By Tim Smith
Cult classic confessions? Wow - what a subject! Where
do I begin? So many cult classics, so many genres…do I start with books?
Movies? Music? The mind reels with anticipation.
I suppose the obvious place to begin is with pulp
fiction novels. I grew up reading the works of Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson,
James M. Cain and Micky Spillane, among others who toiled in this genre. When I
was a teen, Spillane was a definite guilty pleasure, the sort of
read-under-the-blanket-with-a-flashlight stuff reserved for adults. Then I
discovered Harold Robbins. Enough said about that.
We have a wonderful used bookstore in town, which I only
visit once a year because I could easily drop a week’s pay. I picked up some vintage
paperbacks, the kind that used to sell for a quarter on rotating wire racks in
the drugstore. The titles alone were lurid enough to tease you into buying them
– “Strip the Town Naked,” “Hitch-hike Hussy,” “Nude in the Mirror,” “Nude in
the Sand” (probably a sequel), “Night of Shame,” “Station Wagon Wives,” “Summer
Resort Women,” and “The Lady is a Lush.” That last one sounds like an old
Sinatra song, doesn’t it?
All of these came out in the late 50’s and early 60’s,
and the writing reflects the era. If there was a woman’s point of view in any
of them, I missed it. Some of the log lines are just as sleazy as the
books—“She showed men the way--the wrong way!” “A man, a woman, and a bottle. A
tale of sexual excess.” “The intimate story of Ruth Gordon, who made a sin
resort out of a fashionable country club.” “Sex and savagery in the advertising
agency jungle!” You get the idea.
Along the way, I became a classic film buff, and
gravitated toward pulp noir B movies of the 40’s and 50’s. Some of them are
among my favorites. In the genre of femme fatale films from this era, one of
the all-time best has to be “Detour,” featuring a couple of unknowns who never
made the big time in Hollywood. Mostly known for its fourteen-day shooting
schedule and sub-zero budget, it’s about a hapless hitchhiker who gets involved
with a scheming blonde, only to become her unwilling slave. She convinces the
guy that he’s responsible for another man’s death, and blackmails him into
doing her bidding. You’ll have to catch this one on the classic film channel to
find out what happens.
Ifound a DVD collection of these types of films from
the 1970’s, called “Drive-in Cult Classics.” These were ultra-cheap flicks that
were typically shown as the third feature at the drive-in, or at college
midnight movie fests. The casts were comprised of C-list actors, the kind that
popped up as supporting players on TV shows, usually in crowd scenes. These
were what we used to call sexploitation movies, the ones that took advantage of
the recently-abolished censorship code, giving moviemakers free reign to put
out just about anything.
The plots are laughable, the dialogue even more so, the
acting isn’t good enough for community theater, and the sex scenes are
ridiculous. One featured an intimate bedroom encounter between a husband and
wife, but the guy never took off his pants or shoes while wriggling atop his
naked spouse. How realistic is that?
And those titles and tag lines! “Pick-up,” “The
Sister-in-law,” “The Teacher,” “The Stepmother,” “Trip with the Teacher,” and
“Malibu High Hookers,” to name a few. Check out these poster teaser lines:
“She destroyed her husband’s brother by the most
immoral act imaginable!”
“She corrupted the youthful morality of an entire
“She forced her husband’s son to commit the ultimate
“This high school senior worked her way through the
An earlier post mentioned the cult classic “Rocky
Horror Picture Show.” A local theater hosts a late evening screening of this
one every year as part of their summer film series. I’ve seen people showing up
in costume and reciting the dialogue along with the actors, so this is no
What did surprise me last year was when we attended a
Sunday afternoon showing of “The Wizard of Oz.” I didn’t expect to see so many kids
dressed in calico dresses, ruby red slippers and pigtails, accompanied by their
mothers decked out as the Wicked Witch of the West, complete with broom.
I guess you can’t define what makes a cult classic and
As I've stated before,my husband and one son are totally into C or even D level sci-fi movies. They prefer to read the good stuff, so husband shops big-time at used book sales, to find compendiums of sci-fi short stories, or books by favorite authors that he hasn't already read.ReplyDelete
But for movies, they both prefer the really awful ones...with paper-thin plots, and scenery mishaps that allow for more making fun of the movie...kind of like Mystery Science Theater.
I'm not a fan of noir stuff because of the misogyny. Yes, I know it was a different time. Yes, I know that's the way things were back then...but having grown up hearing my mom and her sisters complaining about how badly they were treated by the men in their lives, I can't enjoy something that just proves how right they were. My loss, I guess, but one I'm willing to put up with.
I think I see some of the influences on your own fiction, Tim!ReplyDelete
Some of those tag lines had me spitting out my coffee.
In my early teens I somehow came across a Mickey Spillane book--probably at the Hospital Guild thrift shop my mother frequented. That's where I found my much-read copy of The Sheik, as well. But back to Mickey Spillane. All I remember clearly is one line that I treasure still, occurring as a gorgeous woman suspect opened her trench coat to reveal that she was nude underneath it. Mickey's observation? "She was a real blonde."ReplyDelete
Lisabet, you nailed my biggest writing influence. When I read those pulp fiction private eye classics by Chandler et al, I knew I wanted to write my own. Maybe one day I will.ReplyDelete
Sacchi, that line came from Spillane's first Mike Hammer novel "I, the Jury." Considering that it was published in the late 1940s, one can understand why his books were so controversial for their time.
Those tag lines are hilarious. Years ago, when Kathleen Bradean was posting here at the Grip, we took turns imitating (or caricaturing) famous writers. Kathleen did a fabulous Raymond Chandler. (That post is probably somewhere in the crypt here.)ReplyDelete
I should probably have said, more famous writers -- in our opinion. Many of them dead.Delete