Cult Films: Putting the Cult in Culture!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

When regular, common people are asked to describe what a "cult film" is, strange things come to mind. First off, they tend to envision some freaky flick about a bizarre mind-control cabal led by a fanatical, charismatic guru who looks a lot like one of those Bee Gees dudes. Next, as a natural extension of this line of thought, they may imagine a film about a secretive Dark Age era, Illuminati-like coven engaged in nightmarish human sacrifice, nude moonlight rituals, and De Sade-style recreational activities. Then, getting closer to the mark, they generally think of all of those weirdo movies that seem to be weird just for weirdness' own sake and deem them as being "cult." Or they may describe those pictures that seem to have a small group of "eccentric" and devoted fans (i.e., Nerds) as having a cultish following and is, thus, considered a cult flick. Finally, they say: "Ahh, whatever...........I'll know one when I see one!"

Well, what constitutes a cult flick? Do we really know them when we see them? First off, let us just say these ideas aren't too far from the correct definition. We will explore what constitutes an underground cult fave, what makes them so cool and special, and how this genre of moviedom affects--and has affected--our culture.

First, let us do some introductions....

Allow me to introduce myself....my name is Mike. Some in the know call me Video Mike.

Just what makes me so special as to think I can offer more insight on bizarro films than your average schmo? Well, here goes: I am a local independent filmmaker/screenwriter who has studied film for years; I am Co-Founder of the Cape Filmmaker's Cooperative and the Show Me Digital Film Festival; I have appeared in the media offering my expertise on film and our cool sub-culture; I have an extensive library of film references, books and magazines; and I am in the process of writing a guide to Sci-fi, Fantasy, and Horror flicks!

What is a cult film? This can be a complicated question to answer, because art is always a subjective matter. But hey, I'll give you my definitions anyway...A cult movie is a special film unique in plot and approach, has a culturally-relevant following who know the work inside and out, is campy and fun to watch, and can still be enjoyed after multiple viewings.

Cult films influence the popular culture of the times: they influence the lexicon, the music, the fashion, the humor, the mores, the opinions, the politics, and the talents of up-and-coming filmmakers!

So where do we go from here? Lot's of places! A good place to begin, I think, would be to examine my picks of "The Top Twenty Cult Films According to Video Mike!" Of course, these picks are my opinion and neither right nor wrong.

Here are my cool cult picks....... (these are not in any order of importance).

The Top Twenty Cult Films According to Video Mike

1. "Plan 9 from Outer Space" (1959) - Ed Wood's sci-fi masterpiece has been hailed as being the worst movie ever made. It is pretty bad, but it is GOOD bad!

2. "Reefer Madness" (1956) - The classic anti-drug propaganda film that still has them laughing!

3. "The Toxic Avenger" (1984) - Troma's first big hit. A twisted cult comedy in which a goofy janitor dork is exposed to toxic waste and transforms into a beefy crime-fighting mutants known as the Toxic Avenger!

4. "Heavy Metal" (1981) - This animated sci-fi anthology was based upon the Heavy Metal magazine of the same name. John Candy performed some of the voices.

5. "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1974) - Ahhh, Monty Python. If you don't know who these guys are, then welcome to planet Earth!

6. "Faces of Death" (1978) - This much-talked-about gonzo (documentary) horror film was banned in a number of countries for many years. It shows real (and some fake) autopsies, deaths, and murder clips.

7. "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975) - A top cult fave to this day, mostly because of it's audience participation element. I've experienced it 56 times.

8. "Cheech and Chong's Up In Smoke" (1978) - The best Cheech and Chong movie. It's the one where Pedro and the Man make an excursion to Mexico and pick up a truck made out of marijuana!

9. "Repo Man" (1984) - Emilio Estevez plays a young punk-rocker Repo Man who has outrageous adventures while searching for a valuable car which has Roswell aliens in the trunk!

10. "Death Race 2000" (1975) - In the "future" year of 2000, America has become a brutal fascist state that gets it's jollies from watching a car race in which the racers get point for running over people!

11. "Freaks" (1932) - This hard-to-find nightmarish exploitation picture has disturbed people for decades. The "rain scene" is guaranteed to give you nightmares! Bizarre.

12. "Fight Club" (1999) - This modern story of pent up male testosterone finding release via underground boxing clubs is fast becoming a cult fave - especially among the guys!

13. "Dawn of the Dead" (1979) - In this apocalyptic tale humans hold up in a shopping mall and fight off zombies and bikers alike!

14. "The Road Warrior" (1982) - This is the post-apocalyptic driving movie that made Mel Gibson famous. Mel plays Mad Max, an ex-cop survivor driving across the Wastelands of nuclear war ravaged Australia.

15. "The Return of the Living Dead" (1985) - Punkers in a cemetery battle the Living Dead who have an insatiable urge to eat brains! Funny and outrageous!

16. "Re-Animator" (1985) - A gory telling of the traditional "mad scientist" sci-fi / horror picture. Herbert West develops a formula that can bring the dead back to life.

17. "Robot Monster" (1953) - Another "so bad that it is good" sci-fi monster movie. This one has an alien named Ro-Man (which is a guy in an ape suit wearing an astronaut's helmet) hunting down the last remaining humans on Earth!

18. "The Blues Brothers" (1980) - You know it, you love it. If you have not seen it........tsk, tsk!

19. "Gummo" (1997) - It is a "mockumentary" about a couple of strange Ohio kids and the bizarre things which they involve themselves with over the course of a day.

20. "The Terror of Tiny Town" (1938) - It is an All-midget (or "little people" to be PC)Western film that has singing cowboys on Shetland ponies! Need I say any more?

Well, there you have it. The best cult flicks according to Video Mike! Disagree with my picks? It's cool. Just write me and give me your reasons as to why I am screwed in the head! Haven't seen all of these? Get out there and check these out! There are reasons why people have talked about these for so many years!

Next month, myself and some of my local filmmaking buddies will nitpick apart a few random (or chosen) secret scene gems for your reading enjoyment and edification!

So until we do meet again....go see a movie, rent a movie, or get out and make one of your own! Film is life! Live it!

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