Schlocked and Loaded #1 – An Introduction

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Welcome to Schlocked and Loaded! This series is gonna take a educational (albeit pretty subjective) look at famous cult movies, both the old and the new, and talk about how on earth they managed to catch the following that they did.

First off, let’s define our terms; it can be difficult to pinpoint what exactly qualifies as a cult movie. Nobody’s gonna argue that Blazing Saddles is a comedy, or that The Matrix is sci-fi, or that The Last Airbender is a tragedy. Badum-tsssh. But “cult” can’t really be a genre like the others when it covers such massive territory. You’ve got surreal horror flicks like Eraserhead tucked in with campy rock musicals like Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Heck, I’ve heard arguments that Citizen Kane is a cult classic. So, what the heck warrants a cult?

el topo

The term “cult film” has been around since 1970, when it was used to describe El Topo by Alejandro Jodorowsky. El Topo is an absurd and violent, Mexican western. Its release was originally limited to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where it was screened privately. Plenty of folks in the audience walked out partway through, but a local theater owner named Ben Barenholtz ate the thing up. He did midnight screenings of El Topo at the Elgin seven days a week, hoping the late slot would be ideal for making the viewers really think. These daily screenings would consistently sell out for the five months it stayed at the theater.

 el topo 2

El Topo had a bizarrely polarizing reception, which is fitting for such a bizarre movie. It stars a wandering man who fights to become the best gunslinger in the world so that an ex-slave woman he freed will love him. But his crazy gender-bending spirit oracle steals his woman and shoots him, so he’s picked up by a bunch of inbred mutants who think he’s a god, then he gets high off beetles and destroys America. Did you expect any less from the flagship of a movement that glorifies the insane?

Gary Arnold of the Washington Post called El Topo sickening, which makes sense given the mutilation and deformities. Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune called it boring, which makes me afraid for what it takes to pique his interest. Most critics and audiences gave the film the shaft, but it attracted big name fans in Allen Klein, the manager for the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, and John Lennon. Together they pitched in enough money and buzz for El Topo to make a theatrical tour around the States. Until it finally hit DVD in 2007, midnight showings were really the only way to see this masterpiece of terrifying nonsense. You had to visit a theater that had the reel, and particular audiences would do so reverently, almost religiously. You could almost say it was a cult.

 Rocky-horror

We’ll get a little deeper into the allure of El Topo in a future episode, but for now let’s zoom back out to the bigger picture. What makes a cult film a cult film? The most common definition is that must have been unpopular when it was first released, whether that’s chalked up to bad reviews or no reviews at all. The film then gets noticed and celebrated by a tiny but passionate viewer base, and the rest is history. The fans may show their devotion to a particular movie by memorizing the whole script, or by crafting call-and-response interactions, or by dressing up like the characters. Before you know it, a silly little movie has become a subculture.

Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s get the ball rolling. We’ll buckle down and look at some great cult films, from underrated works of genius to travesties that were just too funny to stay dead. Get ready to stand up and testify, because next time we’ll be covering REPO! The Genetic Opera!

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FairyGodmoose (12 Posts)

Hey folks, I'm FairyGodmoose (Figgy for short)! I gravitate toward cult films, kids shows, and a whole mess of whatnot in-between.