Reel life on the fringes
Do you enjoy cult movies? Do you have any favorites?
When I say cult movie, I mean a film that is near and dear to a, shall we say, niche crowd. My definition of a cult movie is one that is deeply beloved by a very small audience. Maybe you saw the movie, but that doesn't make you a member of that select group that reveres it. In fact, the charm of a particular movie might be completely lost on us. Often it is a "love it" or "hate it" proposition with the films in this category.
The ultimate cult movie is "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," which debuted in 1975. After failing at the box office and among critics, it found a home in midnight showings at hundreds of theaters around the country. It became a phenomenon, spawning its own subculture. Seeing "Rocky" with the loyalists was an experience I'll never forget. For a movie to break through to an audience and draw viewers in so completely that they are conversing with the screen and dancing in the aisles—well, I would characterize that as a success. Looking at "Rocky" now, you have to wonder if the filmmakers weren't anticipating the rise of midnight movies. The film is so demented and bizarre that they could not have been worried about the size of the audience. Thank goodness for that. For me at least, "Rocky" and the "Time Warp" remain crazed delights.
But that disregard for what an audience might think, instead focusing on the work the artist felt in his or her heart, is the core of the appeal of these films.
As an aficionado of cult films, I could cite hundreds of them. But that's not the purpose of this post. The point is to get your opinions. To find out the weird little movies from the past that you remember fondly, or were amazed actually showed up at the cineplex.
Here, however, are a couple of others examples to give you something to ponder.
—"Eraserhead," by David Lynch. This might be the weirdest movie ever made by the weirdest moviemaker that Hollywood has known. Released in 1977, this surrealist piece is hated by many and loved by a few. Keep this in mind, however. The film was deemed significant enough to have been preserved in the National Film Registry. Henry Spencer and his hair are a piece of our cultural legacy. How weird is that?
—"Harold and Maude," by Hal Ashby. This bizarre little love story stars Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon as the most unlikely of lovers. The music of Cat Stevens drew me in, but the skill of Ashby and the film's gentle wisdom got a hold on me.
—The "Evil Dead" movies, by Sam Raimi. I prefer "Evil Dead II," but these movies are so unhinged, deranged and insanely violent that they cross the line from scary to hilarious and back again. Unfortunately, the three movies Raimi made in this series have inspired a lot of bad movies that haunt moviegoers still.
—"The Big Lebowski," by Joel and Ethan Coen. Introduces what has become a unique character in movies. "The Dude" is portrayed by Jeff Bridges as an unemployed bowling enthusiast and slacker extraordinaire. In the movie, Jeff Lebowski gets drawn into a web of intrigue surrounding the disappearance of a man's wife. Based loosely on "The Big Sleep" by Raymond Chandler, the film is a bravura display of the Coens' skill. Many fans know the dialogue by heart, Lebowski's sweater is immortal, and somewhere, a college is probably teaching Dudeism as a philosophy. Lebowski might be the ultimate cult movie hero.
Do you have a cult movie that you cherish? Did you think of it as a cult movie when you saw it? Or did that happen later? Tell us about your favorite weirdo movies.
Follow Shawn Sensiba on Twitter @shawnsensiba.