Top 5 Cult Classic Films Not to Miss This Halloween
Cult Classic Horror is a unique breed of film. Often times they fail to make waves at the box office (if they ever even make it that far) and seem bound for a life of obscurity and disregard. Destined for the bargain bin at the gas station, or worse to become additions to the long list of forgotten films that end up out of print and unobtainable only a few years from their official release, these films can disappear within a generation, never to be seen again. That is, unless they get lucky. Unless something about them keeps them circulating for just long enough that people find something about them to latch onto. Something that makes them special. As time passes and more people become aware of them, their legend grows, and sometimes, just sometimes, they either become something culturally relevant or are finally appreciated for whatever quirk made them special in the first place.
Vampires, and leather, and Coreys, Oh my! If Twilight wanted to be a movie about teenage vampires, it should have taken more inspiration from Joel Shumacher’s 1987 film, The Lost Boys. It’s very 80’s. Wait, that’s an understatement… It’s oh so gloriously, and wonderfully 80’s! Two brothers move to the not so lovely seaside town of Santa Clara with their mother where they hope to make a fresh start after their parents divorce. Little do they know that the town is overrun by gangs of teenage vampires, who have great hair (the best mullets you’ve ever seen), dress like 80’s rock stars, and like to watch greased up shirtless men performing saxophone solos. When oldest brother Michael falls for a local girl named Star he crosses paths with the leader of the vampire gang named David (you’ve never really seen Kiefer Sutherland until you’ve seen him in this movie), and finds himself at the crossroads of a battle for his very humanity. The Lost Boys isn’t just a great vampire movie, it‘s a great horror movie with some great cheesy gore moments, an 80’s coming of age flick, and did I mention that both Coreys are in it?
“I came here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and I’m all out of bubble gum!”
That line alone is reason enough to watch this movie if you haven’t seen it. Seriously, that’s gold. They Live takes place in a not too distant dystopian future. In the opening credits we meet Roddy Piper’s character, Nada, (yes Rowdy Roddy Piper the wrestler) as he walks dejectedly through a dirty urban cityscape in search of a job. He eventually stumbles upon a community of similarly downtrodden workers who have bounded together to live in relative safety in a small tent city. Sinister things seem afoot in the community and one day Nada finds a box of sunglasses that are much more than they initially seem. Through them he soon discovers that the Earth has been colonized by greedy exploitative capitalist aliens! I know, it sounds super dumb, and it should be dumb based on a plot like that, but inexplicably it’s not! Hear me out. There are a good amount of one liners (see first sentence), over the top action (the alley fight between Nada and Frank is a thing of magic), and super cheese indicative of the time period that it was made in, but there’s so much more there if you take a step back and really look at it. It’s a fun Science Fiction/Horror film but it’s also a film reacting to the Reagan administration and their policies in 1980’s America. Seriously. It’s a film satirizing the rise of the yuppie culture and the idolization of the almighty dollar. Specifically reacting to that idolization and how it leads to the disenfranchisement of the masses for the commoditized benefit of the few (*cough* Reaganomics *cough*). Don’t believe me? Watch it yourself. It’s basically John Carpenter dropping an elbow onto Ronald Reagan.
Todd Browning’s 1932 film Freaks is a truly unique piece of classic horror cinema. After directing Universal’s Dracula, which was a massive success for the studio, Browning was given a lot of directorial license and freedom by the studio. Using actual sideshow performers with real physical deformities to portray his carnival freaks in the film, Browning shocked audiences and the film was received as highly controversial, eventually being banned in the UK for 30 years. The director of one of the most important horror movies made in the 20th century, found himself suddenly a Hollywood outsider because the film. It unsettled the industry, critics, and audiences enough that it effectively ruined Browning’s career. In fact, had Browning made it 2 years later, after the Hayes censorship code was implemented in the film industry, the film would never have been allowed to be made. The irony of the films legacy lies in the fact that the actual narrative of the film relies on showing that the so called “normal” characters in the film are the ones who through their actions are the real monsters, and not the sideshow performers.
Night of the Living Dead is a milestone in the history of American horror cinema. It’s hard to imagine that in 1968, George A. Romero could have known that his low budget zombie flick would be so respected and revered that it would eventually be entered into the National Film Registry. Night of the living dead isn’t the first zombie movie. But it is the first zombie movie that shaped the genre as we know it now. Romero changed the language of what an audience expected when it heard the word Zombie. Before Romero’s film, zombie films had depicted the creatures as drugged and entranced monsters, created using voodoo magic and carrying out the orders of their creators. He took voodoo and control out of the equation and replaced it with a blood thirsty need to consume the flesh of the living. Thus, the modern Zombie genre was born. Considering the fact the zombies have dominated the horror landscape since then, especially within the last 15 years, it goes without saying how important Romero’s contribution was. Add to that the fact that the film featured a black main character ordering around an otherwise all white cast right on the heels of the civil rights movement in America and you begin to see the historical and cultural relevance of Night of the Living Dead. It’s another case of a film seeming to be one thing until you dig beneath the surface and begin to discover that it’s really about something else entirely.
This is a no brainer. If you haven’t seen Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and its two sequels, and you claim to be a horror fan, it is understatement to say that I’m massively disappointed in you. This film proved that a bunch of youngsters, who in essence, knew nothing about “the way that movies were supposed to be made”, could make a movie that not only terrified people, but was truly unique in its approach to film making. The plot is your (now) cliché five friends drive to a remote cabin in the woods to get away from it all for a few days outline. When they arrive they find a mysterious tape recording about Candarian demons, an ancient book of the dead called the Necronomicon, and a set of ancient words that are used to summon evil. Soon after playing the recording they begin to fall one by one into the clutches of demonic possession and start trying to kill each other. Did I mention that that’s just what’s going on inside the cabin? In the meantime, an ancient evil grows and there is most definitely something worse waiting for them outside in the woods. I could go on and on with reasons why you should see this film, but I’ll hit a few highlights instead of boring you with something the length of a graduate thesis.
One: As I mentioned earlier, this was made by a bunch of kids. Nobodies at the time. Nowadays Sam Raimi just happens to be Mr. Fancy Hollywood. Producer, writer, and director. He’s pretty busy. The Evil Dead and Sam Raimi, are a young film geeks Cinderella story. Hey he was just a normal guy that wanted to make horror movies like me and look at him now!
Two: The film is indicative of an era. The 1970’s-1980’s in horror cinema were the golden age of the “Video Nasty”. These VHS tapes were made and distributed on low budgets, by people or small production companies who often times just tried to out-gore other films they had seen, and were sold through catalogs available via ads placed in the back pages of magazines. The Evil Dead, like many of its contemporaries, was considered so gory, brutal, and violent that it was banned in numerous countries. It carries the feeling of that moment and the horror subgenre that existed and flourished outside of the mainstream.
Three: It had some of the most cinematically unique, innovative, and revolutionary editing and camera work of the time period. Because Sam Raimi was young and didn’t work in the industry, he didn’t know the way that movies were “supposed” to be made. So he improvised. He nailed cameras to wooden planks and ran through the woods with them. He threw dirt on lenses, assaulted his actors with props and fake gore, placed cameras at strange angles, and made hard sharp edits jumping from one image to the next whenever he pleased. Hollywood has borrowed greatly from Raimi’s techniques in the decades following the movie’s release and you still see a lot of the filming and editing techniques that he developed in mainstream cinema to this day.
Seriously, The Evil Dead, and it’s sequels that bring a humorous and campy vibe to the franchise, are not to be missed. Did I mention that Sam Raimi was 21 years old when he made it? What have I done with my life?