Herewith begin my weekly musings on the field of cult movies. As an opener, it would probably behoove me to define exactly what is meant by a “cult movie.” I’m going to be a bit disingenuous here, and provide a definition arguably so nebulous that some might consider it useless. That’s fine. There have been many attempts at this sort of definition, and most founder on specifics once one moves much beyond the “I know one when I see one” type of description often applied to porn. That said, here goes. Generally speakin…, the cult flick usually emerges from the realm of the B-movie (the two terms are not synonymous, though there is a large degree of overlap). As soon as there is any kind of following, however small but definitely committed, we have a cult film. So far, so good. The problem, of course, is what happens when the cult becomes huge. The Star Wars films and The Lord of the Rings (in both print and movie form) command a rabid following, some of whose members displaying behaviour no less obsessed and eccentric than that of the most religious followers of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is the textbook definition of a cult film.
So whither our definition? One might refine it by emphasizing the B-movie or indie nature of the movie. In other words, it must not be mainstream, or at least not have had a mainstream success. This last qualification is, I think, important, because there are major studio productions that do, I feel, qualify as cult films. Very often, however, they were not box office successes upon original release. They are frequently pretty terrible, and are celebrated by their audiences for their awfulness. In other words, the cult movie audience embraces the film for reasons not necessarily intended by its makers. Some examples: Myra Breckinridge, Showgirls, Battlefield Earth.
All of which is to say that I’m going to allow myself a pretty wide degree of latitude when it comes to the movies I’ll be talking about. I must think I’m pretty clever.
Anyway, the advent of the DVD has made this something of a golden age for fans of cult movies. Most of these movies no longer play in the theatres, but many are now available on discs that often boast picture quality superior to any likely theatrical incarnation of these titles. And back in the eighties and early nineties, not only did we have to make do with VHS, but often bootleg VHS at that. In that era, the legit mail-order public-domain outfit was a godsend, and the two biggest players in that realm were Something Weird Video and Sinister Cinema. Both are still very much going concerns, but Something Weird has a much higher bricks-and-mortar presence thanks to its association with Image, and so many of its titles are turning up on pretty snazzy discs. More on them at a later date. Let’s talk about Sinister Cinema.
Sinister Cinema won’t be your destination of choice if you will accept nothing less than anamorphic widescreen, DTS and a minimum of six commentary tracks. Many of their titles are now available from other companies in much better editions, or at dirt-cheap prices from other public domain companies who market their wares through the discount bins of Wal-Mart and the like, and the movies are sold in a bare-bones DVD-R format. But they are still an absolutely essential company, with titles in their catalogue you simply will not find anywhere else, and print quality that is invariably superior to the aforementioned discounters. This time of year is a particularly good time to check them out, because it’s time for their annual Drive-In Double-Feature sale. What makes these double-features special is the care paid to recreating the drive-in experience. Not only does each disc come with movies that actually WERE co-features back in the day, but the disc opens with the sight of a speaker being placed on your car window. Zoom in on the drive-in screen, and cue the trailers. In between the features, there’s a full concession-stand break, complete with all the vintage ads. As a nostalgia trip, this is hard to beat. I notice that one of the new offerings this year is the hard-to-find titles Caltiki, The Immortal Monster and The Magnetic Monster. Try landing THAT combo on Amazon.
All right, enough for now. Until next week, stay seedy.