February 21, 2002

Cult Classics

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“What is a cult film?” This is a common question and one that is not easily answered. Though many definitions are out there, there is no particular canon that precisely pinpoints this pseudo-genre. Some believe cult films are limited to low budget horror films. Others say that the true definition of the genre depends on the specifics of a film’s production. daze has compiled some of the most popular and important films of the genre for your viewing pleasure:

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

The G-Rating of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory can be quite deceiving. This 1971 musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel offers more than the average 100 minutes of children’s entertainment. While the Disney-esque set and hokey music are aimed at younger viewers, the clever script and dark themes are best appreciated by older viewers. The plot is simple: four lucky children discover golden tickets in their chocolate bars and are subsequently invited to attend an exclusive tour of the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. Gene Wilder delivers a masterful performance as the eccentric Willy Wonka, who guides the children and their guardians through the delectable yet dangerous chocolate underworld. Amidst this fantastical land of lickable wallpaper and chocolate rivers, the children succumb, one by one, to their selfishness, greed, and vanity — leaving only the good-natured Charlie. Naturally, any film whose moral equates good behavior to a lifetime supply of candy is going to captivate children. Yet, the surprisingly sarcastic and moralizing tone of the script is directed at adults. The film’s genius lies in its effective balance of fluff and substance; it keeps its viewers coming back for seconds.

Pink Floyd: The Wall

As if the legendary Pink Floyd album, The Wall, couldn’t get any better, they decided to make a movie out of it. The partially animated, partially realistic, and thoroughly confusing story of Pink Floyd’s The Wall focuses on the life of a man named Pink. Alone in a hotel room — after discovering that his estranged wife is having an affair — and teetering on the brink of insanity, Pink mentally reenacts his life’s events in an attempt to discover what went wrong. Incidents from his unhappy childhood, his past romances, and images of World War II culminate in the powerful animated sequence of “The Trial.” The Wall with its minimal dialogue and fantastically disturbing imagery, forges a spot in the invented terrain between narrative film and music video. The film accommodates die-hard Floyd fans who prefer to create their own mental imagery to accompany the album, in that its obliqueness leaves many aspects of the story open to interpretation. The Wall is a cult film in every sense because, although many viewers find it difficult to watch, those that enjoy it do so religiously. — GK

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

First a flop Broadway show that closed after thirty-two performances, then a huge movie, then a New York City Friday night tradition, then a successful Broadway revival, you can’t even say the word cult without paying homage to the grand daddy of all cult films, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Richard O’Brian’s 1975 ode to B- horror flicks spawned a generation of drag queens, transvestites, and midnight screenings of Rocky still going strong across the country. All you Rocky virgins may not quite understand, but the Risley people can back me up on this one. To watch the movie with someone who knows the “callback” script encapsulates what a cult following is in all its fanaticism and boldness. And it’s brilliant (arrow points to slut, follow the bouncing thumb, do you know about anal sex?).

Christopher Guest

As Risley is to Rocky, the theatre department is to Christopher Guest, the man behind the mockumentary. You may have grown up on Spinal Tap, or you may have been forced to watch it when your college friends found out you had never seen it. Either way, you’ve witnessed that people can, and do, spontaneously combust (you know what I mean). And as a result, you went out and rented Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. The mockumentaries are made without any irony whatsoever, and give their zany characters the utmost respect and coverage. The results are nothing short of hilarious (I defy anyone to watch Parker Posy’s break down at the loss of her stuffed animal and not piss on themselves in laughter). And if you don’t laugh, you are just a bastard person. — DF

Friday the 13th

The original hockey-masked horror icon debuts in this classic film, which is cheesy enough for even those with an aversion to gore. In the 1980 film that spawned nine sequels (including one in 2001, believe it or not), Camp Crystal Lake is reopened for the first time since the accidental drowning of a child (Jason) several decades earlier. Counselors assemble to prepare the camp, and bloodshed ensues as each is eliminated by a mysterious figure, to be revealed to the sole survivor (not necessarily who you might expect!). Keep your eyes peeled for Kevin Bacon in his pre- “type-cast-as-a-psycho” days, an amusing touch in a delightfully awful film.

Ed Wood

Tim Burton directed this appropriately quirky 1994 film detailing the life of Ed Wood, often called the “worst filmmaker of all time.” Titles by the legendary B-movie director alone are sufficient to explain the aforementioned nickname, including gems like Orgy of the Dead and Plan 9 From Outer Space. Shot in black-and-white, the story follows Wood through the creative process, also giving a glimpse at his affinity for women’s clothing. Unlike many cult flicks, an all star cast characterizes Ed Wood, featuring Johnny Depp in the title role, along with Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Bill Murray, among others. Hailed by many critics, the film even elicited a best supporting actor Oscar for Landau. — SW

Blade Runner

“Is Deckard a replicant?” has become one of the most hotly debated questions in science fiction. And when there are several versions of the same film floating around, this comes as no surprise, especially with a tale (based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) so subtle and ambiguous. At once an apocalyptic vision of the future, cautionary tale of artificial intelligence and treatise on commercialism, this sci-fi/noir hybrid’s original 1982 release faced scathing reviews and was almost completely ignored by the public. Ten years later, to the surprise of all, the superior re-released director’s cut won the film the success it deserved, putting it on most sci-fi fans’ top-ten lists. See it for Vangelis’ mesmerizing score. See it to enjoy Ridley Scott in his prime. See it to watch Rutger Hauer beat the crap out of Harrison Ford. Most of all, see it to realize what science fiction can be, but usually isn’t. Unlike many films, Blade Runner gains more depth with each viewing. Coming sometime this year: a second director’s cut on DVD, bound to spark even more debate.


Last year, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive received universal praise from critics and audiences alike. Without exception, every reviewer likened the film to a dream, a hazy drug trip or an alternate universe. This comparison isn’t far off, but viewers who found Mulholland confusing should probably stay away from Eraserhead, arguably the weirdest, most twisted series of images ever confined to celluloid. Five years in the making, Lynch’s 1978 feature film debut set off an immediate cult following. It’s not hard to see why; there are as many interpretations as people who have seen the movie. At its most basic level an exploration of industrial angst and parental woes, the film is completely unforgiving in its portrayal of Henry Spencer (Jack Nance, Twin Peaks’ Pete Martell) and his relationship
with girlfriend Mary X and their lizardlike child. Shot in black-and-white with astounding sound design and razorblade music effects by Lynch himself, Eraserhead offers a glimpse into a world inhabited by characters like “Lady in the Radiator” and “Man in the Planet,” and where tiny bleeding cornish hens are the norm. Dare yourself to see it. — AG

Blue Velvet

Since its release in 1986, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet has attracted a small but loyal collection of followers. While putting off many due to its bizarre characters and incessant concern with the morbid, this film opened up a whole new world for the strong of stomach. The story takes place in the picture postcard town of Lumberton where Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan), discovers a severed human ear in a field. Unsatisfied with the police’s search, he and the police detective’s daughter do their own investigating, leading them into a world of drugs, sex, and brutal excess. Throughout this nightmarish work, Lynch shows a keen interest in the oddities of suburban America and the terrifying realities that lie beneath its surface. If you see the film again, try to imagine Jeffrey being played by Val Kilmer. He turned the role down, calling Lynch’s script “pornography.”

The Big Lebowski

Coming shortly after the commercial and critical success of Fargo, The Big Lebowski was considered by many to be a disappointment. It tells the story of “the dude” (Jeff Bridges), a quintisential L.A. slacker whose life is thrown off course when his house is broken into and his rug is peed on by two gangsters who have mistaken him for “the big” Lebowski. Throughout the adventures that follow, “the dude,” accompanied by his bowling buddy, Walter (John Goodman), encounters some of the most eccentric characters the Cohen Brothers have ever created. This hilariously funny film has had a healthy shelf-life since its release thanks to a fanbase with a soft spot for bowling, white Russians, and John Turturro as “the Jesus.” It’s nice to know that there are some people out there who give the Cohen Brothers’ offbeat humor the credit it deserves. — PD

Archived article by Daze Staff