Favorite Cult Classics That You Probably Haven’t Seen, Part 1

The term “cult classics” is used to describe films that, when first released, failed to find an audience but slowly gained a growing following either through midnight screenings (such is the case with the Rocky Horror Picture Show) or a home video release.  The effect of home video on the accessibility of this genre is immeasurable, and has led to a widespread popularity of the genre as a whole.  Yet, there are still a number of cult films that have failed to find a foothold in the public consciousness, remaining the favorites of a comparatively few cinephiles.  The purpose of this post, and the few that will follow, is to recommend cult films that deserve a place in the pantheon of cult film alongside El Topo (Jodorowsky, 1970), Barbarella (Vadim, 1968), Eraserhead (Lynch, 1977), Pink Flamingos (Waters, 1972), I Spit On Your Grave (Zarchi, 1978), Vampyros Lesbos (Franco, 1971), Zardoz (Boorman, 1974) and Driller Killer (Ferrara, 1979).

Lord Love A Duck (1966)

original lobby card for Lord Love A Duck

original lobby card for Lord Love A Duck

This is perhaps one of the most offbeat satirical comedies of the sixties, a film that attempts to and succeeds at lampooning both the teen sex comedy films of the day and the socio-political structure of American society.   The film, based on an Al Hine novel of the same name, stars Roddy McDowall and Tuesday Weld with Lola Albright, Ruth Gordon and Harvey Korman under the excessively campy direction of George Axelrod.  Despite a very talented ensemble cast, the most watchable part of the film is Roddy McDowall  (who refers to himself in the third person as Mollymauk), whose over the top theatrical performance coupled with Axelrod’s sense of modern architecture give the film a feeling of fantasy that could only be compared to Frank Tashlin’s work with Jerry Lewis.  And it is this air of fantasy that enables the film’s narrative; Allan (McDowall) dedicates a year of his life to make fellow high school student Barbara Ann’s (Weld) every wish come true even if it means murder, perfectly acceptable.

Straight To Hell (1987)

from left to right: Strummer, Rude and Richardson in Straight To Hell

from left to right: Strummer, Rude and Richardson in Straight To Hell

Just before directing his masterpiece Walker (1987) Alex Cox helmed this typically offbeat revival of the Spaghetti Western.  The film is the product of a failed charity concert film Cox was to direct.  But since all the acts had allotted the time in their schedules for the concert, Cox decided instead to make Straight To Hell.  This accounts for the rather unorthodox cast which includes Joe Strummer, Courtney Love, Elvis Costello, Shane MacGowan, Grace Jones as well as actors Dick Rude, Sy Richardson, Dennis Hopper, Miguel Sandoval and a guest appearance by film director Jim Jarmusch.  The film has the kinetic energy and sense of danger of a lost weekend.  Along with deconstructing the Western genre at every turn, Cox also imbues the film with some of his own obsessions including coffee, wieners, and hardware stores.  The bizarre mix of talent and obsessive thematic plotting make this film the stuff of hipster heaven, but without any sort of legitimate following.

Free Enterprise (2000)

William Shatner as William Shatner checking out porn.

William Shatner as William Shatner checking out porn.

Free Enterprise is a film made by two trekkies about two trekkies about to enter their thirties and how they navigate their daily love lives and jobs with the hope of ascertaining happiness and fame.  And who better to guide them than William Shatner, playing a version of himself that no one had seen until then (going so far as to rap William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar).  The film follows the narrative style of Swingers but derives its greatest pleasure from the inherent elitism of its referential dialogue, which is so faced paced and obscure it could give the Gilmore Girls a run for their money.  Yet, unlike most cult films, Free Enterprise is a heart felt romantic comedy, as unpretentious as it is obsessed with Captain Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

-Robert Curry

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