The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Eraserhead (1977), Forbidden Zone (1980), Showgirls (1995), The Big Lebowski (1998), the John Waters/Russ Meyer canons and their ilk were rescued, resurrected, and kept alive by hard-line devotees.
So the following is not to suggest that the films at hand were slighted, but that I’d like to see them blossom into big-time status as well.
In ALPHABETICAL ORDER, my choices follow:
All that’s missing is a soundtrack by Burzum.
Eventually, our heroes - led by Nisus (Al Cliver) - swoop in, chase off the baddies, and rescue the survivors. Among them is virginal Maida, played by Italian eyeful Sabrina Siani, whose delectable titlets and robust rump should be familiar from her all-topless, all-the-time role in Lucio Fulci’s Conquest (1983).
Jumping several years ahead, Nisus and Maida reside in an upstanding Road-Warrior-esque community which, as happens, is set upon by a gang of psychotic rainbow-mohawked bikers.
And then the action, at last, really heats up.
From a shocking death at the midway point, 2020 Texas Gladiators explodes into an onslaught of futuristic riot police, Russian roulette, sadomasochism, custom car-tank hybrids, space cowboys, and tee-pee-dwelling American Indians who prove the bow-and-arrow is mightier than the machine-gun-equipped Harley (and “How!”).
Coordinating the carnage is Italian splatter-maestro, Joe D’Amato. Oh, how I miss that dago maniac.
AMERICAN GOTHIC (1987)
Director: John Hough
Cast: Rod Steiger, Yvonne DeCarlo, Michael J. Pollard, William Hootkins, Sarah Torgov, Mark Lindsay Chapman
Just look at that cast.
And then just contemplate the fact that American Gothic begins with a young mom recovering from the accidental death of her baby by landing on an island where Ma Lily Munster and Pa Rod Steiger are raising their brood of scamps.
Now consider that said scamps are actually middle-aged (to put it kindly) odd ducks (to put it unworthily kindly) led by Michael J. Pollard (yes!) who talk, cavort, and commit violence like a pack of homicidal six-year-olds.
That humdinger premise is made good on by swell direction from ex-Disney helmer John Hough, and that once-in-a-nervous breakdown assemblage of unhinged thespians at their most brazenly berserk.
As one who goes around loudly and solemnly “pledging my soul” to various questionable entities, Steiger’s closing vow has echoed in my head for decades.
BLOOD MOON (2001)
Director: Thom Fitzgerald
Cast: Victoria Sanchez, Tim Curry, Grace Jones, Leslie Ann Warren, Shelby Fenner
Later examples include the effective mermaid spooker She Creature (2001), and Blood Moon, a musical freak-show - in a very real sense - that may have been doomed to obscurity the moment producers ditched the movie’s original, memorable and perfectly descriptive name: Wolf Girl.
Victoria Sanchez stars in the should-have-been-title role, as a fur-covered nubile who performs in a traveling calvacade-of-oddities lorded over by ringmaster Harley Dune (Tim Curry, with an enviable mustache).
Much singing and much dancing peppers the wiggy love story, which concentrates on Wolf Girl’s suitor concocting a cure for her hyper-hirsute condition that, through a coincidence that can only be described as “freakish”, causes our heroine to rampage around like a werewolf
My favorite number in Blood Moon is a bawdy dwarf shifting his eyebrows north and south as he croons, “I’m Just the Right Height for Delight!”
Back in 1974 (or so), I saw Michu the World’s Smallest Man get married in Madison Square Garden at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus. He’d be proud of his wee brethren in Blood Moon.
DANCE WITH THE DEVIL aka PERDITA DURANGO (1997)
Director: Álex de la Iglesia
Cast: Javier Bardem, Rosie Perez, James Gandolfini, Aimee Graham, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
It sweats, this sun-scorched, demonic concoction of tequila, human fetuses, and blood-caked cocaine-snot. It’s barbarous and hilarious, Dance With the Devil, all incandescently alight with hacked-off corpse limbs and toxically radiant with hate-sex.
More than a decade passed between DWD and No Country for Old Men (2008), where Javier Bardem finally achieving proper recognition for embodying as a cipher-souled homicidalist plying his craft in the desert heat.
James Gandolfini plays an FBI agent who’s a magnet for speeding vehicles. Rosie Perez gets finger-fucked and it smells real. Aimee Graham (Heather’s sister) can’t stop getting raped.
Watch this film. Love it. And the next time someone suggests constructing a massive wall along our nation’s southern border, you will grab a shovel and cry, “¡Vamanos!”
DIARY OF A SEX ADDICT (2001)
Director: Joesph Brutsman
Cast: Michael Des Barres, Rosanna Arquette, Nastassja Kinski, Ed Begley Jr., Alexandra Paul
For sheer befuddlement, it is second to none. When watching the likes of Ed Wood at his cheapest or a celluloid nonsequiter such as Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, inherent logic - however brain-bendingly unique - is palpable.
You can understand how and why these films got made, who they were made for, and what their makers most likely intended.
No such guesses can possibly be made about Diary of a Sex Addict.
Is it a tax shelter? Is it an experiment? Is it really happening as I sit here with my lower jaw as far as it’s ever been from my upper lip?
To begin with, Diary of a Sex Addict is shot on video. Not the high-def stuff we’re used to today: ’90s camcorder video. Soap operas dwarf the production values on display here - and I mean soap operas from, like, Papua New Guinea.
The plot is admirably absurd, chronicling hepcat restaurant owner Michael Des Barres (best remembered as the lead singer of WKRP in Cincinnati’s punk-rock representatives, Scum of the Earth) as he plows through the female element of Los Angeles, prick-first.
And when our cocksman isn’t schtupping a conquest under every barstool or inside every linen closet, he’s forced to give “pussy lessons” to a menacing black hulk who tears tickets at the awesomely hellacious Vine movie theater on Hollywood Boulevard.
Rosanna Arquette plays the clueless wife whose bra can’t conceal her nipple-tops. Nastassja Kinski is our sex addict’s shrink. Ed Begley pops in as a doctor who announces that Rosanna has contracted HIV, but then he takes it back.
And as you witness this madness, you can’t help but think, “I recognize these people … they’re famous, for fuck’s sake! What is going on here? Why are they performing this dialogue? And how did they get away with this without anyone (but me) noticing?”
There are no answers. That is the ultimate lesson of Diary of a Sex Addict. Take it to hard. And too hard.
THE EVIL THAT MEN DO (1984)
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Cast: Charles Bronson, Theresa Saldana, Joseph Maher, Jose Ferrer, Antoinette Bower
After the respective impacts of Dirty Harry and Death Wish, Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson spent the ’70s in a neck-and-neck(less) battle to claim the crown of Hollywood’s A-List Action Assailant.
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Every Which Way but Loose (1978), and Escape From Alcatraz (1979) showcased multiple facets of Eastwood’s talent and star power, so that by the advent of Bronco Billy (1980) and his ensuing orangutan and Dirty Harry sequels, the race was over.
Nonetheless, the mighty Charles Bronson was not out.
After a succession of flops, the former Charles Buchinski hitched his hard-boiled to wagon to the rising stars of Israeli schlockmeisters extraoridinaire, Yoram Globus and Menahem Globan of Cannon Films.
First up was Death Wish II (1982), a sequel that traded the profound provocations of the original for a rabid, violence-inciting primer on rape, rampage, and revenge that liberal critics had wished they could blame the first film for being.
DWII also introduced an all-important ’80s schlock movie archetype with an expansion/simplification of The Warriors (1979) and the hordes of Lord Humungous in The Road Warrior (1982) into an interracial punk/New Wave/roller-disco street gang.
Paul Talbot’s terrific book Bronson’s Loose documents the making of Death Wish and its follow-ups (the series continued all the way to 1994), while also discussing the other remarkably maniacal Bronson-Canon collaborations of the ’80s.
The most popular is likely the fabulously savage 10 to Midnight (1983) with its mechanical Mr. Snuffleuffagus masturbatory device (prompting Chuck to seethe, “It’s fah jackin’ AWF!”), and the villain’s climactic bellowing of, “You can’t hurt me! I’m sick! I can’t go to jail! I’m crazy! You can’t kill me! I’m sick!”
Chuck, of course, proves the gentleman to be mistaken.
And a strong argument can be made that the absolute scuzz apex of maybe even the entire Canon, uh, canon is embodied by Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989).
There, Chuck forces a crook to swallow a Rolex, jumps out of his car to rant at Asian drivers in a traffic jam (”Dis is not TOKE-yo!”), and battles a child sex-slave ring exporting its very bad goods from the Land of the Rising Sun.
I love every one of these spelunks into sadism, but my favorite remains The Evil That Men Do.
Evil opens with a nude man hung up and being electrocuted to death through his testicles. And then it sets out to top that - and succeeds.
The madman running the electrical current The Doctor (foofy Brit character Joseph Maher), a professional torture technician who has educated despots and dictators in “20 Latin American countries” (nobody rattles off the specific list).
Videotapes of The Doctor’s unfortunate patients describing what they endured lure retired assassin Charlie out of business. He suits up, loads up, and heads south of the border to cancel this Doctor’s appointments, like, permanently.
Balls get busted (by Bronson’s lethal bare-hand grip!); Charlie gets to listen, way up-close, to the Doctor’s sister go lesbo; and the ultimate payoff against the doctor is just and thrilling, made unforgettable by Maher’s candy-ass mewling on the way to being torn to pieces.
Spiking this atrocity exhibition with an air of uncomfortable reality is Theresa Saldana as the female lead. She the widow of the fried-crotch dude and poses as Chuck’s bride to get him entrée past doors clearly marked “No Gringos Allowed”.
That decision initially struck me as highly weird, but Saldana, who went on to a long and fruitful acting career, has long been an outspoken advocate of victims’ rights.
I can’t think of a single motion picture that argues such a point of view more persuasively. Right in the schnuts.
Still, the single greatest review of The Evil That Men Do - and maybe the greatest review of any movie ever - emanated from my pal Springo’s father.
Right that end, Mr. Springo Senior lit up a Pall Mall, pondered pensively for a moment, exhaled, and proclaimed:
“Good movie. Tough movie. Good movie.”
FIRED UP! (2009)
Director: Will Gluck
Cast: Eric Christian Olsen, Nicholas D’Agosto, Sara Roemer, Molly Sims, AnnaLynne McCord
If you ever told me that my three favorite Hollywood films of 2009 would be Inglourious Basterds, Star Trek, and a PG-13 cheerleader comedy starring gorgeous bo-hunks, I’d have spotted you the possibilities of the first two and then asked why you were talking to me, ass-basket.
And, in truth, the version of Fired Up I ended up seeing and being humbled by was unrated and boasts some bare skinny-dipper boobies, but that hardly makes the total awesomosity of what looked and felt like a routine disposal tween nothing any less of a surprise.
As I wrote in my original review, the two male leads are spectacularly funny, making Fired Up not so much reminiscent of Rainbeaux Smith-era pom-pom epics, but the fully loaded writing and rat-a-tat delivery of the classic sitcom Bosom Buddies.
And perfect naked high-school bosoms or no perfect naked high-school bosoms, Fired Up is even better than the original Bring It On (2000), and you can talk to me anytime about how much I love the original Bring It On.
GET CRAZY (1983)
Director: Allan Arkush
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Lou Reed, Daniel Stern, Ed Begley Jr., Lee Ving
Of all the films on this list, it seems as though Get Crazy, writer-director Allan Arkush’s madcap follow-up to his all-time classic Rock-N-Roll High School (1989), is the closest to presently possessing a sizable, active cult following on par with the field’s top-tier titles.
Tragically, this hyper-kinetic romp that takes place on the closing night of a legendary psychedelic ballroom may also rank among the most lost.
In an interview after a recent screening of Get Crazy, Arkush divulged that damage to the film’s sound elements will likely make a DVD release impossible.
It cracked me up and I loved it, but I long to revisit this homage to rock impresario Bill Graham and his Fillmore Auditorium armed with the 25 more years of music-nerd knowledge I possess today.
Clearly, I understood that Malcolm McDowell’s Reggie Wanker is a Bowie/Jagger hybrid, and Lou Reed stands in for Bob Dylan, but I want to study each set-piece for more gags and references, as Arkush is famous for cramming his frames as full of digressive details as a Mad magazine panel.
A battered VHS transfer of Get Crazy is viewable on YouTube, so we’ll have to cherish that.
The whole situation is just Crazy, man, crazy.
HEAVY TRAFFIC (1973)
Director: Ralph Bakshi
Cast: Joseph Kaufmann, Beverly Hope Atkinson, Frank DeKova, Terri Haven
Recently reading about the multimedia Process Church and the theatrical abominations of Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention in the 1960s, it made me wonder how we anti-cultural shock-troopers of the 1990s - ‘zine publishers, confrontational costumed musicians - ever got off thinking we were on to something original.
More to the point, as publisher of HAPPYLAND, Entertainment Editor of Hustler and guitarist/live-action coordinator of Gays in the Military, it made me ponder the done-to-death-before-I-was-born gimmickry of myself.
The feeling echoed back to when I first saw Heavy Traffic, at the very end of a dusk-to-dawn American International Pictures film festival held at L.A.’s Nuart theater back in 1994.
The tagline of my ‘zine HAPPYLAND was “The Heartwarming Adventures of a Boy and His Dick” and its aim was to portray publisher Selwyn Harris - me - as this art-bent working-class anti-naif navigating a booze-basted scumbag’s view of New York City, which festered as an endlessly churning, psychedelic cesspool of crooks, sluts, hustlers, thugs, losers, lunatics, and ethnic/racial stereotypes come to inescapable, reprehensible life, all in a constant war with “respectable” elements of existence, both human and otherwise.
Sitting sober in the Nuart after 12 hours of exploitation gems (forgive me, Count Yorga, for snoozing through you), Heavy Traffic knocked me dumbstruck: creator Ralph Bakshi had not just beaten me to the schtick by two decades, he beat the living shit out of me at it.
He even comes from fucking Brooklyn!
Ralph Bakshi is best known for Fritz the Cat (1972) which - pay no attention to Crumb’s jealous howls - is a great, imaginative undertaking. Coonskin (1972) may actually be his masterpiece. The idiotic Wizards (1976) has its place, but Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings (1978) is a total abortion. American Pop (1981) is charming. I’ve never seen Hey Good Lookin’ (1982). And I really like Bakshi’s collaboration with fellow Brooklynite Frank Frazetta, Fire and Ice (1984).
But Heavy Traffic stands alone.
Its live-action framing devices (scored by a Brasil 66 singing “Scarborough Fair”) are mortifyingly dated and, as much as I love Heavy Metal (1981), I am sorry its 50-percent identical title has usurped and confused people about Heavy Traffic.
Long may both rock.
THE PIT (1981)
Director: Lew Lehman
Cast: Sammy Snyders, Sonja Smits, Jeannie Elias, Laura Hollingsworth, Andrea Swartz
Creepy kid movies work.
Another fright trope I love: mole men.
Introduced to the concept the serial Superman and the Mole Men (1951), which was cleaved into episodes of the TV series, I also fell in love with the fireplace-dwellers of the TV movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973) and this passion has carried on as devotion to The Simpsons‘ Hans Moleman.
The Pit combines the creepiest of creepy kids with the moliest of mole men - hilariously and hair-raisingly, and while conjuring a one-of-a-kind atmosphere of squirmy, inappropriate sexuality.
He calls the pit creatures Tra-la-logs and, as they are the only beings who can stand this brat’s personality, he tosses them taste treats on occasion, beginning with an old lady in an wheelchair.
Jeannie Elias, as babysitter Sandy, supplies the most amazing nipple close-up in all of cinema, as the camera settles on her exposed milk-spigot while junior-skeevo Jamie spies on her sleeping form.
It’s a jolt to see such a young kid actually next to that bare teat with a look of transfixed perversion on his kisser, but The Pit is about nothing if not bare-bodied boundary crossing.
The wife of Pit director Lew Lehman reportedly forbade her husband from personally filming any of the movie’s exceedingly odd nude scenes except for a hot skinny-dip featuring Jennifer Lehman, the couple’s real-life, terrifically top-heavy daughter.
In the annals of sexual psychology, a pit, per se, is loaded with far-reaching symbolism. Good luck crawling out of the places into which this Pit shoves you.
Director: Chuck Vincent
Cast: Katt Shea, Ciny Manion, Lynda Weismeier, Dennis Drake, Steven Holt, Peter Brady Reardon
Preppies is a great ’80s teen sex comedy of the absurdist school (see also Zapped!, Screwballs, Surf II) and my pick as the finest work done by underappreciated B-movie maven Chuck Vincent, who went from hardcore porn to soft sex farces to horror flicks to the grave, when he died from AIDS in 1991.
In fact, Vincent belonged to a curious society of homosexual directors who plied their trades in the realm of über-hetero exploitation, veering in and out of full-blown penetration flicks intended for preferences.
On that front, Vincent’s brethren include Tom DeSimone (How to Make a Homo Movie, Hell Night, Reform School Girls), Tim Kincaid (Bad Girls Dormitory, Breeders, and a spate of sodomy-cinema milestones he made under the nom-de-splooge Joe Gage) and, well … nobody else. But what a club.
A singular energy runs through Chuck Vincent’s films, though, and it adds up to the body of work of a bona fide auteur.
The XXX-rated Jack and Jill (1979) won Vincent sufficient porn-world acclaim and box-office popularity that he was entrusted to make more challenging films so long as they contained sufficient fuck footage.
Roommates (1981) garnered positive reviews from heavy hitters such as Pauline Kael and even TV critics, and ran for months in art theaters.
However, Vincent’s attempt at a similarly serious follow-up, In Love (1983) proved to be one of the hardcore’s most catastrophic financial bombs ever.
Nonetheless, Vincent continued to pump out above-the-norm porn and spirited, often New-York-centric R-rated comedies that bristle with good feelings and great gags. Among them are Summer Camp (1979), Hot T-Shirts (1980), C.O.D. (1981), and Hollywood Hot Tubs (1984).
I saw it at Cine 42 on 42nd Street and laughed my khakis off.
I also came damn close to excusing myself to the bathroom so I could beat off following the sexiest non-nude moment I’ve ever witnessed in a movie: when, as they lie in twin beds, skinny, proto-Paris-Hilton-esque Katt Shea teaches voluminously voluptuous Lynda Wiesmeier how to over-enunciate an orgasm.
Fortunately, I kept it in my slacks. But my boner for Preppies pulsates unabated.
ROLLER BLADE (1986)
Director: Donald G. Jackson
Cast: Jeff Hutchinson, Suzanne Solari, Katina Garner, Erin Mitchell
Pics: Teleport City Movies
Before anyone had even heard of Rollerblades, there was Roller Blade, a primitive high-def video wonder set on Venice Beach following a severe population-depleting apocalypse and shot without sound.
That last element may provide the biggest unintentional laughs in a sci-fi sexploitation adventure bursting with them.
The Bod Sisters are a society of roller-skating nuns who patrol the shoreline and enjoy a lot of naked hot tub time with one another.
In fact, almost everybody roller-skates in Roller Blade, except Saticoy, the hulking super-villain who sports a Siamese twin on his shoulder that is an admirably obvious hand-puppet. That dude gets around on a rocket-powered skateboard, the kind you tried to invent for ten minutes in your garage when you were eight.
The son of a roller-cop gets kidnapped - specifically because Junior forgot his rollerskates - leading the nuns out of the hot tub and hot on his trail, powered by their object of worship: a blue-tinted “Have a Nice Day” smiley-face.
All told, though, my favorite performance in Roller Blade belongs to a German Sheperd who, as noted, was filmed without sound. Thus, every time he appears on camera, we hear somebody panting like a dog into a microphone.
Heroically, director Donald G. Jackson went on to helm not just Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988), but a succession of Roller Blade sequels: Roller Blade Warriors: Taken by Force (1989), The Roller Blade Seven (1991), Return Of The Roller Blade Seven (1992), Rollergator (1996).
THE STRANGE CASE OF SEÑOR COMPUTER (2000)
Director: Tom Sawyer
Cast: Rick Zielgler, Gladys Hans, Tom Sawyer (voice)
The anti-budgeted black-and-white sci-fi charmer The Strange Case of Señor Computer came my way as a bottom-of-the-bin bargain DVD at New York’s late Mondo Kim’s store.
It’s been my pleasure to lend it to as many people as possible and they all end up liking the movie so much that they actually return the disc to me.
Questionably named writer-director Tom Sawyer has crafted a thoroughly moving mechanical Frankenstein fable that is also uproariously funny.
One of the great cinematic laughs of this decade centers on Ike - the newly self-aware robot of the title - watching a Bewitched rerun and experiencing all manner of worry about Darren Stevens being unaware that his wife secretly practices black magic.
SURF II (1984)
Director: Randall M. Badat
Cast: Eddie Deezen, Eric Stoltz, Ruth Buzzi, Lyle Waggoner, Cleavon Little, Corinne Bohrer
For my money - and I have spent innumerable dollars on films such as this - Screwballs (1983) rules as the #1 most off-the-wall and ingenious teen sex comedies of the ’80s.
But, truth be told, that championship position may well be colored by Screwballs‘ enduring worldwide cult (which has resulted in a top-freakin’-notch special edition DVD recently issued by Severin Films), because Surf II does provide serious competition.
Beginning with the non-sequitur title - which, in full, is Surf II: The End of the Trilogy - and continuing to an early split-screen sequence lampooning the identical suburban home lives of the movie’s beach-comber heroes, the movie reveals a self-awareness and even subtlety that slap invisible quote-marks around every gag - but it never goes so far as to obnoxiously stop and wink as if to blurt out: “See! This is SMART!”
Eddie Deezen, as Menlo Schwartzer, plots to conquer the world from his under-the-sand lair by placing mind-control chemicals in Buzz Cola. His girlfriend is a bikini model. The cops on the trail of Buzz-addicted zombies are Lyle Waggoner (from The Carol Burnett Show) as Chief Boyardee and Ron Palillo (Horeshack!) as Inspector Underwear. Ruth Buzzi and Cleavon Little play important roles. And so on.
Surf II remains unreleased on DVD, but you can watch it on YouTube and, in 2009, L.A.’s invaluable New Beverly theater hosted a 25th anniversary screening.
Menlo Schwartzer, perhaps your time is upon us.
WORLD GONE WILD (1988)
Director: Lee H. Katzin
Cast: Bruce Dern, Adam Ant, Michael Pare, Catherine Mary Stewart
This wittiest of non-Café-Flesh post-nuke blow-outs (besting even A Boy and His Dog) boasts a remarkable screenplay full of amusing and inventive ideas, perhaps because the creators took their time to craft something special.
As ambling hippie philosopher Ehtan, Bruce Dern gives a loosey-goosey performance that’s as mainstream-comeback-worthy as Dennis Hopper’s maniacal high jinks were in Blue Velvet (1986).
Adam Ant, after proving his villainous worth on a 1986 episode of The Equalizer, is great as a charismatic fiend who splits from the approved teaching text of his resident survivors’ compound - Iacocca by Lee Iacocca - and whips up a cult based on the teachings of Charles Manson.
Michael Paré makes a rock solid hero, no surprise there, and it’s all wrapped up with a gloriously turgid semi-metal anthem that instructs: “In a world gone wild/ Only love can survive/ In a world gone WILD!”
During one mighty auditorium-hopping run at Brooklyn’s defunct Kingsway Theater (who could have imagined that the nearby adults-only Cinema Kings Highway would outlast all other local moviehouses?), I caught World Gone Wild at the end of a run that also included Maniac Cop, Slaughterhouse Rock, and Donald Cammell’s White of the Eye.
Thus as I can only end this article as I do so many other thoughts I have, by noting: Those were the times.
Okay, so here’s my list of just-the-titles:
Be sure to leave your list of cult films that deserve massive followings in the comment section below.