Cult movies hold a special place in our pop culture diaspora and offer unsettling and boundary breaking ideas for their times, often dismissed by critic’s and general audiences as unnecessarily violent, crass, absurd or gone awry. With that in mind, here is our list of 10 cult movies that will shock your senses and will surely leave you intrigued and (maybe) wanting more.
1. Pink Flamingos (1972)
Pink Flamingos is a 1972 exploitation black comedy film written, directed, filmed, produced and edited by the master of cult movies, John Waters. The film stars the countercultural drag queen Divine as a criminal under the pseudonym “Babs Johnson”. Living in a trailer with her misfit family in Phoenix, Maryland, most of the movie sees them compete with a rival couple from Baltimore, the Marbles, for the title of “the filthiest people alive”.
Notorious for its nudity, profanity, voyeurism, sodomy, masturbation, rape, coprophagia, pursuit of sensationalism and more, this film has, despite everything, gained cult classic status and a reputation as a midnight movie with audience participation (similar to The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Pink Flamingos has also been widely celebrated by the LGBT community and is considered “early gay agitprop filmmaking” and a preliminary exponent of abject art.
2. Man Bites Dog (1992)
Many cult movies depict gratuitous violence and shocking or disturbing subject matter to promote freedom of expression, others use it as a statement or social commentary. Man Bites Dog is a Belgian black comedy and crime mockumentary that mainly represents the later.
It tells the story of a camera crew following around a psychotic, affable and talkative serial killer and thief named Ben, filming his daily routines, crimes and musings. At first objective observers, the crew eventually become complicit and participate in various acts of barbarity with him. This film is a disturbing, oftentimes funny, highly original and high concept satire on media violence that shows us how desensitized most audiences have become to depictions of brutality and sadism in TV and movies.
3. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
The first feature-length film of director Quentin Tarantino and a classic as far as cult movies go, Reservoir Dogs is a thoroughly enjoyable heist movie everyone should see. Arguably as entertaining as his 1994 hit Pulp Fiction, the story revolves around a group of six diamond thieves, all strangers to one another, who find the robbery they were hired to carry out ambushed by the police. Once at their rendezvous point, the survivors , realizing they were set up, try to find the traitor in their midst.
Known for its extreme violence, profanity, pop culture references and nonlinear storytelling, all classic hallmarks in Tarantino’s films, this movie has now become an important and influential milestone in independent filmmaking and although controversial upon release, received praise for its cast’s performances.
4. Videodrome (1983)
Another famous director known for his cult movies is David Cronenberg who’s earlier films have achieved cult status, amongst them the sci-fi body horror Videodrome. The film tells the story of Max Renn, the manager of a trashy TV channel in Toronto. While trying to find new programming to attract viewers, he comes across a broadcast signal featuring extreme violence and torture called “Videodrome”.
As he uncovers the signal’s source, layers of deception and a mind-control conspiracy unfold as he starts losing touch with reality in a series of increasingly bizarre and violent hallucinations. Described as being visually audacious, burningly intense, chaotic and indelibly surreal, this “disturbing techno-surrealist film” contains musings on technology, entertainment and politics that are still relevant today.
5. Brazil (1985)
Brazil is a British-American dystopian sci-fi film that satirizes bureaucratic, totalitarian government and industrialized societies. The plot revolves around Sam Lowry, a low-level bureaucrat who fantasizes about being a hero and finding the real-life damsel he saves in his dreams.
When the mistaken arrest and eventual death of an innocent man happens, he meets the woman of his daydream, and in trying to help her, get caught in a web of mistaken identity and lies. With it’s visually inventive uniqueness, Brazil has helped influence many filmmakers via cinematography, art design and lighting from Tim burton to the Coen brother’s to Neil Marshall.
6. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is often considered one of the best cult movies ever made and has a legacy that endures to this day. It stars Tura Satana, Haji and Lori Williams as three go-go dancers who go on a killing and kidnapping rampage through the desert. When they get word of a fortune hidden away by a misogynistic old man, they attempt to wheedle it away from him and his two sons.
This movie, known for its violence, provocative gender roles and quotable dialogue and initially panned by critics and audiences alike, has become an influential and important piece that is now considered a seminal feminist work.
7. Eraserhead (1977)
The first feature-length film of eccentric and influential filmmaker David Lynch, Eraserhead is an experimental body horror movie from 1977 that stars Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Jeanne Bates and Jack Fisk.Written, produced and scored by Lynch, it tells the story of a man named Henry Spencer living in a desolate industrial landscape who is left to care for his grossly deformed, wailing, lizard-like child.
Though initially released to small audiences, it gained popularity as a midnight movie and is now praised by most critics. Its intensity, weird visuals and creepy score make it a classic of surrealist cinema and show a young Lynch’s promising debut.
8. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Though it may not seem as scary as the films around today, Jacob’s Ladder is a psychological horror film that will definitely leave a mark on you. It centres around Vietnam War vet Jacob Singer who, after returning home struggles to maintain his sanity. Plagued by hallucinations and flashbacks, we start to see the slow and steady decline of this man as he tries to make sense of the sick and twisted images that seem to blend with his reality.
Considered by many to have been grossly underrated, this suspenseful and heart-wrenching movie has been influential for many including the creators of the horror franchise Silent Hill, the writer of American Horror Story: Asylum and Shinji Mikami, director of the video game The Evil Within.
9. Suicide Club (2001)
This independent satirical thriller from Japan gained considerable attention on initial release for it’s controversial and gruesome content and eventually developed a large cult following. Meant as a satire on pop culture, the media and the disconnect of modern and digital living, the film tells the story of multiple unexplained and seemingly unconnected suicides that plague Japan and the efforts of the police to uncover the reasons behind the odd behaviour.
Often described as disturbing, graphic and gruesome, this movie can also be a little confusing and may leave you with more questions on the way out then you had going in.
10. Rabid (1977)
The final film on this list of shocking cult movies is the 1977 sci-fi horror Rabid. Directed by David Cronenberg (yes him again), it tells the story of a woman who, after being injured in a motorcycle accident, undergoes a surgical operation that leaves her with an orifice under her armpit. Inside the orifice is a phallic stinger that she uses to feed on people’s blood and leaves them infected by a disease that turns people into rabid monsters. Soon the disease spreads and causes massive chaos and a city-wide epidemic.
With plenty of mesmerizing imagery and disturbing scenes, whether it be an infected surgeon injuring a colleague with a scalpel and attempting to drink their blood or the queasy depictions of sex and nudity throughout, there is no denying this film is bizarre, stomach churning and definitely worth watching.