Somewhere in a dark corner of your local video store there is probably a small shelf with a sign on the top that says “Cult Classics.” In your haste to get out of the store with the much coveted new release, you’ve probably walked past this shelf a million times, paying no attention to the treasures in plastic cases screaming “rent me” and whispering “be kind, please rewind.”If you did pay attention, however, you would probably find all your favorite movies sitting together, lumped into one hell of a cool genre.
Cult is actually a hard genre to define. It is really a genre full of movies taken from genres like sci-fi, horror, comedy, action and even porn.
“I think that a cult film is a film that appeals to a relatively wide audience, but that audience is not the kind of audience that is attracted to mainstream commercial films,” said cinema history professor Jack Hillwig, via e-mail. “Cult films take risks, stretch boundaries and are often considered ‘artistic’ in their approach.”
Cult films usually aren’t considered cult at their inception. Movies become cult sometimes years after their original release, and they usually fared rather poorly in the box office.
“Cult films generally gain that status long after their release, largely because they are the kinds of films that have to be ‘found’ by an audience that hears of the film largely by word of mouth,” Hillwig said.
Cult movies have been around since the 1920s, so over a period of 80 years there have been a lot of them. From the horror flicks that weren’t really scary, to the comedies that weren’t really funny, audiences have adopted these oddball sensations for one reason or another.
In 1936, the government released a documentary about the dangers of marijuana use. With its campy effects and false information, it was adopted as a favorite of pothead audiences all over the world.
In the mid ‘60s, during the height of the cold war, Stanley Kubrik released many sci-fi movies that eventually reached cult status. “Dr. Strangelove or: How I stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb” became a favorite for its take on nuclear war. Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” were also taken under the wing of movie lovers, simply for being startlingly original and very well made.
More recently, movies like “Clerks” and “Dazed and Confused” became cult classics, adopted by high school and college students for their realistic take on the lives of young adults.
There are literally hundreds of cult movies out there worth watching over and over. It would be impossible to mention them all right here and give them the credit they deserve. However, the on the EDGE staff has chosen a few that we think are the best cult movies out there. You may have seen them, but regardless if you have or haven’t, you should be able to look at them with a new set of eyes. Since Christmas break is just around the corner, now would be the perfect time to go to your movie store and rent these treasures to truly appreciate what the cult genre has to offer.
Story by Jessica Griffin
THE WALL: Eyebrow drama
Hypnotic animation, character alienation and fan adoration … what more could you want in a cult movie? Not only is main character, Pink, beloved by his fans in “The Wall,” the estranged rocker is also dear to the hearts of those of us who have seen the movie a cult number of times. Any viewer may feel compelled to soothe and heal Pink the boy and the man. Can life really be bad enough to shave your eyebrows?
“Pink Floyd: The Wall” was released in 1982. Floyd member Roger Waters and director Alan Parker worked together to bring us a disturbing tale of excess. Too many fans and too many drugs only added to the problems Pink had with the painful memories of his childhood. Crushed and confused by the death of his father and caught under the heavy hand of his overly protective mother, Pink begins to build the Wall around himself and his feelings. A childhood illness, an abusive teacher, a relationship and stardom all add to the Wall as “bricks.”
“The Wall” has gained cult movie status as Floyd fans continue to gather with friends around the TV to analyze and dissect each scene to find the deeper meaning to the music-based rock drama.
by Sarah Lynch
HOLY GRAIL: Fear the rabbit
It is rare indeed for a comedy to make it onto a cult movie list. However, it is impossible to deny the all-around impact of “Monty Python and The Holy Grail.”
The movie satirizes the quest of Arthur, King of the Britains, and his Knights of the Round Table during their search for the Holy Grail of Christ.
Throughout their quest, the brave (and not-so-brave) knights encounter such perils as a castle full of 16 to 19 and a half-year-old virgins, the Knights who say “NEE,” the infamous Black Knight and the deadliest of all foes, the relentless White Rabbit.
Director and Python troop member Terry Gilliam makes sure that every aspect of the grail legend is poked and prodded until the whole thing just seems, well, silly.
There are a few theaters in this world dedicated exclusively to showing “The Holy Grail,” so, of course, that’s one criterion for cult status. But “The Holy Grail” also set a new standard in comedy by showing that any boundary can be crossed, and no subject is too sacred.
But on second thought, maybe an African Swallow really can carry a 4-pound coconut…
by Cecil Smith
In the early ‘90s, director Kevin Smith (a.k.a. Silent Bob) decided to just skip film school and go straight to making a film. That film became “Clerks.” This very low budget black and white movie was paid for by the man himself with 10 credit cards, a family donation, money from selling comic books and pay checks from a job at a Quick Stop and RST Video store in Leonardo, N.J. Ironically, this was the same Quick Stop and RST Video store Smith based his movie on.
“Clerks” has been described as a “fantasy involving things clerks would have liked to do to customers.” Most fans and followers of this movie are working in or have worked in retail. They have a strong connection with the characters and really relate to the “plot.”
Some may consider this low budget satire cheap and profane, but Smith followers see it as an honest and realistic look into the life of a shop clerk.
by Katie Weitkamp
SPINAL TAP: Clever and stupid
“It’s such a fine line between clever and stupid.” Tapheads the world round can testify that “This is Spinal Tap” definitively straddles this line. Virtually every scene from this movie is classic—from Derek’s aluminum foil-covered cucumber posing as a penis to Nigel’s exceptional guitar amp that “goes to 11.”
Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner) narrates the documentary, and it details the many incarnations of British heavy metal band, Spinal Tap. We watch painfully as David, Derek and Nigel explain why the band has had so many drummers, why the albums get such horrible reviews and why the musical genre has changed so drastically. We can’t help but laugh hysterically at the many mishaps and follies the stage shows suffer. And when Jeanine comes on the scene, well … you’ll just have to watch.
The concept of this movie is phenomenal, and the great thing is, the
joke is still going. The band has actually performed live, appeared on numerous talk shows and is even on tour this year. When you watch this movie (and you must!), I recommend that you watch the DVD. The movie’s voice-over, done like the band is watching the documentary, is quite possibly just as funny as the movie. One could watch this movie a thousand times and still find something new to laugh at every single time.
by Allison Altizer
CLOCKWORK: A bit ultra-violent
Rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven — a fitting lifestyle for Alex and his droogs in “A Clockwork Orange.”
Stanley Kubrick, the film’s director, establishes Alex, the main character, as an intelligent young man whose parents are oblivious to his violent, midnight escapades.
Alex and his three companions walk about the night searching for ultra-violence in Kubrick’s future world where youth no longer respect their elders and crime runs rampant.
The droogs set out one night to rape a woman in town. Alex sneaks into her house and kills her with an enormous, fiberglass penis. The police arrest Alex and send him to prison.
After two years behind bars, Alex is nominated for a radical criminal rehabilitation program. The doctors make Alex watch hours of violent film reels and give him doses of nauseating medicine. Now he feels sick every time he sees nudity, violence, or even hears Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.”
Alex is released and goes home only to find that his parents have rented out his room and his former droogs are now police officers, who have authority to use ultra-violence.
Kubrick’s focus on the quirky mannerisms of each character showcase the true genius of his filmmaking. You really get a strange and ironic sense that every character except Alex is crazy.
“A Clockwork Orange” was and still is one of Kubrick’s finest cinema moments. As with anything that has Kubrick’s name stamped on it, the film contains every element essential for building a cult following.
by Cecil Smith
ROCKY: Just a sweet transvestite
The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is the most popular cult movie ever, and it has the most loyal followers. The musical, written by Richard O’Brien, a Lou Adler/Michael White production, is about a couple that is on their way to visit an old professor when they run into car trouble. Heading back to the castle down the road, they are in for a night they will never forget. Transvestites, played by Tim Curry, Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn, confront Brad, played by Barry Bostwick, and Janet, played by Susan Sarandon. The couple asks to use the phone, but they end up staying the night and witnessing the creation of a man for the sole use of sexual pleasure. Throughout the night clothes and virginity are lost.
The novelty of this film is what makes the following so large. Fans say the movie frees them from what society tells them they have to be. The show encourages interaction with the movie, and fans feel like they are part of the movie. The movie, due to its content, runs mostly as midnight showings, and it is always sold out for Halloween.
by Katie Weitkamp
“Heathers” is a dark comedy from 1989. The movie stars Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty and Lisanne Falk. Written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehmann, “Heathers” is about a group of the four most popular girls at a high school in middle-class Ohio. Three of the four girls are named Heather, the fourth, Veronica, is fed up with the others, but continues to associate with them to keep a good reputation. She falls for JD, a motorcycle-riding rebel the Heathers don’t approve of. JD turns out to be a killer, tricking Veronica into helping him murder the most popular people at their high school. They cover up the killings by making them look like suicide. And when she starts to question him, JD goes after Veronica.
This movie is a cult phenomenon because it is the classic boy meets girl, fatal attraction theme. What makes this movie catch on is the comedic irony. When JD falls in love with Veronica it’s a twisted relationship, one that he is willing to kill for, and though Veronica doesn’t approve of his violent side, she doesn’t think she should breakup with him right away. The movie makes fun of the stupidity of social roles in high school and meaningless high school relationships, a popular theme for any cult movie.
Pulp Fiction is a movie lover’s movie. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, this movie is not only a cult classic, but also contains numerous references to other cult classics. It may take a keen eye to catch all the references to classics such as Psycho, Deliverance, Scarface and even Tarantino’s own Reservoir Dogs, but it’s obvious that Tarantino has spent most of his life sitting on the couch or in a theatre paying close attention to what makes a good movie.
Pulp Fiction is written in a very unorthodox manner. It starts at the end of the movie, in a coffee shop where a man and his girlfriend are having breakfast and discussing robbing the place. After they tell everyone to get their hands up, the credits begin rolling. From there you are taken back and fourth in time from that morning to what seems to be weeks or even months later. By the end of the movie, the action goes back to the coffee shop, where the main characters Vincent and Jules (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson) are eating.
You can’t just watch this movie once. It takes several viewings to get a grip on the characters and on the plot. You may hate it the first time you watch it, simply because you couldn’t understand what was going on, but upon further viewing, you’ll find the movie to be pure genius.
Natural Born Killers
Natural Born Killers
The media is notorious for sensationalizing stories. Take the O.J. Simpson case for example. The former football star allegedly killed the mother of his children, and became the number one news story for nearly two years. Then there was the Clinton/Lewinsky Scandal, the Jon Benet Ramsey case, and the Gary Condit/Chandra Levy debacle.
This over-sensationalism is what Natural Born Killers is all about; Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) are the nation’s most beloved serial killers. In a three-week killing spree, the husband/wife duo viciously murders 52 people, including Mallory’s parents, several cops and innocent bystanders. Tabloid news journalist Wayne Gail (Robert Downey Jr.), host of American Maniacs, takes the Mickey and Mallory story and makes it into a documentary to be aired on Super Bowl Sunday (when television ratings are at their highest).
America loves the Knoxs. Whether it is their charismatic personalities or their lust for killing, they become a cult sensation in their own right. Always leaving someone alive to tell they tale, Mickey and Mallory have set themselves up to be psycho celebrities.
This movie, released in 1994 was directed by Oliver Stone, and almost instantly became a cult classic. This disturbing story graphically reminds Americans of how the media can take a horrific event and turn it into a circus.