I watched Cecil B. Demented once around the time that it came out, and have since thought of it as my least favorite John Waters movie. The part of the film that stuck with was Cecil’s crew introducing themselves one by one to the big Hollywood star they have kidnapped to be in their underground film, flashing their Spike Lee, David Lynch and Sam Fuller tattoos, and the scene struck me as being really forced. But I was thinking about this movie recently, and realized that it is pretty silly to dislike a John Waters movie for being unrealistic, and the director studiously avoids reality in all of his work. Giving this a second try, I enjoyed it a lot more. Waters was always fascinated by the case of Patricia Hearst, and the former kidnap victim appears as the mother of the “cinema terrorists” here. Echoing the Hearst case, Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) is kidnapped and forced to star in the “ultimate underground movie” and comes down with a major case of Stockholm Syndrome. Although the Cecil’s over-the-top approach to filmmaking is delivered very much tongue-in-cheek, you can sense that Waters is throwing out some of his own ideas about cinema. “We believe technique to be nothing more than failed style,” Cecil says in one scene.
Waters made a good call casting a then-little-known Maggie Gyllenhaal as a flippant satanist.