of the term "cult film" has been around for some time now, but it
still seems difficult to ascertain a true definition. Cult, it would seem, is
in the eye of the beholder; it is not easily described, but you know a cult
film when you see it. This series of slim volumes (around 100 pages each) from
Wallflower Press sees a variety of writers and academics wrestle their own
personal cult film demons as they give analysis, behind-the-scenes tidbits and
biographical details of all the major players concerned.
of their latest books are on Frankenstein (1931) and Faster,
Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). Robert Horton successfully argues that
although the original Frankenstein was such a mainstream hit that one
may not consider that it qualifies as part of a cult series, it has become a
cult in the manner of a religion, through its hundreds of sequels and the
iconography that has arisen. The face of Frankenstein's monster, as played by
Boris Karloff, is one of the most recognisable images of the twentieth century.
From model kits to sweets dispensers, thanks to endless sequels and the repeats
of Universal horrors on TV throughout the fifties and sixties, Frankenstein
provided the monster that kids most empathised with. Boris Karloff became an
elder statesman of horror and was hugely loved and respected in the sixties,
because despite his many other roles over the years, it was the monster
stitched from reclaimed corpses that people remembered with the most fondness.
manages to avoid this book simply being a rehash of the same old material we
have read elsewhere, and he points out in great detail Frankenstein's
ability to still shock today, thanks not only to Karloff's performance but also
to James Whale's inventive and mischievous direction. The film may be over
eighty years old but this does not mean it cannot still be frightening.
Horton is tackling a series of films, and as he argues, a "cult" in
itself, Dean De Fino is taking on what could initially seem an easier task: one
single film by noted smut-peddler Russ Meyer. However Faster Pussycat! Kill!
Kill! is no ordinary film. Made relatively early in Meyer's career, it
marks his move away from "nudie-cuties" and "roughies" into
something new. Although the film borrows freely from other genres (beach party,
biker flick, drag race, juvenile delinquent), he seems to create something
entirely different. From the jazz-infused opening sequence to the improbably
large bosoms of his female cast, Meyer's film is a fever dream that grind-house
fans and art-house enthusiasts can both appreciate.
book is again a mixture of biographical information, behind-the-scenes gossip
and analysis, and each element is equally fascinating to read. Using such
sources as Russ Meyer's own autobiography and other reminiscences the story
behind the making of the scene makes for as entertaining a tale as what ended
up on the screen. He allegedly allowed for no fraternisation between cast and
crew members in order to ensure that all the sexual tension was up on screen (this
was later used as a plot device in Meyer-fan John Waters' Cecil B. DeMented
(2000)). Russ Meyer allegedly allowed this rule to be broken only once in his
entire career, and that was to allow Tura Satana secret trysts with a crew
member. Even he could not say no to her. Satana plays Varla, the leader of a
vicious gang of go-go dancers, and her performance is terrifying. Men are not
safe when she is around. Tura Satana's own history is incredible, and sadly her
recent death has left her memoirs so far unpublished. According to De Fino she
was gang-raped and sent to reform school at 10 and married off to a 17-year old
at 13. She ran away and was posing nude for Harold Lloyd and working as a
stripper by the age of 15, and by 25 she was teaching Shirley MacLaine
burlesque and had slept with Elvis. And then she met Russ Meyer. If ever two
people were destined to work together and form a life-long friendship, it was
Fino makes connections from the film to the cultural and political unrest in
1965. He posits that Meyer was playing out issues from the civil rights and
sexual revolution right there in the dust Mojave Desert. This interpretation
backs up the argument that Meyer infused his films with political relevance,
and explains why his films have survived to be hailed as worthy of serious
attention whilst many of his erotic contemporaries have been forgotten.
books on other cult titles such as This is Spinal Tap (1984), Bring
Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) and Quadraphenia (1979), the
Cultographies series is an excellent way to become conversant in the cult film
of your choice.