Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pass the Kool-Aid: What's a Cult Movie?

Alright, so what exactly is a "cult movie"? A lot of the time it seems like they are bad movies that some people seem to enjoy for some reason (e.g. The Toxic Avenger). It's a bit more complicated than that, though. Part of the complication is that this genre is usually given to a movie well after it's made and released. And not all movies have the same path to cult status, which is another complication. Nonetheless, here's my attempt at explaining the cult movie.

Very often there seems to be a general bifurcation between the audiences and/or critics. Sometimes this splitting can take the form of confusion as the film's nature, genre, or purpose (like...Eraserhead). Sometimes the split can be very large - to the point of love and hate - as with some more controversial movies like Cannibal Holocaust. The main key is that any cult film will have a relatively small and specific group of followers who really, REALLY like the movie. The intensity of a cult movie's cult following isn't always at the same level, but it always exists. I personally would like to add that these groups should have some level of public visibility or sincerity, but that's only because you could probably find a group of people obsessed with almost any movie, especially since it's kind of fun to be fanatical about something that nobody else is. There has to be a cut-off point, however.

Very often, cult movies are considered bad by both the general audience and critics, such as Troll 2. However, there are also generally popular & praised cult movies, like The Princess Bride and This is Spinal Tap. Again, a lot of the onus lies on there being a small, intense following, apart from the more general audience that likes the movie. When I was in middle school I knew someone who had seen The Princess Bride enough times to have memorized probably all the dialogue down to the "clinks" of the swords during fight scenes. Sooo....yeah. (Hey, Troy, if you're out there in the cyber-ether).

Some cult movies are considered "ahead of their time." A Clockwork Orange, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Evil Dead 2 may fit the bill in this respect. Those films are often appropriately described as controversial. Another sub-genre of the cult movie, are the ones so-bad-they're-good. A number of Mystery Science Theater 3000 flicks would qualify here. However, not every cheesy, bad movie gets cult status. Some B-movies are just B-movies.

The term "cult movie" can be a bit nebulous. But that's the fun of it. Often you just know one when you see one. But that is not always the case. Our future Pass the Kool-Aid posts will hopefully do a good job of spanning the variety within the genre. JOIN US.......


agust symeon said...

It's definitely true that the term is a nebulous one. As you mentioned the other day, some people consider something as run-of-the-mill and well liked as "The Shawshank Redemption" a cult movie simply because it has a devoted following. If this were the criterion any remotely well liked film could be a cult movie since some people are bound to like it a bit more than others.
Oh, and the Shawshank Redemption sucks, by the way.

R Logan L said...

Yeah, that is a tricky one. Uhm. I guess one reason I would not consider Shawshank to be a cult movie is that it is so.....bland. I mean I guess I don't hate it, but that's often the only way I can think to describe it. Most cult movies seem to be trying something new - whether merging genres in new ways, or tackling taboo subjects, or whatever else.
But also, while I know a number of people who really like the movie a lot, I've never heard of anyone who REALLY REALLY likes the movie.