Roger Ebert bothered to give a this movie a poor review, commenting on its poor acting and the sense it creates that its the result of a group of friends goofing around. These charges can be levelled against ANY John Waters film, but there’s a mild sense of jouissance in that he said it about this particular anti-Hollywood Waters production. John Waters is one of a few reknown countercultural filmmakers. His work is always transgressive, willfull schlock, hence William S Burroughs honoured the director by naming him the “Pope of Trash.” One of the recurring themes in Waters work is the blending of the transgressive with the transcendant in what is often a weird and carnivalesque spectacle augmented by intentionally low production values.
This film’s central character, Cecil B. Demented, is a terrorist film director who is followed by a crew of violent movie revolutionaries who seek to dismantle the system that produces mainstream films. Each crew member is tattooed with the name of one of the great non-mainstream auteurs of cinema, including “David Lynch” (on the art director’s knuckles) and the occultist director, Kenneth Anger (across the chest of the satanist, recalling Anger’s own chest tattoo that reads ‘lucifer’).
Each crew member has a unique anti-social personality which they bring to the whole, drug abuse, deviant sexuality, a relentless will to violence, they’re all represented in Demented’s crew. The crew kidnap a major Holywood film star and make her the central figure in their film, recalling the 1974 kidnapping of Patty Hearst (who appears in this film) by the Symbionese Liberation Army.
The film operates as an exaggerated telling of some of Water’s own methods of filmmaking. In a 1988 documentary about Waters he discusses how he would jump out a car, shoot a scene with Divine on the Baltimore sidewalk, then jump back into the car.
Cecil B. Demented’s directorial methods are similar, except that he threatens outsiders to his crew with death if they don’t participate according to his orders. Demented's goal is to achieve a representation of "real terror" in film. To make a film in such a way, with a Hollywood star, is perhaps a fantasy to film terrorists everywhere. The film progresses in such a way that Melanie Griffith's superstar character becomes integrated into the group to the extent that she starts participating in the havoc they wreack. and many of the crew (including Demented) die over the course of a number of shootouts and violent melees with opposing forces, including the Baltimore Police, the Teamsters, and the security personnel of the theaters the Demented crew raids.