Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Admit it -- you like this stuff!

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 school.”

“She forced her husband’s son to commit the ultimate sin!”

“This high school senior worked her way through the faculty lounge.”

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 longer surprising.

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 what doesn’t. 



  1. 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.

    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.

  2. I think I see some of the influences on your own fiction, Tim!

    Some of those tag lines had me spitting out my coffee.

  3. 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."

  4. 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.

    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.

  5. 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.)

    1. I should probably have said, more famous writers -- in our opinion. Many of them dead.


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