Not all films enjoy a devoted and passionate fan base. Some of them are still unsung masterpieces deserving more love and attention. Here is a list of some “hidden cult gems”.
14. Hardcore (1979)
“Oh my God, that’s my daughter”
The quote is taken from Paul Schrader’s underrated intense drama “Hardcore” featuring George C. Scott as Jake VanDorn, a middle-aged Calvinist businessman who goes to California in search of his missing teenage daughter Niki (Season Hubley).
Jake eventually finds out that his daughter got involved in the underworld of adult porn either by force or by choice. Being a conservative closed-minded religious father, Jake has now to deal with the underground 70s porn industry. On his way he even disguises himself as a porn producer and teams up with a hooker.
Paul Schrader, who also wrote the screenplay for the “Taxi Driver”, creates another superb downbeat social drama. While the exploitation of the sleazy underground world of California through unique colours is an exercise in aesthetics, the brutal depiction of the 70s era lures you into a world of profanity and darkness.
Moreover, George C. Scott’s captivating performance (probably one the best of his career) is the reason why this overlooked masterpiece demands your attention. Not only he is quite realistic but also undoubtedly powerful. There is also a bonus excellent performance by Peter Boyle you shouldn’t miss.
“Hardcore” is obviously overshadowed by Paul Schrader’s other works such as “Taxi Driver” or his latest movie “First Reformed”, but still remains a hidden cult gem that deserves more love and attention.
13. Curse of the Demon (1957)
Jacques Tourneur, the director of “Cat People”, creates another suspenseful horror film titled “Curse of the Demon” (also known as “Night of the Demon”). This is an underappreciated gem of British cinema, depicting the story of a psychologist who wants to expose a devil worshiping cult.
Dana Andrews stars as John Holden, a skeptical American psychologist, while Niall MacGinnis stars as Dr. Karswell, the leader of this British cult. Dr. Karswell who believes in black magic casts out a curse on John Holden. Not only John has to deal with the supernatural powers of Dr. Karswell but also to find out the truth.
Niall MacGinnis performance is mesmerizing, and this is probably the most memorable role of his career. There is also an obvious connection between the character of Dr. Karswell and Aleister Crowley, a British occultist and prolific writer, who has identified himself as a prophet.
The direction of Jacques Tourneur, the fear of the unknown, the visual effects (with some hidden gifts) and the magnificent black and white cinematography create an uneasy atmosphere of pure cinematic horror. This is truly a scary masterpiece of the British culture.
12. Branded to Kill (1967)
Being associated with the Japan New Wave of cinema, Seijun Suzuki has followed a personal and experimental approach to filmmaking. “Branded to Kill” is the case of an “incomprehensible” (as quoted by his studio) masterpiece that divided the film critics upon its release.
The film tells the story of Hanada Gorô (Jô Shishido) also known as “No.3”, who is the third best hitman in Japanese crime world. Not only Hanada has to deal with the organized crime and a peculiar girl he meets, but he has also to face the “No.1” who wants to kill him.
It is quite obvious that “Branded to Kill” is a cool and stylish satire of the yakuza and the mysterious underground world of Japan. Therefore, it is filled with weird (at times surreal) scenes such as “rice sniffing” and “dead butterflies dancing”. It is a surrealistic crime thriller that is not only philosophical but also quite entertaining.
Although Suzuki adopts an unorthodox style of narration, the dazzling black and white cinematography and the intense action scenes transform Suzuki’s allegory into an all time cult classic. A modern masterpiece of the Japanese cinema.
11. Bottle Rocket (1996)
Wes Anderson’s cinematic debut “Bottle Rocket” is an ode to friendship and the innocence of youth. Despite being a commercial failure upon its release, this innovative directorial debut was praised by the critics.
It is the tale of three friends (Robert Musgrave, Luke and Owen Wilson) who embark on a crazy and hilarious adventure. Although they aren’t suited for becoming tough guys, they are about to start their criminal career by pulling out a robbery. But, nothing goes as planned.
Wes Anderson has the vision of a “true artist” (an auteur) with a distinctive and unique visual style. Thus, “Bottle Rocket” serves as an antidepressant because it is original, quirky, with hilarious scenes and subtle jokes. Moreover, the well-written characters and the marvellous soundtrack create a charming atmosphere. It is definitely an outstanding effort of indie low budget cinema.
Despite the fact that Wes Anderson’s filmography is filled with masterpieces and cult classics, “Bottle Rocket” is probably his most underappreciated creation. So, this astonishing debut stands out as a “handmade cult gem” deserving more attention.
10. Cronos (1993)
“Cronos” is the first film of Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy/horror trilogy (The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth) about mythical monsters. It is an underrated reinvented vampire tale about a mystical device (“Cronos device”) that grants immortality.
While Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi), who owns an antique shop, discovers this mystical device by chance, an eccentric rich old man Angel de la Guardia (Ron Perlman) will do anything to get the “Cronos” device and its eternal power.
Through “Cronos”, which is also Guillermo del Toro’s cinematic debut, the great director manages to establish his creative and innovative ideas. Not only he creates a unique, warm and creepy atmosphere, but also he pictures a touching story with magnificent visual effects and characters.
Although “Cronos” was overshadowed by Guillermo del Toro’s critical acclaimed “Pan’ Labyrinth”, it is a well-crafted fairytale where style and art are more important than real horror. After all,”Cronos” remains a mythical, hidden treasure of Guillermo del Toro’s filmography that need to be re-discovered.
9. Calamari Union (1983)
Can you make a film with fifteen main characters where fourteen of them are named Frank? If you are Aki Kaurismäki there is no doubt to this question.
“Calamari Union” is one of the craziest low budget comedies of all time. It follows the adventure of fifteen men (fourteen of them are named Frank and one named Pekka) who are about to start a journey to other side of Helsinki, the promised neighborhood of Eira. Through their journey they have to deal with unforeseen problems and unexpected turns.
“Calamari Union” is a well crafted satire of the lowlife of Helsinki, where everything is possible and nothing is true. This beautiful black and white movie is filled with hilarious scenes, cool (deadpan) dialogues and traditional Finnish jokes. Although it is an absurd, improvised, surreal comedy, it is also a minimalist masterpiece with thoughtful social commentary. It is an allegory, a comment on individualism and the struggle of humanity.
Not only Aki Kaurismäki is the master of minimalism, laconic dialogues, subtle humor, but also the creator of many “cult gems” that will definitely rock you.
8. Sisters (1972)
Written and directed by Brian de Palma, “Sisters” is a stylish and suspenseful psycho-thriller that pays tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpieces “Rear Window” and “Psycho”.
It tells the story of Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt), a journalist who witnesses through her house window the murder of a black guy in a neighbor’s apartment. This apartment belongs to Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder), a quite peculiar young model with a lot of secrets and violent tendencies. So, Grace decides to solve the murder case on her own, since the police don’t believe her story.
The plot is simple, but the performance by Margot Kidder is marvellous creating a tense and creepy atmosphere. On the other hand, Brian de Palma’s split screen technique and his vision of the nature of voyeurism definitely steal the show.
It is quite obvious that this simple murder mystery story is influenced by the master of horror Alfred Hitchcock. But, through Brian de Palma’s astonishing direction and satirical eye it stands out as a unique cult gem of the 70s horror cinema.