My favorite cult films — from lycanthropes to mad scientists, suburban cannibals and an insane asylum down the street. Welcome to my neighborhood!
I grow tired of “Top Ten” lists very easily. And that’s not because many lists feature a selection of god-awful movies, but it’s because most just repeat the same films we’ve all seen featured a million times before. I often see many of my all-time favorites listed, such as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, EVIL DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, etc. And while I have great affection for those films, there’s a wide range of great celluloid that deserves to be discovered and appreciated. Thus, I want to explore some of my favorites here.
The following list contains ten great cult films I’ve rarely seen featured on a ‘best of’ list. I’ve seen each of these films more than once — more times than I can remember. If you’ve never seen these films, I highly recommend you check out one or more of them. While cult films aren’t for everyone, these ten promise to deliver highly memorable cinematic experiences.
1. THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988)
Directed by Ken Russell (Tommy, The Devils, Altered States); Russell also wrote the screenplay (which was an adaptation of a Bram Stoker novel)
When an archeologist uncovers a strange skull, townspeople start disappearing. This is a weird film about a giant white worm and a woman who worships it. The archeologist and local police must stop her before she feeds the worm its next meal. This one stars Hugh Grant as the police officer, Lord James D’Ampton. Even Jesus Christ makes a cameo appearance. This is on my list because I find it to be original and has the feel of Mid-Nite Show written all over it.
2. THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW (1974)
Directed by Mario Gariazzo (Passport for a Corpse, The Brother From Space) Written by Ambrogie Molteni
This rarely mentioned film is Italy’s answer to The Exorcist…kind of.
It stars a beautiful young Stella Carnacina as an art student who is raped, then later possessed, by an iconic religious statue which comes to life in her art studio. She is later taken to a convent where she is saved by an exorcist. This is an obscure little film I find myself watching when I can’t decide what to watch. It dared to push boundaries with religion. Where else have you seen Christ rape and posses someone?
3. MONSTER DOG (1984)
Written/directed by Claudio Fragasso (Hell of the Living Dead, Women’s Prison Massacre, Rats: Night of Terror)
This is the first of two werewolf movies to make my list. MONSTER DOG stars Shock Rocker Alice Cooper as a musician who takes his band to his family mansion to film their latest rock video, but there’s a pack of wild dogs on the loose. In addition, something is out in the woods killing off the band members (various Italian actors) one by one. Growing up listening to Alice and seeing him live twice in the ’80s, I can’t resist seeing him act in a cheesy movie. Why this makes the cut, onto my list, is the fact it’s got some great FX for its budget, and the Italian cast members have been in other horror films I enjoy.
4. TWO THOUSAND MANIACS (1964)
Written/directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
Everyone loves The Godfather of Gore, and I couldn’t resist adding TWO THOUSAND MANIACS! to my list. The town of Pleasant Valley, USA has a population of two thousand, and each one of them a maniac. Bring out y’alls banjos! It’s the 100th anniversary of the Civil War, and this town is planning a hootenanny to celebrate. They put up a detour, luring six unfortunate passers-by into their celebration. One by one, the six of them are tortured to death as amusement to the townsfolk. It’s hard choosing a favorite from H. G. Lewis’ library of films. But I like this one because I often wonder…what if? What if you were to go for a drive and ended up in a small town such as this? I’ve always believed it’s possible. Maybe someday I’ll drive into a town such as this one day.
5. PARENTS (1989)
Directed by Bob Blalban (Tales From The Dark Side 1983 pilot); Written by Christopher Hawthorne
My next pick is more of a commercial flick with a Hollywood cast. PARENTS stars Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, Sandy Dennis and as the boy Uriel Byfield. The story is about a young boy who believes his parents are cannibalistic murderers. He even goes as far as to ask what they are eating. With a nervousness in her voice, his mother says it’s leftovers. Not satisfied with that, the boy asks, “What was it before it was leftovers?” It takes place in 1950’s Suburbia and is possibly my favorite Randy Quaid film. Parents is a perfect example of a well-made dark comedy with the perfect balance of horror and comedy.
6. DOCTOR GORE (AKA THE BODY SHOP) (1973)
Written/directed by J.G. Patterson, Jr. (The Gruesome Twosome, Axe, The Electric Chair)
This film tells of a mad scientist named Dr Don Brandon (Don Brandon). With the help of his hunchback assistant Gregory (Roy Mehaffey), who speaks only in moans and grunts, he lures young and beautiful women to his lab — only to dismember them for their best features to assemble the ‘perfect’ woman. Being depressed after the death of his wife, he wants a new woman, so let’s cut the guy some slack, eh?
Although unintentionally funny at times, it also has its purposeful comedic moments. Shot on a shoestring budget, the film is almost more disturbing as a result of its crude makeup and special fx. This also makes it considerably more entertaining!
7. THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE! (1971)
Written/directed by Andy Milligan (The Blood Thirsty Butchers)
The Mooneys are an odd family who live in a 19th Century mansion, keeping their secret from others. Their eldest daughter, Diana (Jackie Skarvelis), has returned from four years of medical school. Her grandfather is intent on her taking over his medical experiments. She surprises them all by returning home married. Pa Mooney (Douglas Phair), meanwhile is suffering from frequent attacks, but he cannot call for a physician because they are a family of werewolves.
I love the atmosphere of this little show. The low budget and low quality of the film gives it an interesting feel to me. It’s possible that it may also be a really bad film that I’ve just grown attached to. Regardless, I really love it and highly recommend it to fans of cult horror.
8. PIECES (1982)
Directed by Juan Piquer Simon (Don’t Panic, Slugs); Written by Dick Randall and Robert Loyola
“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.”
PIECES is a drive-in grindhouse favorite based on the idea that with the right parts, you can create the ’perfect’ woman.
In 1942 Boston, a kid is reciting Humpty Dumpty as he assembles a jigsaw puzzle of a naked lady. When his mom walks in, she sees the puzzle and goes into a rage about how dirty and perverted he is. She tells him to get a trash bag as she rummages frantically through he is stuff looking for more smut. He returns with a hatchet and lays into her, dismembering her and creating a bloodbath. Years later, the university in Boston has a crazy murderer on their hands — female students are being chopped to pieces.
I saw this cult gem at the Drive-In in the 80s! It’s one of my favorites because I enjoy the mediocre acting and the special FX. I also find the story interesting, as it happens to be the second of two films on my list about building a new woman from other bodies.
9. ANTHROPOPHAGUS (1980)
Directed by Joe D’Amato (Death Smiles on a Murderer, Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, Absurd, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead); Written by George Eastman
Tourists travel by boat to a deserted island where they become stranded. They are stalked by someone or something which they believe has killed the island’s previous inhabitants.
D’Amato knows what it takes to turn heads…and stomachs! He’s the one who holds the crown of the Video Nasties. That’s just my humble opinion of a guy who knows how to entertain a sickened mind — and corrupt a cleansed virgin one!
10. DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973)
Directed by S. F. Brownrigg (Don’t Open the Door, Keep My Grave Open, Scum of the Earth); Written by Tim Pope
A young nurse, Charlotte (Rosie Holotik), is hired to work at a small sanitarium. Just before her arrival, the man who hired her, Dr. Stephens (Michael Harvey), is murdered by one of the inmates. The head nurse lets Charlotte stay after some convincing. All hell breaks loose, and Charlotte faces a big surprise for herself.
This film is low budget and lots of fun! I’ve lost count how many times I’ve seen it, but each viewing is an enjoyable one. I love the idea of inmates taking over an asylum. What could possibly go wrong? Well…watch this classic and find out!
So there you have it, the list of my ten favorite cult films. A cult film, to me, is a movie you can watch over and over again — and enjoy each time. While everyone has their own definition of what defines cult horror, I include all films that offend people, have excessive gore and violence, sex and nudity, and lots of blood. But, it can’t just have gore for gore’s sake to really stand out as a cult classic.
This list could certainly be much longer and is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to great cult horror. But it’s a solid introduction to some classics that you may not have heard of or seen. What makes your list of favorite cult horror films? Share feedback in the comments below.