Over the years, there have been some remarkable cult movies, such as “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975), “Harold And Maude” (1971), “Repo Man” (1984) and many, many others that have bent and twisted the art form that we call ‘cinema’. They are the ‘under the radar’ films that certain factors of film lovers have been proud to call their own.
Below that ‘under the radar’ status are more films that are so completely unique and ‘out there’ that they truly stand alone. These are the ones that broke the mould. While wildly different in content and approach, they are all the cinematic equivalent of the ‘crazy diamond’ that Pink Floyd talked about in that immortal track off their album “Wish You Were Here”. Here are fifteen lesser-known cult movies that are certainly worth the attention of the film lover with an adventurous palette that thinks they’ve seen it all.
1. Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964) Directed by Nicholas Webster
Let’s start the list with something fun. Like “Dude, Where’s My Car” and “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo”, this is a film whose entire plot it neatly encapsulated in its title. Looking like it was made for about a hundred bucks, it has a certain dumb, reckless, naive charm to it.
This was my Xmas morning tradition. While the parents slept in, this was usually playing first thing in the morning on television. It also features the non-acting debut of Pia Zadora, one of the finest non-actors of her generation. Fifty years down the track, I can assure you that you’ve never seen a Xmas movie quite like this!
2. Skidoo (1968) Directed by Otto Preminger
Illustrative of the changing face of Hollywood in the late Sixties, this is another cinematic ‘perfect storm’ in that you have a highly famous and illustrious director, Otto Preminger, and an all-star cast, featuring Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney, Groucho Marx, Frankie Avalon and Harry Nilsson, attempting to ‘get down’ with ‘the kids’. The results are so spectacularly off the mark that Preminger’s family have, for decades, attempted to supress the film and not let the general public see it.
A film with a great deal to say about the climate of the late Sixties in America, media, violence and the military, “Skidoo” was a major studio film that completely broke all the rules. Put it this way. The end credits are sung in their entirety by Nilsson! A unique bird is “Skidoo”!
3. Performance (1970) Directed by Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg
AKA ‘The film that made Warner Bros shit themselves!’. Deeply disturbing, sweaty, cloying and oozing, “Performance” is a film that really gets under your skin. Chas (James Fox) is a low level gangster in London who screws up big time. Going into hiding, he ends up living in the mansion of reclusive rock star Turner, played with surprising impact by the one and only Mick Jagger.
THEN things get weird and blurry. Imagine Bergman’s “Persona” on a meth binge and you’re about there. The film was actually made in 1968, but shelved for two years due to how horrified and disgusted the bigwigs at Warner Brothers were by it. Under a new and more enlightened regime, the powers that be finally let it see the light of day in 1970. An absolute headfuck of a film, for lovers of cinema or director Nicholas Roeg, this is an absolute must.
4. Zabriskie Point (1970) Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Having made a bundle for MGM with his cutting edge masterpiece “Blow Up” in 1966, Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni was given a blank cheque by the studio to create his next masterpiece. What the studio and the public got was a wildly shambolic film called “Zabriskie Point”.
Beautifully shot but somewhat hollow at its core, “Zabriskie Point” was an out an out attack on America’s greed and the corporate world. Featuring two non-professional leads in the form of Mark Frechette and Daria Halpin, it seemed horribly dated the nanosecond it was released.
One can see its influence big time on the late Nineties masterpiece that is David Fincher’s “Fight Club” (1999). A major misfire that is worth seeing for the last five minutes, an amazing sequence that features shit getting blown up in a spectacular fashion all set to the sounds of Pink Floyd. “Zabriskie Point” is a cinematic item for the more curious and adventurous film connoisseur.
5. Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (1974) Directed by Sam Pekinpah
Violent, nihilistic and utterly in your face, out of a long and controversial career, this is probably Pekinpah’s more pure film. I don’t mean that in the conservative sense, I say ‘pure’ in the sense that it shows the director at his most uncompromising and in a mood where he refuses to take prisoners.
This is as raw and brutal as a film about human avarice and greed can get.
Featuring a rare lead role for late, great character actor Warren Oates, “Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia” is the cinematic equivalent of a descent into Hell. See it if you dare!
6. Zardoz (1974) Directed by John Boorman
A borderline incomprehensible science-fiction misfire, it makes one think that the executives at Twentieth Century Fox were on some SERIOUS drugs when they green lit “Zardoz”. Hot off 1972’s “Deliverance”, Boorman was pretty much given a blank check and ran wild with it.
Most famous/infamous for featuring Sean Connery running around with a porn moustache and wearing what looked like a red nappy, this is a film that, over forty years since it was made, still has the power to divide audiences wildly.
7. The Wanderers (1979) Directed by Philip Kauffman
A lost masterpiece. Following the misadventures of teen gangs in New York in the early Sixties, this is a funny, heartfelt and, at times, quite touching look at that transitional period where men become boys. Featuring a great cast, including Ken Wahl and Karen Allen, it’s coupled with some wonderful production design and a cracking soundtrack of songs from the era.
Cannot say enough good things about “The Wanderers”. It’s a bit of a shaggy dog of a film, but an utterly charming one.