I’m going to attempt to define cult movies right now. I think it all comes down to a connection. A connection that we as the audience feel to other members of the audience. These weird and unknown movies that came out, movies that received little exposure, were small in scope and budget. They got bad ratings, or never got ratings. They played at only a handful of theaters, or more likely no theaters at all. Then they vanished. Having no media department, no money to push them onto a larger stage, and a lot of time- no talent behind the films, it was only a matter of time until the movies would be forgotten about. But they weren’t.
The movies lived on because of the growth in cultural taste for historical documents. Plus, there are people out there, critics, for every different genre, niche, exploit and craft. Because something doesn’t have mainstream appeal is a turn on for critics such as me. I love me some mainstream art films, sure. I love Stanley Kubrick, I love Akira Kurosawa. But what I love perhaps more than either of those is the feeling I get when I discover someone who isn’t widely known, and yet I see them as a master-artist as well. It’s a feeling of satisfaction, and it’s a feeling of discovery.
When people delve into the realm of bad movies, they expect to see a certain thing. They expect to see bad lighting, bad acting, poor special effects, and they often expect to see storylines and plots that are undeveloped, dropped, unclear, and very threadbare. What creates a cult film is when these things align in such a way where despite all these things that the film is “lacking”, the entertainment of watching the car-crash of a film is still high.
It creates a sort of link between the audience. Since this is still not at a mainstream level, audiences can connect with each other because of their shared mutual interest in these types of films. Sure, you could be really into skiing, you could love a good craft beer, you could enjoy ancient Egyptian artwork. These things could direct you towards groups of people who are similar to you. But when you love an obscure 1983 movie that only about 100 people in the world know exists, you have a closer, more intimate feeling between you. In the world we live in, it's all about connection. What connects us, what makes us tick.
When you see an unknown of movie, when you "discover" it, and then you find someone else who knows it too, you get that sense that you two are somehow linked. You tell your story of how you "found out about" this movie. You share your interpretations of it. That's the appeal of cult film. Which is why the term cult. A cult is a tight grouping of people with similar interests, and those interests are usually against the mainstream. Enjoying bizarre movies is not as extreme as some things, sure. But it's just another way of telling the world, "I'm different. I like this cast off, shunned part of your world. This is my identity."
To me, the idea is to segregate yourself. It's to put yourself on a level - not above or below, just a different level. You join a smaller herd. Perhaps you really like pre-1999 Korean drama films. Perhaps you only watch slashers from the 80's, but you stay away form the big ones like Halloween and Friday the 13th. Or like me, perhaps you watch a little bit of everything, and embrace the whole world of cult. Does that make me not a cultist? If I'm trying to align myself with every small herd, doesn't that mean I want to be part of a big herd? Or does it just mean I'm indecisive?
For me, I never wanted to be "Part" of something. I never did this as a social experiment, I never hung out with the sci-fi art movie nerds or anything. I just loved movies. And that's what it all comes down to in the end. In the end we're all just movie nerds, talking about the loves of our lives, 90 or so minute escapes from reality. We will always be looking, researching, watching, talking about movies. Because that's what we do. We watch movies. Be they "bad" or "good", they all deserve to be watched. They all deserve to have someone know about them. They all deserve to be part of some small cult. Well, almost all. Not "It's Alive". Fuck that movie.