutes. And for less than the budget of 88 seconds of Perfect Patriot 2, or any of the summer's other block-bluster excuses for entertainment.

Cecil B. Demented reunites several veterans of Waters' previous exploits and it is as thrilling as a Manson family reunion seeing Mink Stole (Pink Flamingos), Ricki Lake (Hairspray) and Patricia Hearst (Cry Baby) together again. Hearst, of course, is no stranger to the story of a kidnapping victim who is brainwashed into siding with her captors. She lived through the experience herself in the '70s when she went from being a newspaper heiress to machinegun-toting bank robber while being held prisoner by the SLA. This time out, Patty has turned in her beret and Uzi for a station wagon and apron as the mother to Fidget, Cecil's kidnapped costume director. Fidget, played with appropriate nervousness by Eric M. Barry, resents his parents for never taking him to R-rated movies and has allowed himself to be branded (literally) as one of Demented's dilated and deranged pupils.

One Crybaby cast member who didn't make it back for more is former porn star and aspiring techno diva Traci Lords. Alicia Witt does her pouty best to fill Traci's stiletto heels in the roll of Cherish, a rhythm method actress who has starred in the triple-X versions of Honey Whitlock's most famous roles. While Witt may not have Lord's real-life experience to bring to her part, the rest of Alicia's parts fit quite nicely.

"Lots of kids dream of making a movie. Only those willing to die for it succeed," Cecil says to rally his reel-life radicals. While that might be as valid an artistic vision as any, you can't have much of a wrap party with a dead crew. And, honestly, none of this is to be taken too seriously. Waters has his tongue lodged deep in the cheek of radical chic as much as he's making mince meat of major studio mediocrity. The best directors, like the ones tattooed on the arms of the Sprocket Holes: Peckinpah, Fuller, Fassbinder et al., wielded the double-edged sword of creativity and commercialism with the elegant ease of a cinematic Samurai. And Waters knows, whereas Demented doesn't, the true rules of the game, how to play to win and live to enjoy your winnings.

It's been said good taste is just an excuse for lack of imagination. If Cecil B. Demented demonstrates nothing else, it shows John Waters still has ideas aplenty and hopefully it won't be another ten years before he makes the most of them again.

August 2000

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