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CULT FILMS, CIRCA 1980, PART II

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 3, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cult movies — those under-the-radar pictures that earn a small but vocal (and repeat) fringe audience, and which are often shown at midnight in art houses around the country — have been a thing ever since ‘Reefer Madness’ in the 1930s. But the phrase, ‘cult films,’ was coined in the 1970s and their popularity really took off in the late ’70s and early ’80s. This is the second half of a lenghty cover story, with a large art headline, ‘The cult films,’ and the smaller story headline, ‘After-hours movies lure a loyal crowd,’ published in the Deseret News on Friday, July 4, 1980.

Most of the movies listed so far (in the first half of this story, filed under “Recent Stuff” above) are not “bad” films. That is, they are not poor quality, not poorly acted or poorly thought out or poorly produced. In some ways, many are superior to a number of Hollywood successes.

“Dawn of the Dead” is technically dazzling and filled with light (bizarre, to be sure, but light) touches of humor — is also far too violent and gory for most mainstream audiences. “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” is deliberately bad, full of “camp” humor as it lampoons 1950s horror films. “Phantom of the Paradise” is a very good early Brian DePalma film, combining horror, humor an rock music. “Gimme Shelter and “The Kids Are Alright” are two excellent documentaries on The Rolling Stones and The Who, respectively.

But some gatecrashers are on the horizon.

Some films taking on cult status are simply awful movies, and local “Worst Film” festivals are popping up around the country, kicked off by Harry and Michael Medved’s books, “The Fifty Worst Films of All Time” and “The Golden Turkey Awards.” The first such festivals were in Toronto last October and in New York last month.

 

The Medveds have chronicled and detailed movies that dominate the festivals, including the patchwork “Plan Nine From Outer Space,” Bela Lugosi’s last film and completed with a stand-in who looks nothing like him; “The Terror of Tiny Town,” a 1930 film billed as “the world’s only all-midget musical western”; They Saved Hitler’s Brain,” about Der Fuehrer’s head in a bullet-proof pickle jar; “I Dismember Mama,” which should be self-explanatory; “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies”; “I Changed My Sex”; etc., etc., etc.

The producers, directors nad actors in these efforts were dead serious, but the drama is laughable and the films are creating yet another underground audience.

Some of the titles are popping up on midnight schedules, and most inside sources feel they will never gain the repeat audiences to give them real cult success.

In the end, after all, it is the audience that determines a cult film, and there is no rule that applies to all — including weirdness.

“King of Hearts,” for instance, is a beautiful, gentle comedy, with dialogue spoken half in French and half in English. Philippe De Broca’s 1967 anti-war film beatures Alan Bates and Genevieve Bujold in a story about a French town abandoned during World War II and taken over by insane-asylum escapees. It is offbeat, to be sure, but soft and lyrical — thought equally accepted by midnighters as the gross, disgusting “Pink Flamingos,” which merely tries to put as many repulsive things as possible on film.

The black humor of a romantic relationship between a young man (Bud Cort) and an elderly woman (Ruth Gordon) in Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude” is as popular in cult status as the 1938 camp view of the evils of smoking marijuana in “Reefer Madness.”

Cult films and their audiences actually have their beginnings in the mid-1950s (or possibly even earlier). The first highly publicized cult among young moviegoers was the one that surrounded James Dean upon the release of “Rebel Without a Cause” in 1955. Dean’s status as a cult idol and his three major films’ status (the other two being “East of Eden” and “Giant”) as cult movies really gained impetus when Dean died in an auto accident.

           

But the cult that was the largest and most universal, and which still holds that record today, is the one loyal to Humphrey Bogart. With only three films, it would have been difficult to hold a James Dean film festival, but such festivals honoring Bogart began popping up all over the world in 1964, seven years after Bogart’s death. It reportedly began in Paris, moved to London and then infected young people in New York. Now, of course, Bogart-lovers are international still, and his movies constantly turn up in art houses or in package-form for festivals.

“Casablanca” was recently shown at the Blue Mouse and a month-long festival of Bogie films ran at the Flick two years ago.

Other cult film forms have come and gone, some with great success, some with little or no success (a Robert Mitchum film festival died a slow death in Los Angeles two years ago). There are also current film cultists whose films will probably never make it to midnight shows — such as those for the “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” pictures, John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” the “Planet of the Apes” series, Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 — A Space Odyssey,” Steve Martin’s “The Jerk,” etc.

So who can say what young people will be flocking to at midnight on a Friday or Saturday in 1992? Perhaps it will be such “straight” horror as “Midnight Express”; such awful failures as “Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline” or “Saturn 3”; the deliberate exploitative schlock of “Cruising”; the critically slaughtered Steve McQueen western “Tom Horn”; or Chuck Barris’ embarrassing “The Gong Show.”

Or perhaps a Bogie classic discovered by a new generation.

More likely, some independent film producer will come up with a movie that we can’t even imagine at this point.

Perhaps a story about a killer onion that attacks midget zombies as they do Busby Berkeley-style choreography to disco music in a haunted castle on a rainy night.