“This system make of us slaves. Without dignity. Without depth. Movies… have heart. BOOM BOOM BOOM! Have mind! CwhiRRR! Have power, have ambition!” – Alejandro Jodorowsky
Most people’s lives are defined by their secrets: drama, tragedies, and the most intimate moments, experiences locked in the depths of the experiencer’s heart, theirs to own forever.
Movies are my secret. They are my sin, my soul, and if you’re here, they’re probably yours too. We love films like we love people, embracing their flaws whole heartedly. To us movies are living bodies we wish to own with our love, and that’s why cult classics are so special. Especially with science fiction, a genre we may explore to escape reality, only to emerge, learning something new about our humanity.
I’ve kept these sci-fi cult classics in my heart for a while now, and hopefully there’s something in here that’s new for you to watch, love, and cultivate.
Let’s begin the science fiction double feature.
1. Tammy and the T-Rex (1994)
Imagine a surrealist landscape that is familiar… too familiar, so familiar it’s eerie. A gorgeous, chilled lake washes over the screen as a hilly wood resides beyond it. There is a call in the wild, and we realize- a dinosaur (With a tiny figure mounted on top.) is striding in the distance! Marvelous multicolored letters materialize: “TAMMY AND THE T-REX.”That’s how our film opens.
An amalgamation of erotic arthouse, exploitation, body horror and absurdism, “Tammy and the T-rex” is a cinematic masterpiece that defies any earthly definition. No description can possibly give the film justice.
After “Tammy’s” riveting title card, we transition to the opening credits overlaid by our protagonist, Tammy (Denise Richards’ film debut) at cheer practice. “Go! Go panthers! Go, go, go panthers!” She cheers, as a mellow rock song accompanies her: “Dinosaur man! A t-Rex on the loose! I’m comin’ out to get you!” Her boyfriend Michael (Also Paul Walker’s film debut) walks in from football practice to observe her, awed by her majesty. She’s not just a highschool cheerleader, she is a fusion of love and school spirit, contorting her body, soul, and mind to inspire and unite the student body in cheering for the panthers. Her exquisite blend of mind, strength, and grace demonstrate not only to her boyfriend, but to the audience also, that someday we may achieve the ultimate enlightenment of balance in our lives.
Unfortunately, Tammy is a creature cursed by a divine beauty, resulting in boys dueling for her love. Ergo, her psychopathic ex, Billy, vs her present lover Micheal. The boys twist out of their childish selves, unraveling into animalistic, primal monsters that will stop at nothing to win Denise’s hand.
Because of Micheal’s pacifist heart, Billy wins, leaving Micheal dead in the jaws of a lion. Denise drowns into a deep depression. But the fates work in mysterious ways, and Michael’s soul resurfaces into the waking world, his soul in his girlfriend’s hands as she and her best friend Byron embark on a quest to find a new body they see fit for Michael to inhabit.
One of these movies where you can’t help but ask how it got made, “Tammy’s” backstory is as hilarious as the movie itself. Part of a tax evasion scheme, a South African theatre owner had a spare Dinosaur animatronic laying around, and asked underrated auteur Steart Raffill to make a movie with it, and within 3 weeks Raffill had his masterpiece! All locations were shot within 25 minutes of his house in LA, which at the time was infested with wildfires! But the show went on with Raffill fighting against many a firefighter’s will to get his movie made. As LA’s forest blazed into crisp, he continued rolling cameras through the fire, through the limit, and through the wall, as Tammy took that one more chance to be with Michael, gladly risking it all. You can even see hazy smoke in some scenes.
No matter what cut you watch, (There’s a PG-13 cut released in the 90s and the R-rated gore cut officially released in 2019) Tammy and the T-Rex is a blast. As David Bowie sings in Blue Jean, “She got everything!” That’s the most perfect way to describe “Tammy.” Like any other movie masterpiece, Tammy does come off as “dated” or “90s” in a few moments, only adding to the fun. But it’s message of love transcending science and biology always rings true, managing to touch the hardiest of hardened hearts.
2. Forbidden Planet (1956)
“Star Trek” before “Star Trek.” The first movie to be set entirely outside of Earth. A retelling of “The Tempest” (but better because it’s in space!), “Forbidden Planet” centers around the crew of starship C-57D, sent to Altair IV to investigate a group of scientists sent there years earlier. The cocky commander John J. Adams lands to discover only three beings remaining: Dr. Morbius (our film’s Prospero), his beautiful Altair born daughter Altaira, and their servant Robby the Robot. As the crew investigates the mystery of why these three are the planet’s only sole survivors, an invisible intruder threatens them, and they begin to uncover the truth.
Although some suspense is derived from the invisible antagonist, the space crew’s disturbance of Altair IV’s peace causes an equal amount of tension. It’s satisfying seeing Dr. Morbius and his daughter live in their isolated haven, and when C-57D messes it up, you can’t help but cringe.
Robby the Robot is definitely the movie’s best part and most iconic character, starring in other standalone adventures. He’s a witty robot that features one of the most complex robot designs of early sci-fi cinema, his creation by a myriad of prop artists costing around 1.1 millions in today’s dollars.
“Forbidden Planet” will never be forgotten because it’s a timeless classic with gorgeous futuristic set designs, empathetic characters, and subtle symbolism that hits.
3. On the Silver Globe (1988)
Andrzej Zulawski’s unfinished space epic still manages to be masterpiece. Based on Jerzy Zulawski’s (Andrzej Zulawski’s granduncle) “The Lunar Trilogy”, “On the Silver Globe” for most of its duration is an immersive, completely alien experience. But “Silver Globe’s” classist warfare themes ended up agitating the 70s Polish communist government, so the film was censored and production was halted. Zulawski finally chose to release it in 1988 by splicing film footage of his narration of scenes that would have been. But the incompletion adds to the movie’s breathtaking effect by contrasting the human with the alien.
The first half of “On The Silver Globe” plays as a found footage, vlog documentary of a group of astronauts that land on an Earth like planet to obtain freedom. One by one they begin to die, and through their raw recordings we as an audience see them as all too human. But their children, dubbed as the Selenites, distort their parents into larger than life figures of mythic proportions to be worshipped, and through a stream of frantic filmic disturbances a new earth is born. The Selenites organically form their own civilization by dancing and storytelling, but there’s a huge problem. The Szerns, violent birdlike natives, demand Selenites as tribute. Who knew that with some darker feathers and glowing eyes, Big Bird could be so scary?
A prophecy surfaces: one day an astronaut savior will return the Selenites to Earth, delivering them from the Szerns. That’s where the second half of the movie jolts in, as we see “Messiah” Marc lead the Selenites, then this foreign experience of a film implodes into an epic tragedy.
The alien quality of “On The Silver Globe” cannot be emphasized, as everything builds to create this atmosphere. The choreography, make-up, sets, performances, costume design, and Tarkovsky inspired visual magnitude pulls the viewer into the world uncompromisingly. Realer than real, not even feeling like a movie!
The Selenite culture forming their rituals and traditions is astounding to behold, as if the Bible’s Old Testament suddenly sprung to life. There’s a darkly existential comedy to be found also. One can’t help but to imagine how awesome it’d be as an astronaut suddenly turned Jesus Christ Superstar in an alien culture. At least you’d have a little fun before disastrous religious conflict strikes!
4. Muppets from Space (1999)
An exhilarating delight from start to finish, “Muppets from Space” is an Muppets movie that’s commonly glanced over, probably because it’s a deviation from the main Kermit-Miss Piggy storyline. (But let’s be clear- all the muppets movies are great masterpieces in their own right.) This sci-fi entry to the franchise reveals the secrets of beloved puppet Gonzo’s past. An entity haunted by nightmares driven by his existential crises.
Gonzo’s nightly premonitions consist of constant bombardments of rejection- even being denied entrance to Noah’s Ark! Gonzo’s sick of being regarded as a “whatever”, and when an alien race contacts him via a bowl of cereal, he climbs atop of roof to gaze at the stars, consequently is struck by lightning, and suddenly finds himself with a celestial ability allowing him to communicate with cosmic knowledge fish that answer his life long questioning! Gonzo is an alien from outer space! Unfortunately, none of the muppet gang believes Gonzo, and he gets captured by the US Military.
“Muppets from Space” is an insane fever dream in which a sandwich comes to life, all the while being a relatable story. It’s a movie made for all those who know who they truly are deep down inside, even when others don’t believe it.
5. Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)
In a post-apocalyptic wasteland where an atomic disaster renders most of the human race infertile, the government prioritizes those who can still make babies! Luckily for the human race, nomad Sam Hell (Pro Wrestler Roddy Piper) is fertile as can be, leaving behind a trail of pregnant women in his midst. (As you can imagine, Sam Hell has become a Mad Max level legend.) Captured by a makeshift government of nurse warriors, he’s forced to go on a mission to save and impregnate a harem enslaved by big mutant frogs.
“Hell Comes to Frogtown” touches on themes of feminism and lust vs love. The rowdy Sam Hell and domineering nurse Spangle make the perfect duo. Maybe this movie’s climactic final action scene of being chased through the desert was an indirect inspiration on “Mad Max: Fury Road?”
6. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)
Everyone has at least glimpsed the iconic poster and has seen it parodied without end, but have most taken the time to sit down, relax, and actually watch the original 1958 “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman?” This writer doesn’t think so, and it’s a shame that so many are more interested in its campy aesthetic than the actual movie itself.
A wonderful slice of 50s camp, “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” can not be only dismissed as such- because it’s also a timeless story of female oppression in male dominated world. Not a tall tale after all. Abused, wealthy heiress Nancy Archer (Allsion Hayes), encounters an alien force that turns her into a giantess, enabling her to go on a revenge rampage to squash her gaslighting, dirtbag husband and his mistress.
Prior to her metamorphosis, Archer’s abusive marriage causes her to resort to alcoholism, and while the townspeople that surround her see all that’s going on, they dismiss her suffering because to them she’s just another woman with female hysteria.
In a time where photorealistic cgi giants clash with cities endlessly, “50 Foot Woman” still stands strong with charming kitsch effects and models because of its still relevant social commentary, and inspiring main character who transgresses unfair standards set below her.
7. Galaxy of Terror (1981)
Roger Corman’s “Alien!” “Galaxy of Terror” is a sickly likable mindwarp from beginning to end, jam-packed with everything you want an Corman camp to have: strange creatures, overbearing sound effects, gushy gore, and a surprisingly original premise, all executed in over the top b-Movie king fashion! It takes FDR’s “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” literally.
The crew of a spaceship named The Quest on their journey to and in Morganthus. So many famous names have their beginnings on The Quest’s crew: Alluma, the ship’s captain is played by Grace Zabriskie (who would later be “Twin Peak’s” very own Sarah Palmer), Robert Englund (later acting as Freddie Kreuger) plays Ranger, the ship’s tech officer, and many more. We follow this motley crew of astronauts into Morganthus, where they each face monsters that are manifestations of their fears. All the while unseen forces of The Planet Master, a mysterious pyramid-dwelling psychedelic figure with a glowing red orb for a head, are in control.
“Galaxy of Terror” is also worth checking out because it displays the development of director James Cameron who was its Production Designer and Second Unit Director. Quite a few scenes seemed to have sown seeds for “Aliens”, which Cameron would direct years later. You gotta appreciate this film crew’s ingenuity, after all, The Quest’s walls were constructed from Mcdonald’s takeout cartons!
Let’s not mention this movie’s infamous worm scene… we’ll let you discover that for yourself.