Hello folks. This post is inspired by an article I spotted recently on NPR. The article is about a pair of authors of an upcoming "cult films" book, and I have to say, before these guys finish the book, they should watch some damn cult films! Going through the list of their top 100 cult films, I was surprised to find few films that I personally feel even fit into the "cult" category. Kubrick's 2001? Casablanca? The Wizard of Oz? Don't get me wrong, these are GREAT films... but are they "cult-able"?
This brings me to the question: What is a "cult" film? I believe that in order for a film to fit into this category, it has to have at least a few of these attributes:
1. Low Budget.
2. Out-of-the-ordinary or unfamiliar story-lines and/or plot-points.
3. Unique unto itself.
4. Includes known-actors doing something they've never done before or since, or features actors no one has ever heard of.
5. Even if it's terrible, there's something about it that sticks with you forever.
6. Has a die-hard group of fans specifically for itself, OR (see below)
7. Sometimes a requirement... Barely anyone gives a shit about it.
Anyways, whether I'm right or wrong, reading this article has inspired me to start a new recurring section on my blog of some of my favorite must-see weirdo-cult films, in no particular order. Here's part 1, with 14 films. You ain't gonna find this stuff at Blockbuster.
In this film, two teenage dudes are stuck in a bomb shelter on post-apocalyptic earth, with nothing to read but detective comics. They are finally released unto this new earth, to find cheesy punk-rock-gangs and corruption everywhere. A few highlights include a giant rat-head attack (courtesy of special effects gurus the Chiodo Brothers), gun-wielding children cursing like sailors, and a cheesy dance number at the end including basically everyone in the movie, led by our two teen heroes. They just don't make em' like this anymore... some people might say for a reason...?
Available on VHS.
PROM NIGHT 2: HELLO MARY LOU
One personal requirement of cult-films is that they must show you something you would never have thought of and can't see anywhere else but in that film. Prom Night 2, surprisingly, hits this point home. Barely continuing from the story of the original Prom Night (starring Jamie Lee Curtis), this film takes more of a "horror-comedy" approach. There are so many cool, weird ideas in this movie... A girl's childhood rocking horse comes to life, gets angry and tries to kill her. A chalkboard comes to life, grows arms and tries to kill her. Michael Ironside comes to life and... appears in this movie. If you prefer weird-ass ideas over masterful triumphs in storytelling prowess, check this one out. But don't watch the third one, it sucks.
Available on DVD.
I don't necessarily consider this an amazing film, but besides featuring some pretty great characters, it makes the "cult-able" list for one feature alone: The title intro. After some story introduction, we are presented with the film's title, "Slaughterhouse", juxtaposed over an image of a fat (and quite cute) pig's face. The following sequence pretty much takes us through the process of a pig going through a slaughterhouse's procedures, start to finish, with some soothing music accompanying. Now, I don't enjoy watching this kind of thing, but at least this film puts it's money where it's mouth is, a way of thinking that should be prevalent in cult films. Also, this intro sets up the rest of the movie; Yes, these freaky farmers run a slaughterhouse, yes they do disgusting stuff like this. They are FREAKY FUCKED-UP FARMERS, man.
Available on DVD
A friend recently lent this to me. It's crazy. A business man (played by Bill Paxton) buys a new house, only to find that this absolutely revolting homeless bum (a vagrant!) likes to slum around the property basically being intrusive and disturbing. This man tries everything he can to ward off the disturbing bum, but cannot escape him, physically or mentally. He's basically haunted by this gross bum (whom he also suspects is killing his neighbors). That's it. Except for the part where the man escapes to a trailer park to finally attempt to get away. But as the story unfolds, we begin to question the origin, location, or even existence of this hideous fellow. I was surprised I had never heard of this, especially considering it was produced by Mel Brooks. I guess that's what happens sometimes when new media formats are introduced, some great relics end up left behind...
Available on VHS, or streaming on Hulu.
Frankenhooker is not only one of my favorite "cult" movies, but one of my favorite movies period. It's hilarious, messed-up, sad (uh, sorta), and just over-the-top bizarre. An inventor's wife is run over by a remote-control lawnmower he made. He feels awful and guilty, so he saves her head. But he needs the other body-parts to "frankenstein" her back together. He figures he can kill prostitutes and use their body parts, and no one will care. But when he puts her back together, she starts acting and living like a hooker... There is so much great stuff in this film, it's hard to list it all. But I will say this: To aid in his dismembering agenda, he gives "super-crack" to the drug-obsessed Jersey prostitutes, and they explode in fire like bursting light bulbs. You just gotta see it. Also want to point out the main actor, James Lorinz, is great in this. We pretty much are with him the whole time, and are constantly brought into his inner conflicts, it's a total character study, in the way of Bad Lieutenant, Cast Away, or even Taxi Driver.
Available on BluRay, as of last year!
Cherry 2000 is yet another post-apocalyptic film from the 80's, set in the future. But it does it so well. While many of the post-apocalyptic Mad Max rip-offs from the 80's often leave me wanting more, this one has a story and atmosphere which is really it's own. I recommend watching this film for the locations alone, if nothing else. I have no idea how they found so many cool-looking, interesting and epic locations, let alone were able to film in them! The protagonisht in this film sets out to find a one-of-a-kind "brain chip" to program into his favorite kind of rare female robot: Cherry 2000. Definitely worth a look.
Available on DVD.
A DOZEN WAYS TO DIE
Now, this movie isn't great, but it's awesome. An evil, fat, bald biker gang-leader terrorizes a family, and the dad seeks out revenge. I nominate this film because this huge guy takes a chainsaw to a trailer to get the family out of it, demolishing it in the process, truly a sight to be seen. The vengeful father also puts a live rattlesnake in his backpack and saves it for later when he whips it out and attacks someone with it. Crazy stuff. This film is low in budget, but high in energy and oddball-ness.
Available on VHS. On DVD when pigs fly.
We watch action movies to see fighting, violence, extreme situations, and bad-asses. Snakeeater serves all of these traits on a bullet-ridden silver platter. Starring Lorenzo Lamas, the action star who never quite made it, Snakeeater is an action movie that takes place in the backwoods. Another revenge story. One of my favorite things about action movies are the crazy things that the heroes do to prove their coolness. In the first 10-ish minutes of this film, Lorenzo Lamas catches two drug dealers in a sting operation by means of highly-complicated booby traps that he somehow managed to install in their lair, makes love to a babe and reveals that he has been wearing a wire-tap underneath a tuft of fake hair on his head. I don't see how action fans couldn't like this movie. Also includes a family of violent, deranged backwoods hillbillies. If you like action films, have a gander.
Available on DVD
This one is worth seeing if you're interested in real and bizarre things from around the world that you may have not been aware of before. Considered the original "shockumentary" film, Mondo Cane is an exotic journey around the world, showcasing the weird, wonderful, and even sometimes worthless or pointless things we humans partake in. There is some animal abuse, but if you give this film a chance, I'm sure you'll learn something about this world that will stay with you forever.
Available on DVD/BluRay
Surf II is insane. It is truly the pinnacle of ridiculous, fun-lovin' cheese-ball cinema of the 1980's. It really is like Revenge of the Nerds, Porky's, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High combined. The only thing it lacks is the cohesive storyline that those other films sort of had. In this film, a surfer-despising nerd invents a soda that turns surfers into brainless quasi-zombie-things. There's tons of wacky surfer talk, a topless beach party, and... plenty of pretty popular 80's songs on the soundtrack, including a few by Oingo Boingo. Fun in the sun.
Available on VHS
HIGHWAY TO HELL
Highway to Hell rocks in ways that movies haven't rocked in a long time. A teenager who is driving with his girlfriend (played by Kristy Swanson) at night is pulled over by a cop. Turns out he's part of Satan's police squad, and he drags the guy's girlfriend into hell. The guy goes into Hell to find his girlfriend, and runs into tons of trouble. Weird appearances by Ben Stiller and his dad, who run a diner in hell, and Gilbert Gottfried as Hitler. Also features some pretty cool special effects by future Lord of the Rings FX genius Randall William Cook, including a 3-headed dog.
Available on VHS and Laserdisc. I first saw it on the IFC channel.
"Maniac" is one of the few films that Gene Siskel walked out of in his whole career, and for good reason. It's disturbing. And intense. To put it bluntly, Maniac makes Silence of the Lambs look like Care Bears. It's dirty, violent, and surely damaging to any viewer with a conscience. But if you can handle all this, beneath the layers of grime you will find an incredible performance by the late actor/writer Joe Spinell, who plays a deeply disturbed serial killer. In Maniac, we are with Joe's character for literally the whole film, we see what he goes through within himself throughout his daily life and why. Maniac is truly one of the most intimate portraits of a serial killer on film, and the director, exploitation maestro William Lustig, is not afraid to show us exactly what the serial killer sees and experiences... we are forced to be right there with him, and that is what makes Maniac one of the most effective serial killer films I've ever seen. If you think you've seen crazy, you haven't seen... MANIAC! Check it out. Oh wait, or check out the upcoming remake starring Elijah Wood... I'm sure that will have the same effect...
Available on many formats.
DEATH RACE 2000 (1975)
You think you've seen nutball-ish films. But then you see Death Race 2000, and your whole film world is turned upside-down. This is what happened to me last year. Death Race 2000 is one of the most innovative films from Roger Corman. It's limitless, unexpected, and surprising as all hell. In a future, post-apocalyptic earth, people have become obsessed with the "Death Racers" (I guess you can call them that), almost superhuman-like people who race around the USA in an incredibly dangerous death-car race where human casualties are tallied-up for points. These racers are treated as the highest-level of celebrity. Oh, and the most popular racers are played by Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine. BUT - behind the scenes there is a group of activists that are against the races and the danger they plague this country with, they try and sabotage the racetracks... this film is truly too outrageous to accurately describe. If you've ever wondered why the hell Roger Corman is so respected, go rent Death Race 2000. Also, this movie inspired the awesome video game CARMAGEDDON, so if you like that, you will like this.
Available on most formats.
Ok, Beaks gets on this list partly because it starts out with straight-up animal cruelty. A creepy guy with a patch is shooting pigeons for target practice, and after he kills them, his assistant picks up the bird body and SLAMS THAT PIGEON ON THE GROUND IN SLOW MOTION. He HATES these birds! And yes, it's real. You can just tell. This is the kind of movie that would do this to a real bird rather than make a fake bird, probably due to budget. Also, it's an Italian/Spanish co-production, so there were different rules, or at least ignored rules in those parts of the world back in the day. Anyways, in this film, birds are SICK of being killed, eaten, picked-on, etc, so they... sort of start to attack people, all over the world. And of course, it's "peoples'" job to figure out how to stop the vicious peckers. While an obvious rip-off of "The Birds", and not an incredibly engaging film on it's own, Beaks has enough hilarious and awkward moments to make it onto the list. Also it's dubbed in English, so... it's an all-around fun film to check out. Beware... Beaks.
Available only on VHS, I think.
WELL, that's it for this cult-films post. I'll do another one when I get another inspiration-overload or something. Seek them out if you're interested, and... enjoy.