When I sat down to write about my favourite Cult Films I thought it would be easy. I could pick them in seconds and then spend my time crafting wonderful adventures of text around each film.
Turns out picking my top 10 Cult Films was harder than I thought.
For starters you could fill the list with almost all of John Carpenter’s body of work. Then there is David Lynch and David Cronenberg’s back catalogue. Let us not forget Russ Meyer, John Waters, Ed Wood, the Coen brothers and so many more directors.
Each had so many great films under their belt that it made it so difficult to choose. Time needed to spent considering this list very carefully.
Before I go any further let us look at what makes a Cult Film.
A cult film, is a film that has acquired a cult following with a specific group of fans. Often, cult movies have failed to achieve fame outside small fanbases; however, there are exceptions that have managed to gain fame among mainstream audiences. Many cult movies have gone on to transcend their original cult status and have become recognized as classics. Usually, cult films have limited but very special, noted appeal. Cult films are often known to be eccentric, often do not follow traditional standards of mainstream cinema and usually explore topics not considered in any way mainstream – Wikipedia
As you can see the definition covers quite a wide spectrum of film. One person’s Cult Film can end up becoming beloved my millions, often to the dismay of that small group who initially loved it.
So how was I to decide whether Kurt Russell sitting and waiting to see what happens was better than Charlton Heston riding around in a red convertible shooting up Vampire Hipsters?
That was a trick question. John Carpenter’s The Thing is automatically the number one spot on almost all Top 10 lists – Best use of a head falling off a body then sprouting spider legs and walking off? Check. Biggest hat Kurt Russell has ever worn? Check. Keith David being cool as hell? Check. Wilford Brimbley using crappy computer graphics to work out the World is doomed? Check mate.
For the purposes of the list I decided to leave The Thing off it as that would be too obvious. Same with The Big Lebowski. Two cult films which have transcended space and time to become legend…wait for it…ary.
Let’s get on with it then. The following 10 films are presented in no particular order. All have their own merits, coolness and strangeness that makes each one an essential watch at some point in your life. Not all of them feature great acting and cohesive story lines yet they all feature quirky coolness that sticks in your brain.
I don’t expect you to agree with all of my choices, I just hope you enjoy the ride. As a wise man once said, “no matter where you go…there you are.”
(Otto) Emilio Estevez and (Bud) Harry Dean Stanton driving around L.A. repossessing cars turns out to be even cooler than you would think. The 1984 film by Alex Cox features all kinds of strangeness. All food and drinks get generic labels (a can of beer is labelled “beer”, food as “food” etc) which adds the otherworldlyness of the film which is already populated by Nihilistic Punks, Government Agents, Aliens, people spouting strange monologues and various random disintegrations. You know you are in for a fun ride.
As Bud always said, “the life of a repo man is always intense.”
In The Mouth Of Madness
As I had taken The Thing out of the running I had to have another John Carpenter film in the list. Which one would it be? They Live has the best fight scene ever and Roddy Piper realising he is all out of bubblegum. Escape from New York has Snake Plissken being all kinds of cool. Big Trouble In Little China shook the pillars of heaven and Prince of Darkness has Donald Pleasance as a priest and Alice Cooper as a homeless man. All are works of genius (forget about Memoirs of an Invisible Man and Ghosts of Mars).
I’ll go with In The Mouth of Madness for now. It seems to be one of Carpenter’s films that seems to be the least well known. I have no idea why as its tale of Sam Neill’s Insurance Investigator seeking the horror writer Sutter Cane is pure Lovecraftian goodness. The all-encompassing horror and discomfort that slowly builds as Neill enters Hobb’s End is truly great.
Who knew that one of the scariest questions in the World would be, “do you read Sutter Cane?”
I think I understand what it was all about….maybe….I think I need to watch it again.
That is the beauty of Shane Carruth’s 2004 time travel movie. Two engineers, Aaron (Shane Carruth), Abe (David Sullivan) accidentally stumble across a time machine and we then see how this discovery effects them.
It is all done in such a low key way, with various conversations stuffed full of tech speak, and people sitting round, that at first you wonder why you are watching these guys in shirts and ties doing not much at all. By that point it is too late, you are sucked in. You may not know what they are talking about, but suddenly you want to know what happens when they go in the box. How many boxes are there and what are they doing each time they go round?
That description of the film probably does not help in any way and that is its purpose. Just go watch the film. Then, after discussing it with friends and family, watch it 3 or 4 more times and then you just may get the hang of it.
The Brother From Another Planet
If you only know Joe Morton from Terminator 2 or Eureka then you really need to check out this John Sayles move from 1984.
This tale of interplanetary slavery features a main character, The Brother (Morton), who does not speak through the film being chased by David Strathairn and Sayles as Men in Black.
Nothing much actually happens in the film. The Brother meets various people who talk about their life, he fixes arcade games and wanders around New York City. Yet Morton sells it all with various looks, glances and smiles.
Whenever a new film based on a board game is announced they are usually met with ridicule and a why bother mentality. Battleship did not help matters and Monopoly
We always seem to forget about Clue. Based on the game of the same name (or Cluedo if you live in the UK) the Jonathan Lynn directed film stars Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Martin Mull, Lesley Anne Warren, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Madeline Kahn, Colleen Camp and Lee Ving.
It follows the basics of the board game, but the actors and script lift it up to something approaching pure joy.
Tim Curry stumbling upon a shower in a dark room and “I am your singing telegram.” BLAM! Is pure comedy gold.
Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train follows three stories set in Memphis, Tennessee. Featuring Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Joe Strummer, Steve Buscemi we follow Japanese tourists on a pilgrimage, a woman visited by the spirit of Elvis and a trio of losers getting mixed up in guns and booze. It has the typical slow pacing of a Jarmusch film which just makes you sit back and go with the flow.
The protagonist acts as if he is doped up and seems to sleepwalk throughout the film. The plot is a sci-fi staple yet it is elevated to cult status by the fact David Cronenberg directed it and the mighty Michael Ironside stars in it. The scene where Ironside blows up a man’s head using the power of his mind seals the deal.
Nothing more need be said.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil
I thought I would go with a more recent film that deserves a whole lot more love. I was going to go with Bubba Ho-Tep, but felt that was a bit slow in places so Tucker and Dale take this spot. Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Dollhouse) and Tyler Labine (Reaper) star as two of the loveliest Red Necks you ever could meet.
While trying to repair their new Summer house they are stalked by a group of young, gorgeous Student types who believe Tucker and Dale are a pair of Hill-Billy Killers. Various misunderstandings only add to the confusion leading to a great take on the slasher movies we all love.
It is a film that needs to be seen and I hope that, one day, we get to see more adventures of Tucker and Dale.
The very fact this is a David Lynch film means it will be a cult film forevermore. Most things from the mind of Lynch are pure cult.
What was planned as a TV show pilot grew and changed into a modern day noir tale that could possibly have all been the dream and broken wishes of a washed up actress.
It gave us Naomi Watts and Laura Harring in a story featuring amnesia, cowboys, murder, blue boxes, smiling old people, Billy Ray Cyrus and the scariest moment behind any diner.
It is hard to narrow down any one scene…although there is a certain love scene which springs to mind…yet I personally love the scene of Naomi Watts going to an audition. It features some of the greatest acting I have ever seen.
I can only imagine what other strangeness Lynch would have given us if it had become a TV show.
The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension
This 1984 film (hmm, another film from 1984. Is that the ultimate year for Cult Films) screams cult film from the title alone. The fact it follows Dr. Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller), a physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot, and rock musician, to save the world by defeating a band of inter-dimensional aliens called Red Lectroids from Planet 10 only confirms this.
Upon my first viewing of this film many years ago I wondered what the hell was going on. It just kept throwing more and more weirdness on the screen until it was all too much. Then something happened.
I am not sure if it was the sight of John Lithgow electrocuting himself, or Jeff Goldblum wearing a cowboy suit, maybe it was Perfect Tommy being perfect or the rest of the Hong Kong Cavaliers always having Banzai’s back and harkening back to Doc Savage and his Fabulous Five.
It was probably all that, but I like to think it was Buckaroo stopping the band playing because he had heard Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin) crying over the sound of the guitars.
I always wanted to be one of The Blue Blaze Irregulars.
So there you have it. My Top 10 Cult Movies of the moment. It will probably have changed by this time tomorrow, but that is the nature of the beast.
What about Barton Fink, Evil Dead, Flash Gordon, Blue In The Face, UHF, Duel, Black Dynamite, Raising Arizona, The Room, Dark City, The Warriors, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Brazil, A Boy and His Dog, Knightriders, Tremors, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist and all the rest?
Well, they are all Cult Films for another day.
What are your favourite Cult Films?