RANTS: What are “Cult movies”?

“Cult Movies” are films that through the years have found a following of devoted fans.

Before the 1980s, “second-run” or secondary distribution of movies pretty much stank. Once a movie made its first pass in the theaters, if a filmed failed to get included in a TV sale or syndication package, it was pretty much a case of the prints going back to the vaults were they were forgotten.

There were, however, wonderful exceptions.

If you lived in a city, you could go to a somewhat shabby, “art theater” that somehow paid their rent showing beloved oldies. On a drunken Saturday nights a gaggle of trannies might show up at midnight to carouse in the half-light of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” while being watched by curious co-eds. Alternatively, alienated nerds might wallow in the discord and lack of light in David Lynch’s “Eraserhead”. The following Sunday morning, coffeed-up sentimental high-brows might pop-by yet again for another pass at “The King of Hearts” or “Les Enfants Du Paradis”. Cult movies played on-and-on for years in little moviehouses, finding new fans along the way.

The term “cult movie” arose to describe these evergreen classics. A great book called “Cult Movies” by Danny Peary collected reviews and trivia  films of this kind.

But come the dawn of the Reagan years, things changed. Metropolitan rents skyrockets, and the little “repertory movie houses” disappeared, replaced by more lucrative shoe stores, chain restaurants and other sucker traps.

Salvation for hipsters came though in the form of home video, but not as quick as one might have hoped. Initially VHS, BETA and Laserdiscs were terribly expensive and many smaller films hard-to-find at all. Used tapes were traded, copied by those with access to video equipment, sold at conventions, and sold by mail order as well.

Even information about what was available was treasured. Two of my favorite magazines from those heady-days are the now-defunct “Psychotronic Video” and the still-strong “FilmFax”. Both are filled with nostalgia, interviews, and very important information on what old movies are out there to be had for the discriminating cineaste.

With the advent of cheaply printed DVDs, more cult movies are out there than ever now. Fan sites clog the Internet for many a gem of a film that maybe didn’t set the box office on fire at first, but over the years has entertained many an obsessed fan.

Here’s some of my personal favorite movies that I saw on re-release, in a theater, many years ago in Philly or Greenwich Village:

2001: A Space Odyssey
Blade Runner
Les Enfants to Paradis
The Wages of Fear
The Honeymoon Killers
Night of the Living Dead
Pink Flamingoes
Monty Python’s The Holy Grail
Forbidden Planet



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