Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Just what in the name of all that is bloody, trashy, and glorious is a cult movie?


         What is a cult movie? Well, I suppose there is much to consider when answering that question. I will try, however, to give you my best understanding of what a cult film means to me. Cult films are pictures that lie firmly under the mainstream radar but that after many years of generational rediscovering and word of mouth have become classic films in their own right. They are little movies with big followings. Movies pursued to every run down art theater, drive-in, and horror film convention by cinema fans with an unrelenting passion for all that makes a cult film a cult film in the first place.

You see cult movies aren't big matinee headlining A-list starrers for a reason. The subject matter found in cult movies is usually too risqué, controversial, or uncomfortable for the general audience admission. They are most often times found within subgenres like horror, science fiction, exploitation, sexploitation, and even comedy. The budgets of these films tend to be relatively small and so the actors are generally unknowns, the special effects are all practical makeup and kayro syrup, the writers and directors would never be given financing by major production companies to deliver the vision they wish to deliver, and the films are made more a more specific kind of movie goer as opposed to a broad anybody who buys movie tickets" type of audience. Sometimes cult movies find some kind of crossover success in the mainstream. Sometimes big studio movies intended for mass-market appeal aren't as commercially successful or profitable as intended and fade away into obscurity. That is, until they are discovered by a newer more forgiving audience who lauds the film and gives it the respect it wasn't given upon its initial release.

Cult films are both the stepping stone for newcomers and the safety net of actors and filmmakers who always sought to make such films and of course, actors and filmmakers who never intended to make such films but found some level of success or notoriety in doing so. For instance, Johnny Depp got his start in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Brad Pitt starred in Cutting Class. Marisa Tomei was in The Toxic Avenger, Kevin Bacon Friday the 13th, Fisher Stevens, Jason Alexander, and Holly Hunter The Burning. In terms of directors, Oliver Stone directed Seizure, Martin Scorsese helmed Boxcar Bertha, and Sam Raimi, of course, The Evil Dead. Some actors like Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Jeffrey Combs, Tony Todd, Udo Kier, and Vincent Price are most well known for their work in horror and exploitation. Directors, Lloyd Kaufman, Wes Craven, Terrence Fisher, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Don Coscarelli, and John Carpenter remained in horror and exploitation for most of their careers.

Cult films have at times found critical appraise. Most usually they have been shredded to pieces in the pages of every newspaper in the country. Very view critics have ever been able to grasp cult films or find any merit in them. They often times spend their entire review doting on technical limitations, the amount of nudity, or the amount of blood rather than listening to the dialogue, truly taking in an actors performance, or grading the film on its own merits against peers and imitators. An example of critic who doesn't get it is the one who says, “This movie is shit. The Godfather walks all over this. Another reviewer that one can not rely upon for a true assessment of a cult picture is the reviewer offended by nudity or who doesn't understand why a chainsaw must be used to dismember someone in a film called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Some critics however, do get it. Roger Ebert, Rex Reed, Harry Knowles, and Richard Roeper have often give fair if not good reviews to cult films. They have always made known their disgust at particular elements and they haven't exactly gone out of their way to praise every horror or exploitation piece that has made its way to their local theater. However, they have always fairly reviewed the films based on what they saw rather than what they had preferred to have seen. Joe Bob Briggs, known as the world's only drive-in critic, reviews cult films exclusively and has written about the topic extensively. Halloween, Jaws, Psycho, Peeping Tom, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Alien have, despite their detractors, found levels of mainstream critical appraise. Joe Bob will tell you to also check out Ator the Fighting Eagle, Puppet Master, and Pray for Death.

Cult films do not demand the attention of anyone. Cinemagoers demand the attention of the cult film. These are films found, enjoyed, and reviewed on the terms of the viewer. Viewers, after discovering a new treasure, will wonder why a movie like Bad Girls Go to Hell, Blood Feast, Blood on Satan's Claw, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, or I Was A Teenage Frankenstein arent more well known. Perhaps it was the lack of studio support or maybe it was the films' producer’s lack of funding for advertising that prevented these films from gracing matinees across America before midnight. Perhaps it is just a matter of society's tastes. We must, as cult film fans, understand that the average movie going public would rather watch Transformers or Valentine's Day than X-tro or Nekromantik. Cult films are generally less accessible because one just doesn't pack up the kids to go see Gas Pump Girls or Lair of the White Worm. Everything that is so beautiful about the cult film is exactly what damns it to the midnight double feature status it has attained. That's not necessarily a bad thing mind you. If more people were watching Sorority Babes in the Slime Ball Bowl-O-Rama and Anthropophagus, they wouldnt be cult movies anymore. These movies know exactly what they are and where their audience lies and it's time we did too. There is something very exciting and fulfilling about knowing that at any given time, in any restaurant, shopping mall, or workplace you may be, you're probably the only person that's ever seen Three on A Meathook.

            So, cult film fans, I demand you do your part in keeping these classics alive. Pass around your DVD or worn-out VHS copy to friends, go support special screenings of these movies at mom and pop theaters, art houses, and drive-ins, and keep perusing the internet and library for more titles you need to add to your shopping list. I'll even help you out below.

Basket Case

Satan's Sadists


City of the Dead

The Fifth Cord

Spider Baby

Reform School Girls

Dracula vs. Frankenstein

Please Don't Eat My Mother!


House of Whipcord

White Cannibal Queen

Bloodsucking Freaks

House on the Edge of the Park


Something Weird

Strip Nude for Your Killer


The Pit

The Gore, Gore Girls

Day of the Triffids

The Beastmaster

Silent Scream

Virgin Witch


SS Hellcamp


Blood and Lace

House of Seven Corpses

Blood and Black Lace

Samurai Cop

Bloody Moon

Devil Doll


The Tingler

Killer's Delight


The Thing from Another World

The Whip and the Body

The Devil's Rain

The Teacher

The Leopard Man

And Soon the Darkness

Brotherhood of Satan

Empire of the Ants

Thrill Killers

Theater of Blood


It Came Without Warning

The Hitchhiker

Baba Yaga

Blood Diner


The Brood

Night of the Demon (1957-Occult)

Motor Psycho

Silent Night, Bloody Night

Monster on Campus

Die Screaming Marianne

This Stuff'll Kill Ya!

Just Before Dawn


Food of the Gods

Lisa and the Devil



Night of the Demon (1980- Sasquatch)

Don't Go in the House


Honeymoon Killers

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS

I Walked with a Zombie


Motel Hell        

Dr. Caligari (1989)

Chopping Mall

The Prowler

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Blind Beast


Olga's House of Shame


The Curious Dr. Humpp

Deadly Spawn

Scream and Scream Again


Sinful Dwarf

It Came from Outer Space

1 comment: