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By Ally Sinyard · June 13, 2011
Mind-bending. That’s how I can describe the last couple of weeks I have spent researching for this article. I always love to learn about new areas of cinema, but nothing could have prepared me for this series of weird and wonderful films that should NOT be watched so closely together when you’re in the middle of doing your finals! Some I loved, some not so much, but then that’s what I discovered cult films are all about. Films that bring a particular group of people together. Films that can be so bad that people end up loving them like a dumb, yet affectionate puppy. Films that the critics didn’t care for, and in some cases, films that have grown in popularity because it’s the fans themselves that warrant more attention that can’t be ignored.
Whether it’s the one-night drag queens of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or the plastic-spoon-throwers from The Room, it’s great to see people so enthusiastic about the movie they love! And it’s also amazing to see these films being passed down to younger generations. I’d certainly never heard of some of these before! And I’m sure I’ve missed some absolute classics here that will piss a few people off, but then what do I know, eh? Treat this list as an opportunity to feast on a few of the sideshow oddities that cinema has to offer.
10. Brazil (1985)
Brazil is often referred to as Terry Gilliam’s “masterpiece,” and I must admit, there is something unique and pretty spectacular about it. I’d certainly place it above the rather messy The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus! A science fiction black comedy, Brazil is set in a dystopian world where everything is engulfed in red tape and reliance on machines. Imagine Blade Runner but made by a member of Monty Python. Robert De Niro even makes an appearance as a renegade air con engineer. Due its dark ending and the fact that it was made three years after Blade Runner, Gilliam had a long fight with studios to get it released. He eventually held his own private screenings behind the backs of studio heads. This paid off in the end when Brazil was awarded the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for Best Picture, and the studios finally agreed to release it. Brazil has since gained a cult status and been cited as an influence for films such as The Hudsucker Proxy, Dark City and Sucker Punch. Clearly, Brazil is a very interesting take on political satire.
9. Pink Flamingos (1972)
John Waters is a cult director in his own right and the king of bad taste films. Pink Flamingos is regarded by many as his most notorious film. Made on a budget of just $10,000, Pink Flamingos was initially shown around Universities. Word of mouth was more than enough to spread the Pink Flamingo-love, and it was soon picked up by New Line Cinemas. Pink Flamingos tells the story of a transvestite called Divine, “the filthiest person alive,” with a cult classic with a following similar to that of Rocky Horror. It sets out to break a lot of taboos, and its ending is one of its most notorious scenes. Without spoiling it, I shall share one of the practices of the cult. Online series “The Funny PawPet Show” has a “Pink Flamingos Challenge,” where random fans are filmed eating chocolate while watching the oh-so-horrific climax. It’s enough to put me off my chocolate muffins… forever.
8. Office Space (1999)
Office Space struck a chord with every white-collar worker sitting in front of a computer all day, filling in forms and pretending to listen to their annoying bosses. Although it was originally received less than favourably by critics, it went on to do very well in its VHS and DVD sales. Part of its success also rests with Comedy Central, who first screened it in 2001 to 1.4 million viewers. In the 2 years that followed, Office Space was shown on Comedy Central 35 times. At the end of a long days work at a dead end job, many would have sat down in front of the TV one night and felt inspired by this film. Ron Livingston (who plays Peter) said that he would often be approached by people, telling him that Office Space gave them the courage to stop complaining, quit their jobs, and do something better. It should also be noted that Office Space led to the Red Swingline stapler becoming the best selling stapler of all time, even though it was only AFTER the film that the Red Swingline was produced due to popular demand! I loved the film purely for Stephen Root’s performance as Milton and the inclusion of gangster rap in the soundtrack!
7. The Evil Dead Trilogy (from 1981)
I was first introduced to The Evil Dead in a Hollywood Cinema module at University, and it’s just one of the most ridiculous horror franchises you will ever encounter. You’re not sure if what you’re watching is intentionally funny, the blood and guts are made of corn syrup and then there’s the tree rape… but we won’t go into that now. That’s for everyone to discover and enjoy all on their own. Much of The Evil Dead’s brilliance comes from its star, Bruce Campbell, whose status as a B movie actor is legendary. Throughout the films he plays his role with either hilarious sincerity or complete insanity. You will struggle to find another horror series like this. Since the first film emerged in 1981, there have been video games, comic books, unofficial sequels, official sequels, and there’s even a musical… God help us. The three female leads from the first film also hold “Ladies of the Evil Dead” conventions throughout the year where you can go and meet them and get autographs, etc. Every little bit helps, I suppose…
6. Faster Pussycat… Kill! Kill! (1965)
I do love a bit of shameless, exploitation cinema. And here we have the ultimate homage to huge boobies. Covered boobies, mind you, Russ Meyer is not a complete animal! There’s sexiness, violence, ridiculous dialogue, and John Waters himself called in the “best movie ever made, and possibly better than any movie that will ever be made.” Exploitation cinema is a cult genre in itself, so if you’re looking for a place to start, Faster Pussycat…Kill! Kill! is fairly harmless and hugely enjoyable. I personally found it very refreshing to see strong, beautiful women with a bit of body fat. It also made them more believable heroines. In today’s cinema, it’s hard to take these frail, blonde, model types seriously as they try to throw a punch that’s supposed to knock out a menacing biker. Clearly, I was born in the wrong decade. I loved the representation of women in Pussycat, although I’m sure the feminists went mental. Postmodern Girl Power!
5. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Poor Ed Wood! You can’t blame a guy for trying! For years, Plan 9 floated around on crappy TV channels in the middle of the night in complete obscurity. It was only after a couple of critics gave it its label of “worst film ever made” that everyone took notice. Like many others, I first heard about it after watching Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, which I think really did justice to this cult figure and film. As awful as the film is… and trust me, it is awful… you cannot deny that there’s something very charming about it. The UFOs on strings, the wobbling tombstones, the Lugosi-who-isn’t actually-Lugosi. Plan 9 From Outer Space shall live forever as the “worst film ever made,” but it will also live forever because it has been made available to download on the internet for free… for better or for worse.
4. Freaks (1932)
With the BBFC recently banning The Human Centipede Part II, I was reminded of Freaks. Freaks was banned in the UK for over 30 years. 30 years! According to a case study of the film done on the BBFC website, Freaks was refused a certificate because the BBFC “felt that the film exploited for commercial reasons the deformed people it claimed to dignify.” The decision was upheld for so long because they felt that no amount of cutting could tone down the “exploitation” and general unpleasantness of the film. Freaks was finally awarded with an X certificate in 1963, with the intention of allowing audiences to judge for themselves. Upon release, it received mostly positive reviews and became a popular midnight movie in the 1960s and 1970s, and is still sought after by film fans today. A more impressive fact is that it actually made F. Scott Fitzgerald throw up. (Yes, Mr. Great Gatsby himself). Seriously, you’ll sit with your mouth agape, wondering how they got away with making this. And that is why we love the Pre-Code years!
3. The Room (2003)
The Room is perhaps better known as “The Citizen Kane of bad movies.” I first heard about it on my degree, and it’s been the most talked about cult film around the film department water cooler (yes, we have one – it’s very exciting). It has been a favourite with midnight screenings from USA to Scandinavia, and there’s always a huge turnout. Fans approach it in a very similar fashion to Rocky Horror: they’ll dress up as characters, shout out their own commentary, and throw plastic spoons at the screen. This baffled me. When my classmates organized a screening of The Room, at the bottom of the invitation in big letters it said “DON’T FORGET TO BRING PLASTIC SPOONS.” It is apparently customary to throw plastic spoons at the screen when the random, unexplained framed photo of a spoon appears. It’s the little things like these created by the cult following that make The Room what it is. Tommy Wiseau has since tried to claim that he intended the film to be funny. If this were true, it would not be as successful as it is. That’s why sequels to brilliant cult films often flop because directors fail to recapture that accidental brilliance that made them so great in the first place.
2. Eraserhead (1977)
I’ve got a few friends who are hardened Lynch fans and one of them said to me “Yeah…don’t watch it on your own.” I should have listened… what I have seen can never be unseen! I’ve now got a thousand-yard stare. Described by Lynch as his “most spiritual” movie, Eraserhead features a young man named Henry who lives in a post-apocalyptic world with his newborn mutant baby. There’s a woman in a radiator. She sings… yup. Anyway, as expected, Eraserhead was met with great confusion and mixed reactions upon release. Variety labeled it a “sickening, bad-taste exercise”, yet acclaimed director Stanley Kubrick called it one of his favourite films ever. You love it. You hate it. And that alone is pretty essential to the establishment of a cult film. They’re never going to bowl over critics the first time around, but critics shouldn’t really be listened to. Films are all about your personal reaction, not what some random academic says. Cult films are cult films because they’ll stay with you forever. And this one really does, like a branding on your optic nerves. As we all know, Lynch went on to be incredibly successful, but many regard Eraserhead as their favourite of his films, fully encapsulating the pure weirdness that is after all… Mr. Lynch.
1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
The cult following for this film is so huge that I was unsure whether or not to include it. Can it be a cult film when everyone knows about it, like Star Wars? Then I thought, why the hell not? It’s at the top of this list precisely because everyone knows about it and because the fans are just so damn dedicated. You can love it or despise it, but you cannot escape what is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This is the only film where Tim Curry does not terrify me. I think it’s the beard. Or the teeth. But I can handle him in fishnets. It’s the best known of the midnight movies and fans attend screenings, as well as the Broadway and West End productions, in “Rocky Horror” gear… i.e. fishnets, corsets, suspenders, and that’s just the men! They dance along to the Time Wrap, execute tightly scripted “call backs”, and even act out the film while it’s on-screen. There have even been reports of audience member hazing for those who have never seen it before. The Rocky Horror Picture Show cult following quite literally is just that: a cult. And why not? Good for them!