BY SEAN NELSON
U. 01 WAsIINGTON
HE ZANINESS OF
Rocky Horror, the
lunacy of Mondo
Cane and the dark
humor of Harold &
Maude - that's what cult
movies are made of. We
quote them at parties and
revel in their wit, but what
makes a low-budget flick a
In countless articles not unlike
the one you're about to read, college
journalists have tried to define what
makes a movie a cult favorite, and
none has ever succeeded.
Buit let's get real. Cult films
exist for a reason. Their appeal, al-
though not quantifiable, is easily
College cinemas -
used to embrace
these films because
students were eager
seekers of ideas
that couldn't be ex-
pressed within the
dull confines Of
Do o u re-
about a time when
college cinema was ,
s y n o n y m o u s
witlh words like
ground" and yes,
"cult"? When off-
or foreign releases
could co un t on
log on MTV) to Cult films
boost national awareness *
Of course, that was
hefore the adverrisis
industry really learned
how to sink its teeth into
the iaive flesh of te stu-
Before television hsad
enstirely b rai nwashec
Before Reality Bites.
Now, instead of host-
ing obscure films, many
college cinemas pride
themselves on show is
the same old crap you cai
see at any multiplex.
The tragedy if col-
lege cinemas crapping
ou is that c ulIt fil ss,
above all, defy the con-
ventions of the medium. Luna
Whetheri n terms o f cowb
fo m o r content, these offer
movie sfloutt re ewole
idea ttthis hssing Ihas nioIse donie
according i trules established by
In rock music, that's called the
punk ethic. The same thing extends
to film: The v c rv nature of the
experimentation- the divergence
from the road more traveled - is
what makes the film worth seeisip.
The divergence however, doesn't
necessarily make it good - which is
another classic hallmark of cult
cy, 5-grade horror,
boy songs - cult films
the whole schmeer.
films, and one that most people fiil
to understand the beauty of. The
movies are oifren incoimpetently
assembled bits of random celluloid
wankery in the guise of narrative.
But that guise, and the way they
tear it down,iss the whole point.
The Sex Pistols weren't about
anarchy. They were about the shock
valu of call i n g themsel ves the
Antichrist on the BBC. It all comes
down to personal expression.
Cult classics every college
student should see
Here are some core picks - best viewed at midnight, of course.
The Parallax VIew (1974, Alan J. Pakula) The scariest conspiracy
film of all time puts JFKto shame. Warren Beatty plays a reporter who gets caught
up in a web of intrigue and murder while investigating the assassinations of politi-
cal figures. So cynical and dark a version of America that even the light at the end
of the tunnel is dim.
Spider Baby (1964, Jack Hill) And you thought John Waters (Pink
Flamingos) was weird. This tale of a family of inbred killers is the standard old dark
house genre with twists so kinky they put hard-core fetishists to shame. Classic
Head (1968, Bob Rafelson) Starring the Monkees and written by Jack
Nicholson, this is the only truly successful (although not financially) psychedelic
film. It's an active deconstruction of the prefab teenybopper rock stars, and it rev-
els"in smashing icons - the group appears as dandruff in a hair commercial at one
point - and tweaks the nose of rock movies in general. Even the music is good.
A Bucket of Blood (1959, Roger Corman) Made in two days, this
strange little horror story about a coffeehouse busboy with dreams of being a
sculptor proves that ultra-low-budget films can be not only well-made but also
more witty and subversive than studio projects. Walter Paisley wants so badly to
impress the artists who hang around the cafe that he's willing to kill...
accidentally, at first.
Joe Versus the Volcano (1990, John Patrick Shanley) With
Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan? Yes. It's a criminally underrated allegory of the
movie business - with a bad ending tacked on by timid producers. This one
combines the elements of magical realism: Brechtian theater, pulp '30s serials
and cowboy songs. Some of the best lunatic romantic dialogue ever lensed. The
story is daffy, as are the characters. That's the best part. Don't believe what
Q (The WInged Serpent) (1982, Larry Cohen) A prehistoric god
in the form of a giant pterodactyl has built a nest in the Chrysler building! You real-
ly don't need to know any more about it, except that it elevates the standards for
characterization in B-grade horror films with an impressive array of actors who are
really allowed to act. (Also see God Told Me Toby Cohen.)
T'ie Trial (1963, Orson Welles) The consummate Kafka nightmare done
up in classically expressionist detail by the greatest director of all time. The spaces
squeeze Josef K. into odd corners, just like the plot does. The real story lies in the
shadows, barely visible.
A New Leaf (1971, Elaine May) Starring Walter Matthau, this long-lost
dark comedy is about class in America told through the eyes of star-crossed lovers.
One of them spends most of the film trying to kill the other in order to save the
family fortune (in the vein of The Ruling Class, which is also highly recommended).
My Breakfast With Biasie (1983, Johnny Legend, Linda
Lautrec) Starring Andy Kaufman, this satire of the pretentious My Dinner With
Andre takes place at a Sambo's restaurant in Los Angeles. Two characters order
greasy food and chew the fat about their careers as entertainers and wrestlers. So
subtle it's almost not even there. But itis. The joke is on you. Nothingness hasn't
been so absurd since Waiting for Godot.
Forbidden Zone (1980, Richard Elfman) Odd nightmare set in
what looks like a Betty Boop cartoon of hell, all of which breaks loose. Freaks
and perverts abound as Queen Doris and King Fausto battle for control of the
forbidden zone, where Oingo Boingo make the music and everybody scores.
OK, we ran out of space. But here are some more cult movies you won't want to
miss: Little Shop of Horrors (original), The State of Things, Invasion of the Body
Snatchers, The Cars that Ate Paris, Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things and
Mickey One (a Holy Grail of cult filmdom - starring Warren Beatty).
Sean Nelson, a junior at the U. of Washington, is the film critic for the Glass Onion,
and he watches way too many movies.
turn over A New Leaf.
30 U. Magazineo August/September 1995