Classic Cult: Animated

Most people associate animation with children’s films and Disney. However, this does not do justice to a medium that has the potential to create far more captivating and engaging pieces of cinema than are generally offered by live-action films. It has the ability to explore themes and ideas in an artistic style that isn’t bound by the constraints found in conventional filming.

Cult animation has generally been split into two categories: the bizarre and the adult, which for many will appear too queer to warrant any appreciation. However, there are a number of cult films which should be watched by anyone with an interest in this undervalued art form.

Almost all of the films that The Beatles produced during their career have gone on to achieve some form of cult status, none more so than Yellow Submarine (1968). The fantasy musical features animated versions of the band as they go on a surreal and psychedelic journey to save the people of Pepperland from the music hating blue meanies. With a stellar Beatles soundtrack and wildly, lush images, this is a delight for both young and old. La Planète Sauvage (Fantastic Planet, 1973) by René Laloux is a similarly dreamlike venture into the world of science fiction. In a world where human beings are treated as pests by the giant Draags, one man, Terr, stands up to rebel against humanity’s oppression. Full of vivid imagery, its combination of strong themes of intolerance and unconventional artistry makes it a powerful piece of cinema.

Within the more adult-centred cult animation, one of the stand-out films has to be Heavy Metal (1981). Based on the fantasy and science fiction stories published in Heavy Metal Magazine, it features a universe of graphic violence, passionate fantasies and terrifying evil. Often played at midnight screenings and providing the inspiration for the South Park episode “Major Boobage”, its superb 80s soundtrack helped cement it as a firm cult favourite. Ralph Bakshi’s animated comedy Fritz the Cat (1972) was the first animated film to receive an X rating in the US. Following the hedonistic outings of a free loving cat during the 70s, its satire on the America of the time is hilarious, yet undoubtedly controversial. With the ability to at some point offend just about anyone, when taken with a pinch of salt it serves as great entertainment.

Finally, Bruno Bozzetto’s Allegro non Troppo (1976) is a parody of Disney’s Fantasia. A combination of live-action and different styles of animation, it sets classical music to stories ranging from the comic to the tragic. With an inventive use of animation and actor interaction, it remains an innovative example of the genre and a worthy alternative to the Disney equivalent.

This only scratches the surface of a genre that contains a plethora of fantastic films and covers a vast range of styles and techniques, but for the cult enthusiast, it is at least a decent place to start.

Taken from The Student, published Tue Mar 13th 2012.

Classic Cult: Christmas

Christmas is a time for family, fires and forgiveness, and no more is this apparent than in the films televised during December each year. Endless showings of Toy Story and Love Actually illustrates the public’s fundamental desire to see something light hearted and fun, whilst also managing to capture the Christmas spirit. However, for the cult enthusiast, there are a multitude of options which allows for alternative viewing, so long as you don’t rely on the TV guide to make it happen.

Regularly featuring on lists of worst films ever made, Santa Conquers the Martians (1964) is an alternative Christmas tale that sees Santa kidnapped so he can bring Christmas joy to the people of Mars. Featuring a young Pia Zadora and one of the most entertaining attempts at creating a polar bear in cinema, it remains a great cult classic. For fans of The Flaming Lips, Christmas on Mars (2008) is a definite must see. Written and directed by the band’s frontman Wayne Coyne, and featuring the entire band in the cast, this is arguably the most psychedelic science-fiction Christmas feature around. Containing an almost indecipherable plot and frequent bouts of superfluous colours and foetuses, Christmas on Mars epitomises cult cinema.

A Muppet Christmas Carol would be the obvious film from the Jim Henson Company to watch at this time of year, yet they boast a number of other great Christmas features. Most notable of these is made-for-TV movie The Christmas Toy (1986). In a world where toys play when people aren’t watching, but who are frozen forever if caught out of their normal place, Rugby the plucky tiger plush toy is on a mission to try and be this year’s Christmas present, so he can remain the favourite toy for another year. With more than a passing similarity to Toy Story, it is undoubtedly one of the best low-key Christmas family films. Babes in Toyland (1986) is another television film and features all the necessary elements for a top notch cult film: a young Drew Barrymore, Keanu Reeves, singing, nursery rhyme characters, a villain who lives in a bowling bowl and Pat Morita (aka Mr Miyagi) as the Toymaster. Despite being a relatively atrocious film, it remains entertaining nonetheless.

Horror is a genre which dominates cult Christmas films, from the slashers of the ’70s and ’80s to more recent attempts at bringing a scare factor to the festive season. Some of the classics include Black Christmas (1974), Christmas Evil (1980), Gremlins (1984), Santa’s Slay (2005) and Jack Frost (1997). However, Silent Night Deadly Night (1984) is one that particularly stands out. The development of the lead character, who becomes increasingly psychotic after witnessing the massacre of his parents, justifies it as one of the better horror Christmas classics.

Good cult Christmas films have been relatively sparse in recent years, however, Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) breaks the mould with its slick combination of comedy and horror. A tongue-in-cheek film that looks at the ‘secret’ behind Santa, it is an entertaining foray into the alternative Christmas story.

Remembered for its iconic line, “You’ll poke your eye out,” A Christmas Story (1983) is a coming of age story that rivals Home Alone. Following a nine-year-old boy named Ralphie, who despite the best efforts of everyone around him, does everything in his power to ensure he gets a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. Watchable time and time again, it is one of the top cult comedies to see at this time of year.

Finally, no cult Christmas is complete without Scrooged (1988). It’s fantastic blend of horror and comedy, starring Bill Murray as a conceited, cynical TV executive, makes it the first stop for anyone looking for alternative Christmas viewing. There have been countless productions of A Christmas Carol but few are as original or entertaining as Richard Donner’s adaptation.

There is no need for anyone to watch endless re-runs of overplayed and clichéd films at this time of year. The alternative possibilities available will provide enough entertainment to far exceed the festive period. It simply remains a difficulty as to where the best place is to start.

An expanded version of an article first published in The Student, Tue Dec 6th 2011.

Classic Cult: Monsters

Defined by its ability to achieve high levels of popularity despite a relatively poor reception from mainstream audiences, the quintessential cult film gathers a devoted fan base by strategically deploying a number of specific devices. From the “so bad it’s good” to “the more gore the better,” cult flicks accentuate features that are often only hinted at in commercial cinema to produce an exciting if somewhat niche form of entertainment.

With the recent release of Norwegian fantasy film The Troll Hunter, The Student has this week decided to look at the part monsters have played in forming one of the more notable sub-genres within cult cinema. From Ishirô Honda’s 1954 classic Gojira to John Landis’ American Werewolf in London, monsters have littered cult films for decades. There’s something about seeing a ridiculously over the top creature, more often than not looking like a peculiar man in drag, that has managed to continually captivate the imagination of the cult film buff.

Regularly found residing in low-budget horror flicks where a measly budget leads to some hilarious viewing, the cult movie monster combines the finest costumes cardboard and fake fur can muster with an ambitious pinch of science-fiction. It is often the case that the more ludicrous and farfetched the being in question is, the more likely cult status will be acquired. These all seem like odd conditions for the success of a film, but they aptly cover the necessary requirements for cult cinema.

However, as André Øvredal’s new film illustrates, in recent years there seems to have been a transition to a darker, more serious depiction of the supernatural. Using various techniques such as an overly awkward and shaky camera, the viewer is offered mere glimpses of the monstrous, allowing tension and suspense to be increased. This, combined with advancements in the quality of CGI, has led to a very different type of monster film.

Whilst a place has been reserved in cult cinema for the absurd, there seems to be a certain something that has been lost as technology has improved. One can’t really compare the likes of The Creature from the Black Lagoon with Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus. Poor CGI, no matter how funny, can never compete with a man in a costume.

It is clear that monsters have managed to retain their deserved place within cult cinema, but whether they will be able to keep that nostalgic charm which made them cult films in the first place is another question. After all, one can never tire of watching Teen Wolf, but who will be watching Cloverfield in 20 years time?

Taken from The Student, published Tue Sep 13th 2011.