Cult films and horror go hand-in-hand. The gory violence, lurid sexual overtones, and disturbing psychological themes tend to be just a bit too much for the typical movie-goer. Since horror's earliest days, films have had to battle for their fair share of attention. These horrifying cult movies have traumatized viewers, entranced gore lovers, and fascinated those with the guts to see them through.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Championed by no less than John Waters and Quentin Tarantino, this violent exploitation movie made a permanent mark on the thriller and horror world. Varla, Rosie, and Billie are go-go dancers, but are looking for more excitement. When they get out of work, they race sports cars in the desert. After Varla kills a man while racing, they kidnap the victim's girlfriend. The trio embark on a chaotic adventure as they attempt to swindle a fortune from a wheelchair-bound old man and his brain-damaged son.
Night of the Living Dead
George Romero’s first film set the standard for the modern zombie flick. In a rural Pennsylvania town, Barbra and Johnny Blair encounter a zombie staggering through a cemetery. The zombie kills Johnny, while Barbra barely escapes with her life. She takes shelter in the cellar of a nearby farmhouse, where she soon meets Ben and a handful of other survivors. Together, they fortify the house against advancing horde. Do they have what it takes to stop the monstrous forces at their door?
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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
So violent that even the toned-down version was banned by many countries upon its release, this bloody cannibal film has since become one of horror's most beloved cult movies. Sally Hardesty, her brother, and three of their friends set out to visit the grave of Sally's grandfather’s and the old Hardesty family farm. They want to ensure that the grave hasn’t been vandalized. What they find, however, is far worse than a little damage to a headstone. Nearby is a twisted clan and one deranged killer who wears a mask made out of human skin. His preferred murder weapon is a chainsaw, and he’s determined to hack Sally and all of her friends to pieces.
Six strangers find themselves trapped inside a lethal maze of interconnected chambers. Is there a way out of this horror puzzle complex? Or do all paths lead to death? Cube’s claustrophobia and gory torture traps will delight those who like flicks that mess with your head.
David Lynch’s first film is one of his weirdest–and that's saying a lot. Henry lives in a dirty apartment in a rundown industrial area. When his girlfriend, Mary X, gives birth to their child, the couple marry and move in together. But the child isn’t an ordinary baby. It has a reptilian face, refuses to eat, and never stops screaming. Mary loses it and leaves Henry to take care of the child who is now covered in painful sores and can barely breathe. Things only get stranger from here.
The first of Dario Argento’s “The Three Mothers” trilogy, Suspiria follows Suzy, a ballerina from New York. She has just arrived in Germany to attend a prestigious dance academy, but no one will let her inside. Once she manages to find her way in, Suzy discovers a twisted, dangerous world. Suspiria’s over-the-top gross-outs, color saturation, and violence made it all a bit much for the average viewer. But for horror aficionados? It’s among the best of the bunch. Suspiria's hotly anticipated remake is slated for release in October 2018.
You could make a list of killer cult movies entirely out of David Cronenberg's films. From Shivers and The Brood to Videodrome, the Canadian body horror auteur has conjured a number of visceral visions that go on to inspire a rabid fanbase. Rabid focuses on a woman who suffers one serious post-surgery side effect: an orifice opens up under her armpit, and a stinger protrudes from it. She begins preying upon others and drinking their blood with her new appendage. but her victims transform into rabid zombies, who in turn infect others, triggering bloody chaos.
The Evil Dead
Only able to achieve mainstream distribution after an early, gushing review from Stephen King, The Evil Dead is now the progenitor of a major franchise, including a TV show and a surprisingly great reboot film. Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) and four of his friends from Michigan State take a trip to a cabin in the woods. Their vacation gets off to a bad start when they’re nearly hit by a truck and must cross a bridge that’s beginning to collapse. Things only get worse from there. In the cabin, unusual things start to happen. A voice in the shadows whispers, “join us.” A trapdoor flies open. One by one, the friends are possessed by an ancient evil within the house, and Ash is forced to choose between saving his own life and attempting to save his friends’ eternal souls.
Double down on the cultishness with a cult classic inspired by cult classic author, H.P. Lovecraft. Re-Animator, a loose adaptation of Lovecraft’s Herbert West–Reanimator, is the story of Herbert West, a medical student who finds a way to bring corpses back to life. His discovery is not without its problems–the method has horrific side effects. West’s subjects return to life in a deranged, zombie-like state. When Dr. Carl Hill attempts to steal West’s discovery, he becomes obsessed with the reanimation. Soon, Dr. Hill himself has been brought back from the dead and becomes the treacherous leader of the living dead.
Watching this high school horror/satire is a rite of passage for a certain type of teen. But even if you missed watching Heathers during your younger years, it’s still a shocking flick worth watching. With a quotable admonishment involving chainsaws and an explosive finale, this movie more than earns its status as a cult movie.
Ray Nelson’s “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” short story comes to life in They Live. A drifter is warned that his world is shaped by dangerous conspiracies, and when he finds an unusual pair of sunglasses, he finally sees the truth—literally. The glasses show a hidden reality in which the media and the government conspire to keep the masses pacified. Aliens roam the streets in this film written by John Carpenter, working under the name Frank Armitage.
When Jacob Singer returns home from Vietnam, he discovers a world filled with strange visions: some of which seem to be of his past, while others are of horrific creatures. Soon, it becomes clear that Jacob isn't the only one affected by the visions–and that they can't be explained away by "simple" PSTD.
Sleepaway Camp is packed with just about everything you could want out of an 80s slasher flick: it’s twisted, grisly, and at times ridiculously campy. Yet this cult film endures for one simple reason: it possesses of the most shocking twist endings in horror movie history. If you haven't yet seen it, get ready for one of the most unforgettable plot twists of all time.
Featured still from "Jacob's Ladder" via Carlco Pictures