Cult film  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

(Redirected from Cult movie)
Jump to: navigation, search

"When all the archetypes burst out shamelessly, we plumb the depths of Homeric profundity. Two cliches make us laugh but a hundred cliches moves us because we sense dimly that the cliches are talking among themselves, celebrating a reunion . . . Just as the extreme of pain meets sensual pleasure, and the extreme of perversion borders on mystical energy, so too the extreme of banality allows us to catch a glimpse of the Sublime." -- Umberto Eco, "Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage" (1984) from Travels in Hyperreality

In 1963, Roger Corman directed The Raven, a horror-comedy written by Richard Matheson very loosely based on the poem, "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. It stars Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff as a trio of rival sorcerers.
Enlarge
In 1963, Roger Corman directed The Raven, a horror-comedy written by Richard Matheson very loosely based on the poem, "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. It stars Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff as a trio of rival sorcerers.

Related e

Google
Wikipedia
Wiktionary
Wiki Commons
Wikiquote
Wikisource
YouTube
Shop


Featured:
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Enlarge
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A cult film is a film that has acquired a highly devoted but relatively small group of fans, a cult following comparable to a religious cult. Often, cult films have failed to achieve fame outside of this small group. Many cult movies have gone on to transcend their original cult status and have become recognized as classics, others are of the "so bad it's good" variety, and are destined to remain in obscurity. Cult films often become the source of a thriving, obsessive, and elaborate subculture of fandom, hence the analogy to cults. However, not every film with a rabid fanbase is necessarily a cult film. Usually, cult films have limited but very special appeal. Cult films are often known to be eccentric and usually explore topics not considered in any way mainstream—yet there are examples that are relatively normal. They are often considered controversial because they step outside standard narrative and technical conventions known.

The term cult film is used to describe a film that has had little success upon its initial release but has later spawned a small, but devoted and usually obsessive fanbase. The term cult in relation to cinema was first used in 1970 in Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema, 1955-1969, a book by Andrew Sarris, and popularized in the early 1980s in the book Cult Movies, by Danny Peary. Cults, Fetishes and Freaks: Sex and Salvation at the Movies, the second chapter of the 1983 book Midnight Movies by Hoberman and Rosenbaum, provides an excellent introduction to the cult film phenomenon. The first TV series of cult films was Alex Cox's Moviedrome, which started in 1988.

Contents

Overview

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and other films by Edward D. Wood, Jr. were among the earliest to be considered cult classics, attracting devotees who revelled in his incompetence. Other low-budget science fiction and horror films of the 1950s, along with exploitation films of the 1930s, which resurfaced in the home video market of the 1980s (including the infamous Reefer Madness), were accorded that status.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is possibly the best-known and longest-running cult film in the U.S. The movie satirizes conventions of science fiction and horror films of its time, and includes elements of transvestism, incest and homosexuality — all within the context of a musical film. Rocky Horror (as its fans casually refer to it) received little critical attention or mainstream cinema exhibition when first released in 1975, but built up a base of fans who repeatedly showed up at midnight screenings at inexpensive neighborhood cinemas, dressed in costume and "participating" in the film by doing such things as throwing rice during its wedding scene. In this case, the film intentionally ridiculed its own subject matter, thereby entering into the spirit of sarcastic fun often surrounding the attainment of cult status. Rocky Horror can be seen as a standard to help determine if a movie is indeed a cult film, as it is likely the most famous cult film. If a movie is more widely known than Rocky Horror, it is not likely to be considered a cult film.

Network television, cable television and pay-per-view stations have also changed the nature of cult films. Despite failing to meet box office expectations, Blade Runner was a favorite of early pay-per-view and HBO. Repeated showings on Comedy Central helped popularize Office Space and Half Baked.

In some cases, these films tend to enjoy long runs on video, thus being issued in video "runs" with more copies than other movies. The box office bomb Office Space managed to financially redeem itself when word-of-mouth made it a popular video rental. Harold and Maude was not successful financially at the time of its original release in 1971, but has since nevertheless earned a huge cult-following and has become successful following it's video\DVD release. This has also happened with films such as The Big Lebowski, Spaceballs and many others.

Many cult films were independently made and were not expected by their creators to have much mainstream success. Night of the Living Dead, Pink Flamingos, Basket Case, The Evil Dead and Eraserhead have all been commonly acknowledged as having become cult films. Many of directors of these kinds of films such as David Lynch, Lloyd Kaufman and John Waters have managed to gain followings even after achieving financial and mainstream success.

A film can be both a major studio release and a cult film, particularly if despite its affiliation with a major studio, it failed to achieve broad success on either the theatrical or home video markets but was championed by a small number of dedicated film fanatics who seek out lesser-known gems. It is also true that the content of certain films (such as dark subjects, alienation, transgressive content, or other controversial subject matter) can also decide whether or not a film is a "cult film," regardless of the film's budget or studio affiliations.

History

1959 to 1970s

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and other films by Edward D. Wood, Jr. were considered cult classics,Template:By whom attracting devotees who reveled in his incompetence. Other low-budget science fiction and horror films of the 1950s (for example Robot Monster), along with exploitation films of the 1930s, which resurfaced in the home video market of the 1980s (including the infamous Reefer Madness), were accorded that status.

The low budget horror film Night of the Living Dead (1968) directed by George A. Romero earned moderate box office takings but was critically polarized at the time. However, the culture of Vietnam-era United States had a tremendous impact on the film and the film was given a cult status after playing frequently at midnight movie circuits. It is so thoroughly laden with critiques of late-1960s American society that one historian described the film as "subversive on many levels." While not the first zombie film made, Night of the Living Dead influenced countless films and is perhaps the defining influence on the modern pop-culture zombie archetype. The film is the first of six Dead films (completed or pending) directed by Romero.

In 1970, Alejandro Jodorowsky created El Topo, the film that gained a very large and started the midnight movie craze. This was a landmark in cult films. John Waters' Pink Flamingos (1972), was wildly controversial (being an exercise in "poor taste") featuring incest and coprophagia, became the best known of a group of campy midnight films focusing on sexual perversions and fetishism. Filmed on weekends in Waters's hometown of Baltimore, with a mile-long extension cord as a power conduit, it was also crucial in inspiring the growth of the independent film movement. In 1973, the Elgin Theater started midnight screenings of both Pink Flamingos and a crime drama from Jamaica with a remarkable soundtrack. In its mainstream release, The Harder They Come (1972) had been a flop, panned by critics after its U.S. distributor, Roger Corman's New World Pictures, marketed it as a blaxploitation picture. Re-released as a midnight film, it screened around the country for six years, helping spur the popularity of reggae in the United States. While the midnight-movie potential of certain films was recognized only some time after they opened, a number during this period were distributed to take advantage of the market from the beginning—in 1973, for instance, Broken Goddess, Dragula, The White Whore and the Bit Player, and Elevator Girls in Bondage (as well as Pink Flamingos) had their New York premieres at midnight screenings. In 1974, midnight opener Flesh Gordon evidenced how the phenomenon lent itself to flirtations with pornography.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show satirizes conventions of science fiction and horror films, and includes elements of transvestism, incest and homosexuality – all within the context of a musical film. The film received little critical attention or mainstream cinema exhibition when first released in 1975, but built up a base of fans who repeatedly showed up at midnight screenings at inexpensive neighborhood cinemas, dressed in costume and "participating" in the film by doing such things as throwing rice during its wedding scene. In this case, the film intentionally ridiculed its own subject matter, thereby entering into the spirit of sarcastic fun often surrounding the attainment of cult status. Much of the attention has stemmed from the fanbase, rather than the film itself. Network television, cable television and pay-per-view stations have also changed the nature of cult films. David Lynch's experimental Eraserhead (1977), an example of shoe-string surrealism was a flop both critically and commercially, yet was saved from obscurity thanks to home video in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Comedy films have also been cult classics. In 1979, Steven Spielberg, after two blockbuster hits (Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), decided to try the comedy genre with 1941, set days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The film, spoofing popular film genres of the 1940s (and World War II in general), is considered by critics as Spielberg's first flop, although it made a small profit for Columbia Pictures and Universal Studios compared to Spielberg's earlier (and later) blockbuster hits. It gained a cult following after it aired in an extended version on the U.S. ABC network, and years after on Laserdisc and DVD, other comedy films from the 1970's that have small but devoted cult followings are Slap Shot (1977) , Murder By Death (1976) , Foul Play (1978) , Where's Poppa? (1970) ,The Frisco Kid (1979) and The End (1978).

1980s to present

The commercial viability of the sort of big-city arthouses that launched outsider pictures for the midnight movie circuit began to decline in the late 1970s as broad social and economic shifts weakened their countercultural base. Leading midnight movie venues were beginning to fold as early as 1977 – that year, New York's Bijou switched back permanently to the live entertainment for which it had been built, and the Elgin, after a brief run with gay porn, shut down completely. In succeeding years, the popularization of the VCR and the expansion of movie-viewing possibilities on cable television meant the death of many additional independent theaters, which as a result, developed a stream of newer cult films. Possibly the first of these was the biographical Mommie Dearest (1981), which details the life of Joan Crawford and her alleged abusive relationship with her adopted daughter. The over-acting by Faye Dunaway as Crawford gave the film a campy tone, and critics were very negative towards the film. While Dunaway garnered some critical acclaim for her astonishing physical metamorphosis and her portrayal of Crawford (finishing a narrow second in the voting for the New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Actress of the Year), she also received a Razzie Award for Worst Actress and caused considerable damage to her career. It did manage to develop a cult classic status, especially with gay audiences and became famous for Dunaway's emphasis on the line "No wire hangers, ever!", when urging her daughter not to use them in her closet.

While Rocky Horror soldiered on, by then a phenomenon unto itself, and new films like The Warriors (1979), The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980), The Evil Dead (1981), Heavy Metal (1981), and Pink Floyd The Wall (1982)—all from mainstream distributors—were picked up by the midnight movie circuit, the core of exhibitors that energized the movement was disappearing. Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) was financially unsuccessful upon its initial release. The film was, however, re-released in 1992 and achieved cult status. It has since become a leading example of the science fiction genre.

In 1984, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, starring Peter Weller as Buckaroo Banzai, whose latest experiment opens the door to the 8th dimension and unwittingly starts an interstellar battle for the world. Directed by W.D. Richter the film has since received cult status. Entertainment Weekly ranked Buckaroo Banzai as No.43 in their Top 50 Cult Movies.

Also in 1984, Dino DeLaurentiis released Dune, based on Frank Herbert's best-selling sci-fi novel. Directed by David Lynch, the film was a big-budget flop, partially because the movie had already been edited from an intended three-to-four hours to 137 minutes, leaving the story incomprehensible. Knowing that a great deal of footage had been deleted, Universal Studios took it upon themselves to release a longer version for syndicated television and thereby, return some of the cohesiveness to the story. Thus, Dune became a cult classic, albeit too late, as David Lynch had removed his name from the credits of the television cut. Both major versions have been successful thanks to a recent DVD release.

1985 saw the making of two Arnon Milchan films that were, like Dune before it, substantially altered by Universal Studios in an attempt to find a mainstream audience. Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985), a dystopian science fiction film about a man's relationship with the woman of his dreams became a huge failure (largely because of the difficulties involved in marketing the film), yet was critically acclaimed and subsequently revitalized by video releases. Then, by the time Legend, directed by Ridley Scott, opened in European theatres, it had already been edited by 20 minutes by Universal. Having failed at the U.K. box office, it was further edited by five minutes for U.S. release a year later and Jerry Goldsmith's original orchestral score replaced by a rock score by Tangerine Dream. Interest in the missing footage and score helped to build the film's cult status, which paid off when in 2002, DVD audiences finally saw Legend in a version closer to director Scott's intent.

A year later, David Lynch's highly influential neo-noir thriller Blue Velvet (1986), having initially failed at the box office (because of its limited release in theatres), was revitalized with video releases in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The film became hugely controversial and well-known because of its bizarre, often graphic depiction of small town America and male-female relationships featuring a psychotic Dennis Hopper and his drug-fueled sexual relationship with Dorothy Vallens, played by Isabella Rossellini. Lynch continued his career with various other cult films: Wild at Heart (1990), Lost Highway (1997) and the critically acclaimed Mulholland Dr. (2001) as well as his short lived cult phenomenon television series Twin Peaks (90–91), and its subsequent movie adaptation: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). Another cult item is the Jim Jarmusch film from 1989 Mystery Train, which includes Joe Strummer and Tom Waits.

Alan Parker's hybrid mystery/horror film, Angel Heart (1987), starring Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro, fared poorly at the box office, only just breaking even. Despite this, the film became a hit once released on VHS, and has become a cult classic since, known for its spooky tone, Michael Seresin's cinematography, the sad and spooky score by Trevor Jones, and an unusual but effective blend of genres. Two of the movie's producers, Andrew G. Vajna and Mario Kassar, also produced the cult film Jacob's Ladder which had a similar narrative structure, as well as a 'twist' ending.

Michael Lehmann's satirical teenage comedy Heathers (1989), starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, was intended to take on the John Hughes teenage films (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles) and give them a much darker, realistic and comedic approach. However, the film was a failure at the box office (mainly because of its limited release). Despite this, it was hugely popular on VHS in the early 1990s and launched cutting-edge dialogue spoken by its characters ('What's your damage?', 'I love my dead, gay son!') into mainstream popular culture. In 1993, the comedy horror Army of Darkness, a sequel to the Evil Dead series, was released. The movie had a considerably higher budget than the prior two Evil Dead films. The budget was estimated to be around $11 million; while Evil Dead II had a budget of $3.5 million and The Evil Dead a budget of $350,000. At the box office, Army of Darkness was not a big success as hoped, only grossing $11,501,093 domestically. After its video release, however, it obtained a cult following, along with the other two films in the trilogy.

One of the most successful of the 1990s generation of cult films was the Australian drag queen road saga The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). One of the theaters to show it regularly at midnight was New York's Waverly (also now closed), where Rocky Horror had played for a house record ninety-five weeks. Writer/director Todd Solondz, a favorite cult director, had his first major success with the black comedy Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), a brutally-honest look at the persecution of a young junior high student by her classmates. His next film was the challenging, controversial dark comedy of sex and perversion in American suburbia—titled Happiness (1998). The Big Lebowski (1998) was a flop on its initial release, yet became a cult classic and has been called "the first cult film of the Internet era." Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) had a disappointing box office performance but is considered to be a "cult favorite" because of its unique art and animation style inspired by comic book artist Mike Mignola.

Older films are also popular on the circuit, appreciated largely in an imposed camp fashion—a midnight movie tradition that goes back to the 1972 revival of the hectoring anti-drug movie Reefer Madness (1938). (Tod Browning's 1932 horror classic Freaks, the original midnight movie revival, is both too dark and too sociologically acute to readily consume as camp.) Where the irony with which Reefer Madness was adopted as a midnight favorite had its roots in a countercultural sensibility, in the latter's place there is now the paradoxical element of nostalgia: the leading revivals currently on the circuit ironically include clearly non-cult films like John Hughes oeuvre—The Breakfast Club (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986), and Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), which were major studio productions and popular and financially successful during their original releases, and the teen adventure film The Goonies (1985).

Cult films within a particular culture

Occasionally, a film can become the object of a cult following within a particular region or culture if it has some unusual significance to that region or culture.

An example is the cult status of British comedic actor Norman Wisdom’s films in Albania. Wisdom’s films, in which he usually played a family man worker who outsmarts his boss, were some of the few Western films considered acceptable by the country’s communist rulers, thus Albanians grew familiar and attached to Wisdom. Curiously, he and his films are now acquiring nostalgic cult status in Britain.

Another example is the place of The Wizard of Oz in American gay culture, although a widely viewed and historically important film in greater American culture. Gay men sometimes refer to themselves as "friends of Dorothy". Singin' in the Rain is another film adopted by the American gay subculture which used to regularly be shown during the 1980s and early 1990s for extended runs.

The 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film Reefer Madness has become a cult film within the stoner subculture due to its humorously sensationalized, outdated and inaccurate descriptions of the effects of marijuana. 20th Century Fox and Legend Films released a colorized version of the film on DVD on April 20, 2004, an obvious reference to its ironic appeal (see 420 (cannabis culture)). The World War II-era Department of Agriculture film Hemp for Victory, encouraging the growing of hemp for war uses, has achieved a similar cult status.

Lower IT workers and white-collar American workers alike have given Mike Judge's 1999 comedy film Office Space a cult following because of its heroic portrayal of ordinary office employees who become fed up with their jobs make a stand and try to overthrow the very corporation they work for.

British comedies have enjoyed a cult status in America. These films include the Blackadder and Monty Python series, most notably Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Asian cinema, particularly Hong Kong martial arts films, such as wuxia, and Japanese tokusatsu, primarily from the Daikaiju Eiga, and anime, also has a cult following in the Western hemisphere. The Kaiju genre of films, most famously the Godzilla films, while enjoying much mainstream popularity in Japan, has a large following in the U.S.. Battle Royale has gained cult status in Britain due to the resonance the film has with the disaffected youth of that country.

In India, Bollywood action movies like Sholay, Shaan and Shalimar achieved cult-status.

So-bad-they're-good cult films

See bad film, camp

Cult film figures

Some actors and directors are primarily known for their work in cult films and often become cult figures because of that work. Some, such as Ridley Scott and Sam Raimi, eventually make successful, mainstream films while others continue to be known only to a small group of fans.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Cult film" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools