Films can gain cult status in many different and distinguishable ways. The first and foremost key element is the horde of loyal followers who want to watch, quote, and dress up as their favorite characters time and time again.
When film fans think of cult classics, the midnight showings that get played at the local independent theaters every other weekend, they think of films like ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ ‘Eraserhead,’ ‘Evil Dead,’ Night of the Living Dead,’ and more recently ‘The Room.’ Many times these films are well-crafted works of art, while numerous others are loved for their b-movie status, shotty low-budget production value, cheesy dialog, and campy antics.
Cult films have a feel of their own, it is difficult to pin down, but when you see it, you know it is a movie bound for cult status. Though films such as these have a kind of enigmatic quality hovering around them, one thing is for sure. All cult classics are wildly unique. They have a standout voice that doesn’t hold anything back, and they’re just so damn weird, interesting, thought-provoking, fun or all of the above.
Still, many times the esoteric quality of this nature is overlooked for one reason or another. Films with all the makings of cult status can be neglected for one reason or another. Sometimes these films are overshadowed by bigger releases at the time.
Sometimes it is merely due to the oversaturation of the market. Movies can easily drown in an evergrowing demand with more and more platforms, and subscriptions added year after year. Whether panned by critics, audiences or both, here are ten that got away from a warranted fanatical following.
1. A Field In England
A black and white British civil war film seems like it could be the setup of boring by the numbers narrative. However, A Field In England, directed by Ben Wheatley, is anything but, it’s a psychedelic dive into the sub-conscious with elements of horror, pitch-black comedy, and a gripping message.
A message which echoes throughout the film. The idea of what it means to be a master and a slave. The fear of passing through the Jungian shadow that shows the magic, after reflecting upon the scrying mirror, is only the self looking back, realizing, “I am my own master.”
The film sets up this complex theme through the main protagonist’s point of view, a cowardly alchemist’s apprentice known as Whitehead. He and a band of others meet quickly after narrowly escaping the edge of war seemingly separated by a hedgerow. They are led into a field with the promise of an alehouse beyond and perhaps a more civilized plot.
What they find is an alchemist looking for a buried treasure and now the prisoners who will do the digging. Mushrooms are used in many different ways here. First as a means to sedate and control the men and later as a powerful tool for magic. In this way, duality is another big theme here, Whitehead and the Alchemist O’Neil are shown as being opposites and yet perhaps more similar than first impressions allowed.
Some have noted the similarities between A Field In England and ‘The ‘Wizard of Oz.’ Whitehead as the coward, Jacob as a heartless drunk, and Friend as the dimwitted and effective comic relief. O’Neil, the alchemist, as perhaps the false Wizard who can not enrich the characters with what they lack but instead is only a force which shows that strength must be found within.
The acting from the entire cast as well as the dialog, written by Amy Jump is superb. The alchemical theme of turning the characters inner lead to gold and the fable-like quality is what gives the film a deserving cult following of cinephiles.
Few films regarding the subject matter of angels and demons gain a mainstream following. The pinnacle of these being the Oscar-worthy horror film, ‘The Exorcist.’ This film is one of only six horror films ever to be nominated in the history of the academy. However, horror films both serious and campy have a long history of being some of the best cult classics around. Frailty, however, remains a hidden gem without a worthy following.
The film, directed by the late Bill Paxton, is a powerful debut. Frailty is a contained and focused little horror film with touches of a psychological thriller, and a family drama sprinkled through-out. Paxton also plays a lead in the movie as Father Meiks.
A widower, with two boys, who says he has been called by God to seek out and destroy demons. The only problem is they look like regular people, and they probably are as far as his son Fenton is concerned. What follows is a madding tug of war between faith and reason, father and son, and the often blurred lines of reality. Any horror fan who has not had the pleasure of catching this twisted and underestimated film is doing themselves a disservice.
3. Black Snake Moan
Breaking the cold grip of addiction can be a hard path out. Sometimes it takes sobering rehabilitation. And sometimes it takes a Southern God-fearing blues guitarist to chain you to his radiator. Sit you down and teach you about the voice that calls out when you’re ailing and can’t find your way home through the pines. Lazarus, expertly played by Samuel L. Jackson, calls it the black snake moan.
Black Snake Moan, directed by ‘Hustle and Flow’s’ Craig Brewer, is a maelstrom of genre-bending southern pulp composed with a passion that is as deep and personal as Skip James’s ‘Hard Time Killing Floor Blues.’
It is a film that tackles the problem of addiction, avoiding the after school special feeling a film of this subject matter can frequently conjure. It’s audacious, entertaining, and is regularly ridiculous to the point of hilarity while never falling from its own crazy realism. It is arguably Samuel L. Jackson’s greatest performance to date, and it is a film that deserves a drove of fans yearning to play the blues on slide guitar every time the thunder rolls.
4. Black Dynamite
The baddest motha to ever hit the big screen and filmed in cinemaphonic quadrovision is Black Dynamite, directed by Scott Sanders. Possibly, the perfect, most tongue in cheek, blacksploitation, grindhouse film ever produced. From boom mics in the shots to ‘accidental’ edits to hilarious, quotable dialog throughout. Black Dynamite barely gives its audience a moment to catch their breath from the sheer silly excitement that ensues. It’s quite sad that the film does not have a more substantial following.
Black Dynamite is portrayed by all-star running back Ferrante Jones, in turn, played by Michael Jai White who also penned the script. The film brings to mind 70’s classics such as ‘Shaft,’ ‘Coffy,’ and the films of Rudy Ray Moore. It is a movie that pokes fun at itself, the entire filmmaking process, as well as the films already mentioned. So take it from Bullhorn, “Get on up and check out the scene,” of one of the funniest movies to ever hit the screen. Black Dynamite!
5. Master Of The Flying Guillotine
Many will note Kung-fu classics such as ‘Enter the Dragon,’ ‘The 36th Chamber of Shaolin,’ and ‘Five Deadly Venoms.’ As great as all of those films are none can match the unique, eccentric, off-the-wall stylings of Master of The Flying Guillotine. Directed by and starring Yu Wang as the one-armed boxer, Master of the Flying Guillotine has a cast of antagonist characters more diverse than Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter combined.
The film begins with a powerful blind master hearing of his student’s deaths. He immediately vows revenge. He yells in rage and jumps through his roof, flipping immediately to his training grounds where he practices taking the heads off training dummies as well as the head of a chicken. The master then proceeds to blow up his home with a ball of gunpowder.
As he steps towards his bloody path of vengeance, the heavy industrial soundtrack kicks in as his home burns to the ground behind him. All of this includes some of the best fight scenes and accompanied by some of the most unique weapons and characters ever invented for the screen. It may be criminal for one to call themselves a kung-fu fan without having seen, Master of The Flying Guillotine.