By Kenneth J. McCormick
Cult films, we have all heard the term, but, what exactly is a cult film? A cult film is one that has a special appeal to a certain segment of the population. Since only a segment of the population enjoys these films, the appeal to the general population is limited. The people that enjoy these films might enjoy seeing them over many times thus making them a financial success. Cult films are usually very different than the run of the mill movies. They are more likely to be off beat than not.
A very good example of this is one of the most successful cult movies of all times, The Rocky Horror Picture Show from 1975. For many people, there was nothing better to do on the weekend than go see the The Rocky Horror Picture Show. They saw it over and over. People used to mouth the words before the actors said them. Others shouted out the lines before they were said. The Rocky Horror Picture Show started out as a play in a small London Theater Then it became a smash hit as an international stage show, then it became a motion picture. All this happened within 18 months. I don't know how long it stayed in the movies but it must have been at least 10 years. It was usually shown at midnight and only on the weekends but still managed to make hundreds of millions of dollars.
Not all cult films were made as entertainment
In 1936 the government produced a documentary titled Reefer Madness. It was supposed to show the evils of smoking Marijuana This film is considered as campy entertainment. So what was this movie about that made it so popular to watch? A high school principal narrates the film which shows high school students smoking pot and going crazy to the point where murder is committed. In the background jazz is playing. The way the movie was constructed, some of the scenes look like something out of a comedy. When this was made, no one dreamed that it would become a cult favorite.
Plan 9 From Outer Space by Ed Wood is usually classified as the worst movie ever made. It is so bad that it is funny. Ed Wood was famous for never reshooting a scene no matter what happened. One famous scene has a zombie rising from a grave, but unfortunately all the tomb stones around him are cardboard and shake as he climbs out of the grave. Another problem that poor Ed Wood had was that his star died in the middle of the production, he was Bella Lugosi. He substituted his wife's chiropodist who went through the rest of the movie with his arm and cape over the bottom of his face. And who could forget the airplane scene where a pilot in a commercial plane is sitting in what is supposed to be a cockpit. The only problem is that it is a room with a black curtain behind him and the flight controls are just a piece of 2 X 4 with a piece of plywood shaped in a semi circle with two handles. Believe me when I tell you that no one has ever made anything this bad before or since. He ran out of money and needed to do a scene with a flying saucer so he took a hubcap and doused it with lighter fluid and set it on fire and threw it into the air and filmed it. This film is still watched today as a comedy.
Fast Times At Ridgemont High was a movie that was released in 1982. It is claimed that all events in the movie really happened and that all the characters in the movie were based on real people. The author of the book from which the movie came, actually spent a year in a high school with the permission of the school. People like this movie because it reminds them of their time spent in high school. This movie is one of the most popular of all the teen flicks of the 80s.
Eraserhead was a movie that took over 5 years to film. This was David Lynch's first full length movie. This was a weird movie folks. In a world gone crazy, Henry Spencer lives in a town where giant machines make noise, are spewing smoke and pollution. His building seems abandoned and he listens to the radiator where he can hear a woman singing. His lights flicker on and off and he keeps bowls of water in his dresser. He has a girl friend who bears his horrible looking child. The movie is depressing, yet some find it fascinating and like the idea of the unusual photography that was introduced into this 1977 movie. Some scenes have a sort of dreamy quality. Not many words are spoken and the script was only 22 pages long.
2001 A Space Odyssey featured the evil HAL, the onboard computer, that controlled a space ship going to investigate a monolith in orbit around Jupiter. Monoliths had been found on the Moon which prompted the expedition. There is something that wasn't counted on, however, and that is the fact that HAL has either became insane or has misinterpreted his instructions. He now thinks that he should kill the crew. This movie has a very quiet and mysterious quality. It is easy to see why it has become a cult favorite. It is all about intelligence, man's intelligence, animals intelligence and machine intelligence. An interesting aside, flights to the space station are run by Pan Am. This carrier went out of business but was one of the biggest at the time the movie was made in 1968.
There is no way to know in advance what movies will become cult favorites. Something just clicks with the population and people start talking about a certain film and then begin to see it more than once. Some people boasted that they had seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show, hundreds of times. I actually know someone who went every weekend for at least a year. So there you are, even a terrible movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space, that cost practically nothing to make, relatively speaking, can become a cult film and make money.
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