Looking at some of my favourite cult movies…
Since I’ve done quite a few simple film reviews, I thought I’d take a break and have a look at a topic close to my heart, cult films. For those who stick to more mainstream movies and might be unfamiliar with the term, a cult film isn’t a religious fanatic’s ideal watch, it is a slightly nebulous word to describe a film with a relatively small but dedicated fan base. There are many things which can be used to define whether a film is cult, but for the purpose of this post, I’m going to keep to a basic definition. A film can be cult if it has a small possibly obsessive fan base, slight campy elements and possibly a troubled or unsuccessful initial release. With that out of the way, please enjoy my pick of the top five personal favourite cult films. These aren’t going to be ranked in order of best to worst, merely five different genres of cult movies that I really enjoy.
- Birdemic: Shock and Terror.
This slot on the list represents my love of films that are so bad they’re good. Birdemic, directed by James Nguyen is a passion project, like most films that are unintentionally hilarious. It’s tough to describe why it’s so much fun to watch a terribly made film, but I think the key point for me is intent. There is a charming quality to a film which tries so hard to be good which can be missing in a lot of mediocre big blockbusters. The lack of budget and inept directing almost serve as a masterclass in how not to make a movie, and especially for a film student, it’s a riot watching all of the failures. My personal highlight is the animation on the CGI birds, which is so bad it almost distracts you from the terrible acting. Birdemic is so much fun, especially with a group of friends.
- Donnie Darko.
As a contrast, lets look at a fantastically made film, which I love completely seriously. Donnie Darko was made in 1999, as a debut for director Richard Kelly. The film didn’t do too well on release, probably because it’s such a surreal and hard to categorise experience that no one could really have marketed it to a wide audience. Since then it has developed a cult following and I am a proud member of that following. The film is probably best defined as a sci-fi but, honestly there are elements of a lot of genres in there. There are aspects of a coming of age narrative, fantasy, superhero themes, and a lot of very lovable characters. The film stars a young Jake Gyllenhaal in a career highlight as troubled teen Donnie Darko, who experiences strange visions and odd powers, being told he must save his world in 28 days. The film is instantly quotable and straddles the line between eerie and depressing, and funny and heart-warming.
3. Office Space.
I have never worked in an office. And now thanks to Office Space, I pray I never have to. This genius comedy, directed by Mike Judge is a brilliant lampoon of the terrible people we all meet at work. It’s hilarious portrayal of the soul crashing inanity of working in an office environment is endlessly entertaining. The fact that Peter, the main character needs to be hypnotised into a zen state to cope with his job is brilliant, and sets up a lot of great gags, as Peter no longer caring about being fired gets him promoted. His new attitude at work actually improves his standing. There are great characters in this; the boss Lumbergh for one. He is a great example of the faux friendly, chummy boss who still gives you more work and cracks the whip. The lines in this are not just funny, they’re repeatably funny. I’ve watched this film countless times and I still howl with laughter every time Milton threatens to burn the office down.
4. Army of Darkness.
I’ve always appreciated films that blend different genres. Sam Raimi is a director who seems particularly adept at this, and his horror comedy Army of Darkness is probably on my list of all time favourite films, let alone cult movies. Technically, this is also Evil Dead 3 as the third film about Ash Williams, every-man from Michigan taking on the evil dead with a chainsaw hand and shotgun. I love this film because of the camp factor, the effects are cool and very real but also delightfully rickety. I adore this film because of Bruce Campbell as Ash, a role he finally seems completely comfortable in after two films perfecting it. His one liners are a fantastic blend of stupid and witty. The horror elements are well realised, but the lighter, even more comedic tone, partly brought about by the time travel plot make this film more accessible to a wider audience. In fact, I watched this first when I was younger because it was much easier to cope with. Whereas Evil Dead 1 and 2 were held back by a tiny budget and only took place in a single cabin, this is a sprawling medieval epic horror, taking place in castles and old dark woods. It’s just a really fun ride from start to finish.
Finally, a bizarre 80’s fantasy to send things off. This film is a triumph of Jim Henson puppetry. The characters designs are really creative, ranging from downright creepy to incredibly cute. David Bowie lends his star quality to the film, making it impossible to determine if he’s actually a good actor, or if he simply doesn’t need to be. His music in this film is catchy and very evocative, setting the tone of the film. Jennifer Connolly as the lead starts off as a slightly bad actor, but by the end her character has come a long way, and Connolly does manage to convey that and tone down her performance accordingly. This film has a unique tone and atmosphere, set up by an almost ethereal soundtrack and a set which feels somewhere between a real place and a theme park. The characters are slightly cartoonish, but in a kid’s film that can be forgiven, and the urgency of the story is well set up in that Sarah’s baby brother is in very real danger. Overall, this is a unique film that needs to be seen at least once, and I recommend it to any big fantasy fans out there. You won’t be disappointed.
So those were my five favourite cult films. I hope this list has in some way inspired you all to try a few more obscure movies, there are tons out there and they get fan bases for a good reason. From underappreciated classics to hilarious train-wrecks, there is something for everyone out there. Have a look and see for yourself!