Dave’s Cultamania : Cult Films you gotta watch!
“A cult movie, also commonly referred to as a cult classic, is a movie that has acquired a cult following. Cult movies are generally obscure or unpopular with mainstream audiences – rarely achieving either financial or critical success, even though some may have been released through a major studio. However, cult movies can thrive through a dedicated and passionate fan-base – an elaborate subculture that engages in repeated viewings, quoting of dialogue, and audience participation. Cult movies can also sometimes be ironically enjoyed.”
Hello, I’m David and I love cult movies.
I’ve loved them since the first time my mum let me watch ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ when I was 6 years old. Now yes, I know that in today’s society (namely because of the Daily Mail) the idea of a mother letting her young child watch a rated-18 horror movie about a multi knife-wielding murdering pedophile wouldn’t exactly be seen as good parenting – but my mum liked watching movies of all styles and genres, and I would want to watch them too.
So with a whisper of “Don’t worry, it’s not real” or “That’s just a man in a suit”, I came to realize that there was a world of movies beyond ‘Star Wars’, Disney and Spielberg. I began collecting VHS tapes and every magazine I could find related to film, and with each birthday or Christmas my tape collection and movie-watching experience would grow. From ‘The Terminator’ to ‘Return Of The Living Dead’, from ‘The Beastmaster’ to ‘The Beyond’, from ‘Repo Man’ to ‘The Delta Force’ , from ‘The Decline Of Western Civilization 2’ to ‘Fist Of Fury’, and so on right up to today.
Now I know with the advent of the internet, discussion forums, streaming movies on demand, specialist movie theatres, and every single low-budget exploitation movie now receiving a ‘steelbook, 15 disc, ultimate director’s ego cut edition blu-ray’ release, the notion of a cult movie is now almost non-existent. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still discuss or celebrate genre cinema (even if it is just to be ironic – i.e. ‘Troll 2’, ‘The Room’ or ‘Caligula’).
What I hope to do with each article is to draw your attention to some of the forgotten or misunderstood gems from cult cinema – sometimes because they are so good that they demand re-evaluation, sometimes because they are so bad they demand having the piss taken out of them. If anyone has any suggestions of their own favourite cult movies (obscure or obvious), please send them through to the site – I’d love to hear about them, and watch them.
Here’s a few to start us off:
Meet the Feebles (1989)
While most cult horror fans seem to be obsessed with Peter Jackson’s early New Zealand splatter-fests ‘Bad Taste’ and ‘Braindead’, this gem is almost totally forgotten about – to the extent that (after a check on Amazon/Play, etc..) there is no current UK DVD or Blu Ray release of the film, and no plans for one (Arrow Video please rectify this!). Essentially a bastardised adult parody of The Muppet Show (a rag-tag gang of animal puppets struggling to produce a cabaret show), the film pulls no punches in pushing the boundaries of taste: highlights include a sex-obsessed rabbit magician, a shit-eating paparazzi fly, an anteater with a panty sniffing fetish and a drug-addicted frog knife-thrower (whose ‘Deer Hunter’ esque ‘Nam flashbacks provide my favourite part of the movie).
Yes, the movie is as low budget as you can get, and the puppets look as though they’re about to fall apart in every scene – but there is such an unbelievable charm to the movie. Even at this early stage of his career, the humour and manic action set-pieces that Jackson would be famous for in ‘The Frighteners’, ‘Lord Of The Rings’ and ‘King Kong’ are here for all to see. I would urge fans of black comedy and gore to track this down – I mean, what other movie would climax with a Hippo going homicidally berserk with an M60? Not many I’m sure.
Also check out: Bad Taste (1987); Body Melt (1993); Undead (2003)
The Hidden (1987)
Even though this was made by the same director responsible for two of the worst movies ever made, ‘Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge’ and ‘Supernova’; ‘The Hidden’ is an absolute classic of late 80s low-budget sci-fi action. Featuring an all-star cast of B-movie illumni, including Kyle MacLaughlan (‘Twin Peaks’, ‘Blue Velvet’), Claudia Christian (‘Babylon 5’, ‘Maniac Cop 2’), Clu Gulager (‘Return Of The Living Dead’, ‘NOES2’), Ed O’Ross (‘Red Heat’, ‘Dick Tracy’) and Hollywood’s favourite Mexican, Danny Trejo (‘Machete’), the plot is a pretty simple premise involving an evil alien creature arriving on earth and causing mayhem and destruction in it’s quest to gain power (be it money, expensive cars, 80s stereos or status in society).
What adds an extra level of complexity, is the fact that the alien itself is parasitic – it must have a human host in which to survive. Now I know this is nothing new – both ‘The Thing’ and ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’ did this before (and much better IMO) – but the notion of switching between hosts, rather than permanently ‘assimilating’ them, was radically different. You can shoot the hell out of a body, but the enemy could simply escape by jumping into a new one – this would also be explored in movies like ‘Night Of The Creeps’, ‘Fallen’ and ‘Jason Goes To Hell’. Throw in plenty of 80s hail-of-bullets style action, a decent buddy-cop relationship, and some humorous set-pieces (the car showroom scene – he really wants that car haha). All in all, a surprisingly intelligent and highly entertaining sci-fi thriller.
Also check out: Alien Nation (1988); Class Of 1999 (1990); Dark Angel (1990).
If there’s one thing that you could never accuse director John Carpenter of doing, it would be resting on his laurels. His movies cover a range of different genres, he was never afraid to try new filmmaking techniques, and he regularly resisted the temptation to make sequels to his most successful movies – the exception being ‘Halloween’ (yes, obviously there was also ‘Escape From LA’, but I think it’s best that we wipe that turkey from our collective memory).
Being one of the most celebrated horror movies ever made, and (at the time) one of the most financially successful, the producers of ‘Halloween’ saw the potential for a lucrative franchise. Although initially reluctant, Carpenter relented and provided a screenplay which was meant to continue and eventually conclude the story of Michael Myers’ killing spree in the suburbs of Haddonfield USA. ‘Halloween 2’, when released, was equally as successful financially (though it lacked the style and subtlety of the first). So, you’ve made two cash-cows about a hulking madman slicing up teenagers, so where do you go next? You make a supernatural sci-fi movie about a crazy Irish businessman wanting to take over America by killing off all of it’s children, that’s where!
What the producers envisaged as a franchise in the vein of ‘The Twilight Zone’ – where each subsequent movie would be it’s own self-contained story loosely tied together by the concept of Hallowe’en – was a commercial disaster. Viewers expected The Shape, and when he didn’t appear negativity spread, and the box office died like a fictional promiscuous teenager. But surprisingly the film works.
The tone is every bit as dark and intense as the previous two, there are just as many shocks as well as grisly and inventive deaths (you’ll never look at novelty masks in the same way again), and the subtle criticism of consumerism and the intention of big corporations is a refreshing change to the relentless stalk and slash of most other horrors released at that time. Definitely a film that deserves a re-evaluation by those that enjoy cult movies, at the very least you’ll have the Silver Shamrock song stuck in your head for a couple of weeks.
Also check out: Westworld (1973); Soylent Green (1973); Suspiria (1977)
Seemingly relegated to endless 2am screenings on The Horror Channel, this smart, funny and inventive mid 80s teenager-friendly horror is probably mainly remembered as it was the first movie appearance for one Stephen Dorff (and what a career the man has had since). One of a number of occult themed horrors released around the same time, the story involves a young boy who finds a hole recently created in his garden because of a collapsed tree. Through a combination of nightmares and strange phenomena seemly linked to the hole, the boy along with his older sister and heavy-metal loving best friend, discover that the hole is actually a gate to a hell-like alternate dimension.
As the gate begins to crack open, and creatures from the other side spill through, it’s up to the our heroes to use any means necessary to close the gate before unspeakable evil takes over the earth. So far, so cheesy. But it’s this cheesiness that really adds to the charm and simplicity of the movie – yes the plot is wafer-thin, the acting is amateur at best, and the special creature effects wouldn’t look out of place in a Ray Harryhausen movie from the 60’s, but still the movie is a hell of a lot of fun.
For a teenager-friendly horror there are plenty of shocks and scares and a few unsettling moments (all in good taste, but it’s mainly because the main protagonists are children, and its unusual to see kids this young being in peril in a horror movie), but it’s all done with tongue planted firmly in cheek. What really drew my attention to the film when I first saw it back in the late 90s, was the running storyline involving heavy metal. As a young metal fan, I had watched with interest as my beloved musical genre was lambasted by the mainstream media and those in power as a bad influence over children – with stories of records being played backwards to reveal evil subliminal messages seemingly in every newspaper at the time.
‘The Gate’ makes a play on this by having the heroes use the content of metal records to try to combat the evil forces. It’s all a bit Spinal Tap – ‘Stonehenge’, but still nice to see metal, and more importantly young people who listen to metal, being portrayed in a positive light. Just a fun, light hearted creature feature which deserves a second look. The sequel is pretty awesome too.
Also check out: Trick Or Treat (1986); Evilspeak 1981); The Gate 2: Trespassers (1990)
I’m Gonna Git You Sucka! (1988)
Normally the mere mention of the words “Wayans Bros” is enough to send any rational movie fan running off into the hills. I dare anyone to even attempt to watch ‘White Chicks’ or ‘Little Man’ without feeling the need to batter themselves into unconsciousness with their remote control. How can these even be classed as comedies? I’ve found more humour in the average Lars Von Trier movie than in these cinematic disasterpieces. But there are some rare exceptions: The first ‘Scary Movie’ is fun parody of ‘Scream’ (itself a parody of the Slasher movie genre), while ‘Don’t Be A Menace To South Central…’ is a decent spoof of the US Ghetto movies of the late 80s/early 90s. But for me, the Wayans’ one true success is ‘I’m Gonna Git You Sucka!’
While also being a simple parody, this time of the Blaxploitation genre of the 70s, the script is punchy, the casting (featuring a plethora of famous faces from black-orientated film and TV) is perfect, and most importantly, there is humour present in droves. Admittedly, some of the jokes would be lost on those who have never watched blaxploitation classics such as ‘Shaft’, ‘Superfly’ or ‘Foxy Brown’, but the movie also parodies contemporary genres such as action, kung fu and gangster rap.
Personal highlights include Flyguy: a classic 70s pimp informant (so flamboyant that his outfit includes clear platformed heels with goldfish in them), a cameo by a young Chris Rock, and an all action Mama who miraculously changes from a mid 40s, glamorous black lady into a muscle-bound, moustachioed white stuntman in drag every time there’s a fight scene. A harmless and very funny movie for those that enjoy proper parody movies, and ‘Airplane’/’Naked Gun’ style quick-fire delivery comedies.
Also check out: CB4 (1993); Fear Of A Black Hat (1993); ‘Top Secret (1984)