Combustible Celluloid - Guide to Cult Movies and Cult Films
Combustible Celluloid

Combustible Celluloid's Guide to Cult Movies and Cult Films

Jenny Wright in Near Dark (1987)

Always Intense

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

What is a cult movie? A cult movie is a movie that earns a fanatical following by a small group of people. It's also a movie that bears watching many, many times and contains memorable, repeatable dialogue. Cult movies are preferably made socially unacceptable ingredients, such as horror, sex, violence, or science fiction.

Some movies, like Star Wars and Casablanca have devoted followings, but those are considered too large for cult status. The main idea is that we love our cult movies specifically because we know that most people don't.

The following are cult films endorsed by Combustible Celluloid. I've seen these movies over and over in the theater and on video. They are films that I know well enough to play in my head. But they are films without which I might just perish were I on a desert island.

Please keep checking back. This page will be updated from time to time. (Latest additions: Attack the Block, Breathless, Clue, Hellraiser, The Shooting, Suspiria, The Tall T, They Live, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, The Virgin Suicides. Current count: 78.)

Army of Darkness (1993)
The third film in Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy features more zombies, more action, more laughs, and more kisses. With Bruce Campbell. "Gimme some sugar, baby!"

Attack the Block (2011)
The feature directing debut by Joe Cornish, this alien invasion movie stood two heads and shoulders above an onslaught of brain-dead movies in the same genre, managing to feel fresh and clever, and worth re-watching.

Basket Case (1982)
Frank Henelotter's amazing low-budget splatter comedy showcases Siamese twin brothers -- one normal, the other a squishy little beast who lives in a basket -- searching for revenge on the New York doctors who separated them.

Battle Royale (2000)
This mind-blowing Japanese film is endlessly entertaining, by turns gory and hilarious, disturbing and exciting. The great Japanese exploitation filmmaker Kinji Fukasaku (The Green Slime, Yakuza Graveyard) was nearly seventy when he made this masterpiece, and it turned out to be his final completed film. With "Beat" Takeshi Kitano.

The Big Lebowski (1998)
Any of the Coen Brothers' films could qualify as cult classics, but this one is both the most underappreciated and has the most fanatical following. That's mostly thanks to Jeff Bridges' brilliantly laid-back performance as The Dude. "That rug really tied the room together..."

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
John Carpenter's goofy kung-fu comic book adventure revels in its own silliness and features an amazing John Wayne-ish performance by Kurt Russell.

The Black Cat (1934)
Edgar G. Ulmer's expressionistic horror film teams Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi for the first time and also spins a Poe-like tale of murder, possession, torture and imprisonment.

Black Sunday (1960)
Black Sunday (a.k.a. The Mask of Satan) stars Barbara Steele as a resurrected witch and her modern-day double. It was Mario Bava's first film as director and a huge hit for distributor American International Pictures.

Blade Runner (1982)
Ridley Scott's bleak, rainy sci-fi epic starring Harrison Ford as a nearly washed-up Replicant hunter reveals a new layer with each viewing. With Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah and Brion James. From a Philip K. Dick novel.

Blue Velvet (1986)
David Lynch's brightly colored suburban horror show peels away America's facade and revels in the dark sex we like to imagine that we don't think about. With Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper.

Brazil (1985)
Terry Gilliam's futuristic comedy squeezes the life out of the world and builds it into higher and higher vertical towers. Jonathan Pryce plays the everyman whose life is changed by some bungled paperwork.

Breathless (1960)
Jean-Luc Godard's pulpy crime movie was inspired by Hollywood "B" movies, but helped launch the French New Wave and forever changed the way we looked at movies.

Brick (2006)
In a combination of Dashiell Hammett and high school movies, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tries to solve the murder of his ex-girlfriend, using lots of rock-hard, quotable dialogue in the process.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
Sam Peckinpah's strangest, and perhaps most personal, movie continues to fascinate his hardcore fans long after discussions of the violence in The Wild Bunch has faded away. With Warren Oates.

Cat People (1942)
Jacques Tourneur directs Val Lewton's brilliant, atmospheric production about a Serbian woman (Simone Simon) who may or may not turn into a cat when aroused. With Simone Simon.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Stanley Kubrick brilliantly and hilariously adapts Anthony Burgess' cautionary sci-fi novel about a vicious punk (Malcolm McDowell) who undergoes scientific treatment to make him "fit" for society.

Clue (1985)
Based on the board game, Jonathan Lynn's comic murder story, a combination of sophisticated setup and silly slapstick, has transcended the film's original box office failure.

Crumb (1995)
The greatest documentary ever made, Terry Zwigoff's film gets to the soul of its fascinating subject, and the underground nature of Crumb's art makes this a compulsively watchable, irreverent cult classic.

Danger: Diabolik (1968)
Based on an Italian comic book (or "fumetti"), this Mario Bava crime thriller has never enjoyed the devotion of Bava's horror films. John Phillip Law plays the title character, a master criminal with an underground lair and a sexy, blond girlfriend (Marisa Mell).

Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Set at a shopping mall and with as much to say about mindless consumerism as about eating brains, George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead is still just as scary and just as relevant (more so than the remake). Romero spends no time explaining the zombie situation and gets right to the heart of the story.

Detour (1945)
Edgar G. Ulmer's nasty little B-noir is a road movie in which Tom Neal never has a chance once he crosses paths with Ann Savage, the wickedest of all femme fatales.

Donnie Darko (2001)
Richard Kelly makes an incredible directorial debut with this sci-fi, horror, coming-of-age tale of a poor schizophrenic (Jake Gyllenhal) who, with the help of with a giant demonic rabbit, glimpses a vision of a terrible future. Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze are very good in supporting roles.

Ed Wood (1994)
Tim Burton's beautiful and funny homage to the worst filmmaker who ever lived (played by Johnny Depp). Shot in black and white, the film dutifully re-creates three of Wood's masterworks.

Enter the Dragon (1973)
Robert Clouse's kung-fu epic showcases the great Bruce Lee at his absolute best, culminating in an amazing fight scene in a room of mirrors.

The Evil Dead (1983)
Some fans prefer this much lower-budget original to the slick sequel, and it has some definite advantages, including an energetic, DIY energy and a more genuine grindhouse-era vibe.

Evil Dead II (1987)
Sam Raimi perfected the horror comedy with this kinetic, hilarious tale of Bruce Campbell fighting off unseen evil demons in a cabin in the woods.

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1964)
Russ Meyer's fast car, fast women crime picture features three amazon go-go dancers who try to swindle a nasty old man out of his hidden fortune.

Female Trouble (1974)
John Waters fans might argue over whether the earlier films are better than the more recent ones, but the truth is that any Waters film qualifes as a cult classic. Female Trouble is one of the funniest and most outrageous, with Divine playing the petulant Dawn Davenport. "I hate you and I hate Christmas!"

Fight Club (1999)
David Fincher's Fight Club is such an invasive experience, a visceral experience, that you will be fighting to keep it out of your head. "Do not talk about fight club."

Freaks (1932)
Tod Browning's circus sideshow horror flick focuses on the humanity of (real) circus freaks, climaxing in a horrific show of revenge.

The Goonies (1985)
In order to save their town from developers, a group of rowdy kids pins all their hopes on finding an old pirate treasure supposedly hidden nearby. A little like an "Indiana Jones Junior," The Goonies has recently become a cult item among Gen Xers, who fondly remember the film from their childhood or teen years.

Gun Crazy (1949)
One of the greatest of all films, this "B" movie classic has it all. In telling his story of two lovers on the run, director Joseph H. Lewis uses a startling immediacy not found in any other films at the time.

Heathers (1989)
Michael Lehmann directs the greatest and most realistic high school movie ever made with Christian Slater as a student obsessed with causing teen suicides and Winona Ryder as his would-be girlfriend.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
John Cameron Mitchell's rock 'n' roll movie that remembers what it's like to truly rock and roll. The flashing colors, sounds, music, humor, and cartoons all congeal into a perfect, clear vision of passionate joy.

Hellraiser (1987)
Horror legend Clive Barker made a striking directorial debut with this grisly tale of the depths of human lust and avarice, featuring some of the most unforgettably grotesque imagery ever to grace a terror film.

I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
Jacques Tourneur directs Val Lewton's masterpiece, a voodoo zombie remake of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

Johnny Guitar (1954)
One of Nicholas Ray's best films, this garish, amazing, weird, full-color Freudian Western stars Joan Crawford at her finest. She plays Vienna, a saloon-keeper who goes head-to-head with the unstable, shrieking cattle rancher Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge).

The Killer (1989)
With The Killer, John Woo resurrected the action film, which had been languishing in the 1980s with a series of Rambo clones. It's Woo's action that sets this film apart. Remarkably fluid and clear, his camera swings and pans in rhythm with the actors' movements; candles and pigeons add a symbolic, spiritual weight to the proceedings. With Chow Yun-fat and Danny Lee.

Labyrinth (1986)
Quite a collection of talents assembled for this one: David Bowie (who sings), Jim Henson, Terry Jones of Monty Python, producer George Lucas, future director and voice artist Frank Oz, and the unbearably gorgeous Jennifer Connelly. It's was sort of made for kids, but instead it's weird, funny, and compulsively watchable.

Let the Right One In (2008)
This strange, cool, beautiful Swedish vampire film from director Tomas Alfredson practically re-invented the subgenre; oddly, it opened in the U.S. the same day as Twilight, but true genre fans knew which one to see.

Memento (2001)
To portray a man with no short-term memory, director Christopher Nolan very simply lays out his film in reverse, so that we have no idea what happened just moments before. Bottle-blond Guy Pearce plays the lead role, a man hunting for his wife's killer using only Polaroids and other clues he leaves for himself. Joe Pantoliano and Carrie Anne Moss co-star.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Endlessly quotable, guaranteed to make you laugh until you're breathless, this ramshackle comedy from five Brits and one American not only endures, but it launched the awesome directing career of Terry Gilliam.

Naked Lunch (1991)
David Cronenberg's brilliant adaptation of an unadaptable novel by William S. Burroughs. Peter Weller inhabits the persona of the junkie writer stuck in the Interzone with a talking bug typewriter. With Judy Davis, Roy Scheider, Julian Sands and Ian Holm.

Near Dark (1987)
Kathryn Bigelow's stylish, ultra-violent tale of redneck vampires may be the best of its genre. Starring Bill Paxton, Jenny Wright and Lance Henriksen.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
George A. Romero's uncommonly intelligent zombie flick has as much to say about the living as it does the dead.

Peeping Tom (1960)
Michael Powell's Technicolor horror film delves into the purest form of voyeurism as a cameraman goes on a killing spree, stabbing women with his tripod while filming their expressions.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)
Tim Burton's feature debut is a road movie with the unflappable Pee-Wee (Paul Reubens) trying to get his stolen bike back.

Pi (1998)
Darren Aronofsky made his feature debut with this highly imaginative, low-budget sci-fi story, relying on multiple, mathematical ideas and low-tech execution.

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Edward D. Wood Jr.'s masterpiece has Bela Lugosi in his last film role and space aliens reviving earth's recent dead in order to take over the world.

Point Break (1991)
In Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break a young FBI agent (Keanu Reeves) goes undercover as a surfer to catch a band of bank robbers who dress up as U.S presidents. But he becomes involved with the spirituality of surfing, as preached by the gang's leader (Patrick Swayze). Bigelow has a great eye not only for action, but also for the psychological push and pull behind it.

Re-Animator (1985)
Stuart Gordon's clever and funny sci-fi story has two medical students reviving corpses and getting into more and more trouble with each one.

Repo Man (1984)
Alex Cox's punk comedy follows a young repo man (Emilio Estevez) who learns the Meaning of Life from the master Harry Dean Stanton as they hunt for a $20,000 Chevy Malibu with some dead aliens hidden in the trunk.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Quentin Tarantino came out of nowhere with one of the most astonishing, explosive of American debut films, even if it only played to small, enthusiastic crowds in art houses. His use of sleight-of-hand and low-budget ingenuity is still impressive, as is the breakfast table opener.

The Road Warrior (1981)
George Miller's fuel-injected futuristic car movie features Mel Gibson as a leather-clad badass who cruises the highways in search of gasoline, occasionally battling with freaks of all shapes and sizes.

Rock 'N' Roll High School (1979)
Allan Arkush's teen comedy features the greatest rock band of all time, the Ramones, inspiring students like Riff Randell (P.J. Soles) to take over the high school. (Co-written by Joe Dante and Joseph McBride.)

Rushmore (1998)
Jason Schwartzman stretches himself a little too thin while attending Rushmore, including a helpless crush on a beautiful teacher (Olivia Williams) and a friendship with an inconsolably sad entrepreneur (Bill Murray in one of his greatest performances). Every quirky move and every deadpan line reading just zings.

A Scanner Darkly (2006)
A most unusual, tricky, and dense adapatation of Philip K. Dick, directed in quasi-animated style by Richard Linklater; this one baffled even sci-fi fans when it opened, but it endures.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
This is no mere movie that's comfortable finding a couple of camera angles to depict a scene. In this movie, the camera shifts and darts, sets expand and switch around, time jumps back and forth, moments melt into one another, and graphics appear onscreen to highlight it all. Directed by Edgar Wright.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Edgar Wright directs this spot-on zombie comedy, which spends more time setting up a sense of place, developing characters and creating brilliant jokes than on zombie effects and gore. Star Simon Pegg co-wrote the screenplay.

Shock Corridor (1963)
This is a true masterpiece of the unrest of the 1960s, years before Easy Rider or anything else remotely like it, going into crazy, angry places and finishing up as one of Samuel Fuller's greatest works.

The Shooting (1966)
Director Monte Hellman uses the desert landscape to play havoc between this "existential Western's" four extreme personalities, clashing them against one another in every conceivable way. The shocking, baffling ending provides the "existential" part.

Sid & Nancy (1986)
Alex Cox's biopic of the Sex Pistols' infamous bass player and his abrasive blonde girlfriend rises to the top through its great performances by Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb. Also known as Love Kills.

Spider Baby (1964)
Jack Hill's strange B-flick features Lon Chaney Jr. as the caretaker for a family whose members go more and more insane as they get older.

Stop Making Sense (1984)
Jonathan Demme's concert film with the Talking Heads may be the most exuberant and best-paced of its kind.

Stranger than Paradise (1984)
Jim Jarmusch's minimalist black-and-white road comedy masterpiece features a couple of losers whose dull lives are interrupted by the visit of a cute female Hungarian cousin.

Suspiria (1987)
Dario Argento's best-known film is a Cinemascope, pinwheel lollipop-colored spin through a haunted German dance academy. Fresh blood Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) checks in, and before long notices odd activities and behavior around the prestigious school...

The Tall T (1957)
Based on an early short story by Elmore Leonard, The Tall T is one of the seven excellent "B" Westerns made between 1956 and 1960 by director Budd Boetticher and star Randolph Scott, making masterful use of its rocky terrain, and a dark cave.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
From the startling opening sequence with its popping flashbulbs to the jarring finale (mixing Marilyn Burns' blood-curdling screams with the sound of the chainsaw), it's an incredible piece of work. Director Tobe Hooper uses broad daylight to matter-of-factly show horrors that earlier films kept in the shadows and darkness.

They Live (1988)
John Carpenter's post-apocalyptic sci-fi-action-comedy masterpiece was a dark, vicious look at the Reagan era, but its dystopian vision still applies today. The movie also contains one of the most quotable lines of dialogue in history.

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Rob Reiner's uncanny, phony rock documentary is still the unprecedented champ of the genre. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer offer dead-on performances of brain-dead British heavy-metal rockers.

The Toxic Avenger (1984)
Lloyd Kaufman and Troma Entertainment had their breakthrough film and their all-time high point with this willfully stupid superhero spoof. The movie is cheerfully, unrelentingly over-the-top, filled with disgusting gore, language, and sex, with nothing deemed too awful or offensive for the final cut.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2011)
Eli Craig's movie has a simple, ingenious idea: Why are hillbillies always so nasty and evil in horror movies? What if they're really good folks, and the college students are the awful ones? The movie takes this idea and runs all the way with it.

Twin Peaks (1990)
This one counts because a slightly re-edited version of the two-hour pilot was shown theatrically in Japan. Aside from that, David Lynch's majestic, amazing TV series was as cinematic as anything else going on in the early 1990s. See also Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)
Monte Hellman's existential race movie shatters all expectations with its minimal dialogue and long, slow takes. Starring the great Warren Oates and rockers Dennis Wilson and James Taylor.

Videodrome (1983)
David Cronenberg's ultra-bizarre sci-fi story explores the relationship between man and video -- literally. James Woods and Deborah Harry star.

The Virgin Suicides (2000)
Adapted and directed by Sofia Coppola, The Virgin Suicides is based on the book by Jeffrey Eugenides about five lovely and mysterious blonde girls in the suburbs of the 1970s, over the course of one troubled, tender, unforgettable year.

The Warriors (1979)
In a kind of bizarro New York, an innocent gang tries to get back across the city to Coney Island after being wrongly accused of murder; along the way, every other gang in the city, each with its own costume and motif, tries to kill them. Walter Hill directs this energetic, unforgettable work.

The Wicker Man (1973)
Edward Woodward plays a puritan cop who arrives on a remote island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, but the townspeople seem to know nothing about it. This brilliantly unfolds in perfectly sculpted waves and including fascinating subtexts.

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