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Living : Culture

Late Night TV, The Force & Cult Films

Mr Porter UK

Words Sonny Syah, Editor, Privilege of Legends

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." (Photo courtesy Lucasfilm/TNS)

Well, the good news for the multitude of eager Jedi enthusiasts and their galactic ilk is the wait is finally over. Those anxious moments spent out front of cinema houses in Boba Fett sleeping bags has come to an untimely end. And alas, thanks to Disneyʼs $4.05 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm, the force has awoken again.

With the resurgence of the towering monolith that is the Star Wars franchise, comes with it the question of what in essence defines the cult film. Some would argue that the term does not extend to include box office hits or mainstream cinema. Others would even go so far as to accuse the Hollywood machine of trying to artificially create the ʻinstant cult classicʼ or use the term as a marketing tool. But try telling that to the devoted mass of loyalists and collectors that have morphed a subculture the size of a G10 country. In light of this recent intergalactic phenomenon we take a brief look at the rise of the often recited, frequently discussed and obsessively viewed cult film.

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John Boyega (Finn) in the new ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’

When referring to cinema, the term finds itʼs roots early on in the 20th century. But it wasnʼt really until the 70ʼs that the definition of the cult film as we know it today came about with independent, underground and B-grade movies… the likes of which every other decade pales to in comparison. Such all-encompassing films that included science fiction (ʻThe Man Who Fell To Earthʼ, ʻMad Maxʼ, ʻEraserheadʼ), horror (ʻDawn Of The Deadʼ, ʻThe Texas Chainsaw Massacreʼ, ʻThe Wicker Manʼ), to musicals, action and the coming-of-age film (ʻThe Rocky Horror Picture Showʼ, ʻThe Warriorsʼ, ʻHarold And Maudeʼ).

Some have initially bombed on release only to amass a significant fanbase in later years, with new generations rediscovering them on late night television or digitally restored releases. Such films as ʻKiss Me Deadlyʼ (1955), ʻCarnival Of Soulsʼ (1962) and ʻWhite Dogʼ (1982) have each attained cult status after falling short at the box office. A select few- like the ʻStar Warsʼ franchise, have even gone so far as to necessitate their own film festivals and subcultures. There is also of course those directors and filmmakers that assemble a cult following when anything is released under their name. In some cases the names Stanley Kubrick, Dario Argento, Sergio Leone and Quentin Tarantino on a film poster is enough to lure an audience.

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Anthony Michael Hall, Kelly Le Brock and Ilan Mitchell Smith in 80’s classic, ‘Weird Science’

But whatʼs a list of cinemaʼs cult inclusions without that quirky, left-of-field decade of the 80ʼs? Who could forget such frightful gems as ʻEvil Deadʼ (1981), ʻScannersʼ (1981) or ʻRe- Animatorʼ (1985)? Mind-warping science fiction like ʻAltered Statesʼ (1980), ʻBlade Runnerʼ (1982) or ʻRepo Manʼ (1984)? Or teen targeted classics like ʻFast Times At Ridgemont Highʼ (1982), ʻWeird Scienceʼ (1985) or ʻThe Breakfast Clubʼ (1985)? In fact, anti-establishment filmmakers like Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz gained most of their notoriety in the 80ʼs with cult films like ʻThe Toxic Avengerʼ (1984) and ʻClass of Nuke ʻEm Highʼ (1986), that made the Troma Entertainment name synonymous with cult movies.

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David Bowie in ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’

Nowadays, with the inclusion of the internet and social media the walls that once restricted the reach of entertainment to a wider audience have all but toppled… and the definition of cult cinema is reinventing itself all over again. In the near future- or a galaxy not too far away, such defining factors as censorship, social taboos, politics and financial backing will shape the landscape for cult cinema and itʼs loyalists.

By Oliver Grand

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