What makes a cult film
Recently I saw the latest work of so called ‘Cult’ director Edgar Wright; Baby Driver. Hugely enjoyable, a film that showed much verve and panache and written about by some as Wright’s latest cult offering. Now, this director has form. Even IMDb refers to his oeuvre as a three-flavoured cornetto trilogy – and at the time of their release they were talked about using the ‘C’ word. Having spent his formative years working in British TV comedy His 2004 debut, Shaun of the Dead, was hailed as a great British film comedy. It didn’t make me laugh. Hot Fuzz, three years later seemed to reach the hearts of young and old employing the same suite of talent and the third colourful flavour, The World’s End, released in 2013 did less well and I think had no claim to have been a cult movie. When I mention these films to the millennials I know they all, however, hail then as cult movies.
So, is Wright a genuine cult director and if so, how come? Funnily enough, I think his latest offering has more originality and directorial surety than any of his other films and I can imagine it being awarded the ‘c’ word in good time. Yet, Wright reminds me a little of another British director who made a cult movie, Alex Cox. Repo Man, his low-budget debut made in 1984 and well worth a watch on a wet and windy night in front of the TV was followed two years later by Sid and Nancy which could be argued became a cult film too. He had made in that same year a risible ‘B’ exploitation movie, Straight to Hell, which helped mark him out as the Enfant Terrible of British talent cutting their cloth in the seedier side of Hollywood, but his career as a movie director floundered. Cox subsequently became an almost establishment figure with his own TV film programme and as an observer of film culture he had much to contribute.
I am sure we all have our own list of favoured cult directors and films; the more obscure, the greater one’s cineaste credentials. I am not going to reveal mine, but I do wonder what credentials are needed for both the creator and the created. Does the Coen Brothers’ 1984 debut, Blood Simple, remain a cult film or just a classic in the gore genre? Is it a pre-condition that to become cult the film has to be a debut? Another favourite in the gore-fest genre although in reality not that gory, is the hugely influential The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, directed by Tobe Hooper a decade earlier. Not in the strictest sense a debut. He had made an experimental film, Eggshells, in the late sixties which I was lucky to see when a student at the London film School. Of its time, a hippy political polemic I remember that caused much debate amongst the WRP (Workers Revolutionary Party) members at the school at the time! But, it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which cemented Hooper’s reputation and influence as a cult director.
And if not always debut, are cult films by their very nature low-budget too? A film that demonstrated the genius and talent of Steven Spielberg made in 1971 was the TV movie Dual. Again, a film worth finding on DVD or streaming. I am finding it hard to include in my list of cult films and/or cult directors anything that cost a lot of money to make. Also, thinking now just in the English language, is there something intrinsic about a British cult movie as opposed to an American one? Could a Brit ever have made Daniel Myrick’s 1999 debut, Blair Witch Project, a film, made fo next to nothing that re-wrote the language of cinema using consumer cameras and the faux-documentary narrative of found footage? Could there be a more British cult movie than Withnail and I, the 1987 debut by Bruce Robinson? Answers on a postcard please.