By Don Gillette
When it comes to cult films, don’t depend on Wikpedia. “A cult film is a film that has acquired a cult following.”
This is what I hate about the internet.
A cult film is really about the committed and rebellious appreciation a somewhat limited audience has for it. The topics are usually, but not always, strange; they usually have a ton of “back stories” about how they were made or the flaws of the director or stars; and they normally have a little nostalgia going for them. Nothing is “an instant cult hit,” especially a movie that has “instant cult hit” on its advertisements. Sometimes a cult film becomes a cult film just because it didn’t enjoy tremendous box office success right out of the chute—it needed a few years to be appreciated.
Netflix is loaded with cult films and some of the best cult classics are streaming now…
Christopher Walken is one weird dude. There are even some people out there who claim he doesn’t act—he just plays himself, but these people obviously never saw his Oscar-winning performance in The Deer Hunter. Oh, he can act alright. And in The Prophecy, he’ll scare you half to death playing the Archangel Gabriel. Gabriel, it seems, is furious because God has allowed humans (“talking monkeys”) into heaven, so he comes to earth in order to steal the most evil human soul that ever existed. If you like this one, The Prophecy 2 and The Prophecy 3 are also streaming on Netflix, so you can fill up a Walken Weekend.
Director Robert Rodriguez sends two criminals (George Clooney and Quentin Tarentino) and their hostages (Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, and Ernest Liu) into a night club that turns out to be populated by vampires. This movie is bloody, shocking, violent, disgusting, and great fun—sort of a hybrid of horror, bloodbath, and comedy. Tarentino wrote the screenplay, Salma Hayek plays a stripper who does a dance with a yellow boa constrictor around her neck, and Cheech Marin plays three different characters. That’s cult-film paradisio.
Dark and spooky, this action drama is about guitarist Eric Draven who’s resurrected by a crow a year after he and his girlfriend are murdered. The crow leads Draven (who’s dead—remember) through the land of the living and guides him to the killers where he takes them out one-by-one. It’s a subtle horror/love/revenge movie and it’s a Gothic masterpiece. The thing everybody knows about The Crow, even people who haven’t seen it, is that Brandon Lee died while filming it and it was finished with a stand-in and some CGI. A real tragedy of errors—the sequence of events is hair-raisingly bizarre and the odds of it happening are about the same as being struck by lightning and winning the Irish Sweepstakes on the same day. You can’t help but think of this as you’re watching and sadly, it makes the movie even more haunting.
If you know Cheech and Chong, you’ll remember this one—it was their first; if you’ve never watched one of their movies, this is the best. The plot is ridiculous: Pedro and Man unwittingly drive a van made entirely of marijuana from Mexico to Los Angeles while the LAPD try to catch them. That’s it. The characters and the short side-stories are what makes this baby a cult classic and one of the funniest films to come out of the 1970’s. Stacy Keach’s hilarious “Sergeant Stedenko,” and Tom Skerritt’s short appearance as “Strawberry” (the only time you’ll see PTSD in a comedy) are highlights, but the whole thing is really one solid comedy sketch after another.
By far, the stupidest movie plot ever imagined by anyone and also one of the funniest. Woody Harrelson plays Roy Munson, world’s greatest bowler, who goes up against Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray), world’s second greatest bowler. McCracken causes Roy to lose his bowling hand. His dreams are crushed, he gets a prosthetic hand, and becomes a traveling salesman. That’s where he meets Ishmael Boorg (Randy Quaid) an Amish guy who has all the talent to be the best bowler in the world. Roy, Ishmael, and McCracken square off at the World Bowling Championship. Have you heard anything more ridiculous in your life? Be forewarned, if you’re looking for highbrow comedy or intellectual comedy or Woody Allen comedy, you’re in the wrong place—but if you’re looking for lowbrow laugh after laugh, give this a try. Oh, and Bill Murray ad-libs most of his lines making this mandatory watching for any Bill Murray fan.
Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so honest because I’d love to leave The Warriors off this list. Not because it’s bad—I’ve seen it a dozen times; but because it’s on everybody’s “cult” list. Walter Hill directed this street-gang classic which features 21 different gangs hunting down the Warriors for a crime they didn’t commit. All the Warriors want to do is get back to their home turf, but first they’ve got to cross the Bronx and Manhattan—no small task. You’ve got amazing fight sequences, adrenaline pumping music, dialog full of memorable one-liners, and some stand-out performances from some newcomers (look for James Remar—serial murderer Dexter’s father—as “Ajax). If you haven’t seen, you have to see it.
This is the only movie Matthew Broderick’s ever been in that I can stand to watch, but I can watch this any time. In fact, he should have retired after he made this one because there’s no way he could ever have hoped to top it. It’s a formulaic high-school comedy with Ferris Bueller (classic wise-ass), his anal-retentive, constantly nervous friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), and Ferris’ girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) skipping school for the day. It’s all about not taking life too seriously and Ferris has that down pat, but it’s also full of situational humor, the typical moron high school principal, and some of the best hyperbolic high school dialog ever (When the teacher calls Ferris’ name at roll, Simone raises her hand: “Um, he’s sick. My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious.”) You should see this movie just so you’ll know Matthew Broderick’s career had a high point. By the way, do you think Matthew Broderick comes home some nights when his wife is sad and says, “Hey, Sarah Jessica, why the long face?”
True story: I rented this when it was released and I watched it six times over one weekend. I had never heard of Jean Reno or Natalie Portman, and almost nobody else had, either. The storyline is fairly simple: Mathilda (Portman) is a 12-year old girl whose family was killed by her father’s drug kingpin bosses—she’s not home when the murders take place, but the killers know she’s out there somewhere. She takes refuge upstairs, in the apartment of a professional hitman with a heart. He can’t put her out on the street because she’d be killed and when she asks him to teach her to be an assassin, he very reluctantly agrees. Her motive is to take revenge on the corrupt DEA agent who murdered her family. The DEA agent is played to psychotic perfection by Gary Oldman. (Tip: if you Google “Films of Gary Oldman,” never leave out the “r” in his first name.) The relationship between Léon and Mathilda will draw you in and the great acting will keep you in. This one is not to be missed.