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Classic Ten – Greatest Cult Movies


Left for dead on the scrap heap of history, the cult movie may not be as immediately understood or universally loved, or as the classics, but it possesses the quirks — sometimes unintentional — that galvanize a contingent of likeminded fans to rescue it from oblivion and reclaim it with religious devotion. And yet, no matter how hard filmmakers might try, cult is a status that can’t be contrived. The ten on this list have reached the pinnacle and obtained it through no effort of their own.

Mommie Dearest.jpg10. Mommie Dearest (1981)
“No! WIRE! HANGEEERRRRS!” Maybe Faye Dunaway didn’t realize she was creating one of the all-time over-the-top performances while playing obsessive-compulsive Joan Crawford in this adaptation of Christina Crawford’s damning memoir of the mother from hell, but her portrayal made what might have otherwise been a run-of-the-mill family drama a classic of unintentionally hilarious scenery chewing acting. Audiences quickly caught on that the movie was to be watched against the grain, and Paramount cashed in by tailoring an ad campaign to suit its ironic appeal: “Meet the biggest MOTHER of them all!”

Showgirls.jpg9. Showgirls (1995)
Derided by critics and ignored by audiences when released as the first widely distributed NC-17 movie, this Joe Eszterhas-penned T & A sleazefest — featuring one-time teen star Elizabeth Berkley’s turn as a Vegas dancer — became a camp classic of the video age. Viewers too embarrassed to attend the movie in public rented it en mass, mocking it from the comfort of their own homes. While in recent years some serious critics have come to its defense, Showgirls still can’t rid itself of its “so bad, it’s good” stigma, especially with this dialogue: “I used to love Doggy Chow, too!”

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.jpg8. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Lackluster sequels and remakes have dulled the immediate impact this low-budget, no-name journey into the macabre possessed in 1974, but it’s still difficult to ignore The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s influence on the horror genre and cinema in general. Independently produced for the filmmaking equivalent of pocket change, TTCM relied on a documentary-style rawness and left-to-the-imagination grotesqueness to portray a family of cannibals and tap a growing adolescent cult for slasher movies. Said critic Robin Wood: “Watching it recently with a large, half-stoned youth audience who cheered and applauded every one of Leatherface’s outrages against their representatives on screen was a terrifying experience.”

The Big Lebowski.jpg7. The Big Lebowski (1998)
The
Coen Brothers have always been a little too weird for the mainstream,
and it at first seemed the praise the duo earned for Oscar-winner Fargo had been squandered on the far less successful, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink stoner comedy caper The Big Lebowski.
But time was on their side as hip audiences “got” the humor of Saddam
Hussein dream sequences and child molesting bowling competitors named
Jesus, forming a cult centered around nationwide annual Lebowski Fests
and reclaiming the movie as an absurdist masterpiece.

Pink Flamingos.jpg6. Pink Flamingos (1972)
The
’70s saw the peak of midnight movies and exploitation directors’
attempts to push the boundaries of violence, sexuality, and general
tastelessness. John Waters capitalized on both with Pink Flamingos,
a super low-budget piece of underground schlock that scandalously
charted a contest between two clans vying to become the “filthiest
people alive.” The winner? Audiences, who watched in revulsion and
delight as overweight transvestite Divine performed the unthinkable
with dog excrement for the movie’s not-to-disappoint climax. Rocky Horror-style, midnight participants have since done the same — with chocolate.

Freaks.jpg5. Freaks (1932)
One
generation’s insult to decency is another’s subversion. Case in point:
Tod Browning’s outcry-provoking horror movie starring deformed circus
freaks (Siamese twins, limbless men, living skeletons), cut by MGM at
the behest of disturbed viewers. The controversy over Freaks
virtually ended Browning’s promising career, but in the ’70s and ’80s
the movie was rediscovered by cult movie aficionados, who resurrected
it for midnight movie screenings and restored its credibility as a
trailblazing work of exploitation far ahead of its time.

Eraserhead.jpg4. Eraserhead (1977)
It may have been a staple of the midnight movie circuit, but David Lynch’s debut feature Eraserhead was weird even compared to Pink Flamingos and Rocky Horror. Rather than self-knowing camp or button-pushing smut, Eraserhead
revived the surrealist tradition of incongruous, unsettling dream
imagery with a story about the titular big-haired protagonist’s in a
post-industrial netherworld of ladies in radiators and alien infants.
Filmed over five years with minimal finances, Lynch’s eerie vision
eventually found a home with late-night audiences looking for the
unusual.

This Is Spinal Tap.jpg3. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
At first, few got the joke. This Is Spinal Tap
was a fake documentary — a mockumentary — and the failure of
audiences to understand that crucial layer of artifice resulted in
mediocre returns at the box office. But due to video (which was quickly
improving the accessibility of cult films), Spinal Tap found
a second life as the perfect in-joke among both metalheads and movie
geeks, who feasted on the film’s spot-on send-up of rock excess and
clichés (the rotation of bizarrely deceased drummers; “Up to eleven”)
and incredible comic improvisations, spawning a loose community of
zinger-trading that hasn’t ceased to this day.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show.jpg2. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
What
started as a bomb turned into a phenomenon when Richard O’Brien and Jim
Sharman’s deliberately campy and gender-bending take on science
fiction, horror, musicals, and ’50s rock ‘n’ roll hit the New York City
midnight movie circuit half a year after its initial release. Soon
self-styled Transylvanians were dressing as their favorite characters,
talking back to the screen, and acting out the entire film as it was
projected, a ritualistic form of audience participation that’s lasted
almost 34 years and counting.

Plan 9 From Outer Space2.jpg1. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
In
the world of cult, up is down and down is up, so it only makes sense
that the greatest of its kind is the widely acknowledged “worst movie
ever made,” Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space. Replete with
unmissable continuity errors (a single scene can go from night to day
and back again), cheesy special effects (visible strings on the flying
saucers), head-slapping dialogue (“Future events such as these will
affect you in the future”), and futile attempts to substitute a
non-look-alike for star Bela Lugosi, who died during filming, Plan 9‘s
Z-grade aliens-plus-zombies saga has become a cherished favorite for
the simple reason that the enormous gap between its earnestness and its
ineptitude makes it entirely endearing.

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