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August 29, 2010

The Mike's Top Five Most Essential Cult Films of the 1970s!

By my accounts, which may be muddled, I've watched at least 14 "cult" films from the 1970s since starting FMWL's '70s Cult Project two weeks ago.  At that time, I had a list of five films that I would list here set up in my mind.  Well, maybe it was a list of about 10-12 films, but there were definitely a few I was certain would be on this list.  Now, Some of those movies are now not on this list.  So, I'm gonna pull my host card out, and give you all a quick look at a few honorable mentions (in alphabetical order, as i do not want to make them mad at each other):

Assault On Precinct 13 - John Carpenter's sophomore film has long been one of my favorite action films of all-time, and few antiheroes compare to Napoleon Wilson in my eyes.
Enter the Dragon - It was extremely hard to leave Bruce Lee of my list.  Alas, it wasn't meant to be.
Shaft - This one almost got in on reputation.  Haven't seen it in several years, sadly.  Need widescreen DVD, stat!
Soylent Green - Everyone knows the ending, but it's one of my favorite "future's gone down the drain" films.  The suicide clinic scenes are some of the most beautiful things on film.
Suspiria - This, along with the next film I'm going to mention, was the hardest film to leave off of my list.  Argento's masterpiece has a rabid following, and doesn't seem to have aged much.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre - This is probably the film that most deserves to make my Top Five based on its reputation, and that rep is well deserved.
Zombie - Fulci's film is perhaps my favorite exhibition of gore, and has a lot of followers, thanks in part to the infamous zombie vs. shark scene.

I had a lot of trouble leaving these films behind, but the five films I'm about to list left me no doubt.  With no further dilly-dallying, these are the five most essential cult films of the 1970s according to your host, The Mike.
5. The Wicker Man (1972, Dir. by Robin Hardy)

Despite its fine cast and fantastic gutpunch ending, The Wicker Man is a film that was doomed to never succeed with mainstream audiences (Just ask Neil LaBute.  Or don't, since I doubt he ever saw this movie).  But The Wicker Man has held a place in the hearts of many a film fan for nearly 40 years, thanks to the fine work of Hardy, writer Anthony Shaffer, and the strong performances of Edward Woodward and Chrisopher Lee, among others.  It also boasts plenty of significant imagery, including the titular Man, Britt Ekland's bum, and Christopher Lee's crazy hair.

What really gets The Wicker Man a place in my heart is its unflinching look at religion and the occasional closed-mindedness that comes with.  Woodward's Sergeant Howie is one of the most fascinating characters of the decade to me, because one could argue him as a protagonist or antagonist based on his beliefs.  That's another story for another day, for now I'm just gonna say that The Wicker Man is an essential view for any fan of cult cinema.


4. Vanishing Point (1971, Dir. by Richard C. Sarafian.)

When I devised this project, I had Vanishing Point on my mind.  That's pretty common for me, and I was set to name it as my pick for #1 on my list.  Though I ended up bumping it down a bit, I certainly believe that Vanishing Point is the finest existential car chase movie out there, presenting a simple hero who just wants to get across the southwest in a 1970 Dodge Challenger. That hero, Kowalski (played by Barry Newman), seems to be an enlightened soul whose only goal is to drive.  To drive freely and without interference, I might add.

Vanishing Point plays off of the social climate of the early decade, presenting Kowalski as a representation of the quest to be free from repression that spilled out of the late '60s.  It also features some of the best car chase scenes put on film (the whole film is basically one long car chase), a groovy soundtrack, and one of the most famous cars ever put on screen.  Many expect a film like this to bring thrills, but Vanishing Point has always hit me as a peaceful and serene example of what many filmmakers from this era believed about the world we live in.

3. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975, Dir. by Jim Sharman.)

There was no way I could make this list and not mention The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which a majority would argue is the biggest cult movie of all-time.  It's a polarizing film in many circles - most lists I've seen it on have it listed as number one or have not listed at all - but its cultural significance can't be doubted.

Personally, I've never been a card carrying member of the Rocky Horror cult, but my admiration for the film and its unrelenting madness has grown each time I've seen it. (However, I do still wish there was more Meat Loaf.)  Tim Curry's gender-bending lead performance is one of the bravest in cult cinema, and the supporting players each seem to lap up their juicy roles.  The music needs no defense, it's simply fantastic.  With the combination of its own merits and the fans who love it, I didn't dare think of leaving The Rocky Horror Picture Show off of this list.

2. The Warriors (1979, Dir. by Walter Hill.)

If anyone is ever having a debate that hopes to find the "coolest" movie of all-time, I'd have a hard time not mentioning The Warriors.  Walter Hill's gangs-facing-a-gauntlet epic is one of the most unique films I've ever seen, creating a real world scenario that involves leagues of surreal characters battling for survival.

A film that seems like a precursor to the video games of the future, in which a hero (or group of heroes) faces a series of increasingly difficult battles to reach a safe objective, The Warriors is always exciting and full of intrigue.  Like Vanishing Point, it's almost existential as it focuses on its characters facing all challenges only to reach their freedom (and, like Vanishing Point, features a seemingly omniscient disc jockey who guides our hero/heroes).  Though these characters may be villains in society's eyes, they most certainly are simply trying to survive the only way they can - which is a common theme for all of these films, actually.

1. Death Race 2000 (1975, Dir. by Paul Bartel.)

When it came down to it, with the game on the line, I had to pick the cult movie that I personally find to be the most fun to watch as my number one pick on this list.  That film, without question, is the Roger Corman produced killers with cars film, Death Race 2000.  Led by David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone, who are supported by cult favorites like Mary Woronov, "The Real" Don Steele, and Roberta Collins; Death Race 2000 is the perfect combination of action, gore, babes, laughs, and cheese.

And yet, inside Death Race 2000 there's a shocking bit of truth about our society and the future, in which "reality" overtakes our TV sets - and also our minds.  Though we don't live in a society where events like these actually do occur, it's easy to look at today's society and wonder if we're almost to the point where something like Death Race 2000 could play out 25 years from now.  And when I put all those pieces together, I can't think of a better, more relevant, and more fun cult movie from the '70s that's out there.

So, there it is.  FMWL's '70s Cult Project is coming to a close, which means my list and all of the lists submitted by you readers will soon be tallied up to create one final list of the Most Essential Cult Films of the 1970s as chosen by us all.  If you still want to join in, get a list posted or emailed to me by 8 PM Central tomorrow (Monday, 8/30)!  In the meantime, thanks for reading, and I can't wait to see what all you Midnight Warriors have in store for us tomorrow night!

9 comments:

Trick or Treat Pete said...

I love Soylent Green!! Women are furniture, sanctioned suicide, recycling the dead....
"It's PEOPLE!!!!"
The original Assault on Precinct 13, very cool flick...Kim Richards just wanted her ice cream for cripes sake!
Dreaded Dreams
Petunia Scareum

Fred [The Wolf] said...

Great, great, great picks. VANISHING POINT...wow, haven't seen that film in forever. Awesome choice! Really enjoyed the list!

Stacia said...

I'm sad I missed this in real time, but am glad to be catching up. I'm jealous of that list: I have all five of those films but thus far have only seen two. Shame engulfs me.

Liam [Less Than Three Film] said...

Awesome list! I have Death Race 2000 waiting to be watched, so I'll hopefully get that done soon.

Interested to see how the final list pans out

Morgan said...

Great list! My mother "forced" me to watch Soylent Green when I was younger. Scared the crap of me, but I love so much more for it.

The Warriors is one of the coolest movies ever made and I feel so cool every time I watch it. I know I'm going to lose film cred for this, but I have not seen Vanishing Point. I think by reading your list that I should definitely check it out now.

This was a fun project! Thanks for letting us all be apart of it!

TheGirlWhoLovesHorror said...

The only one I've seen is Rocky Horror! I would have joined in on the project, but I'm obviously way behind on 70s films. Guess I have few more to add to my Netflix queue.

Emily C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily C said...

Great picks!!! The Wicker Man almost made my list- in fact I took it off at the last second- leaving instead The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Suspiria. I really have to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Warriors again, as I've only seen each once, and so I did not feel that I knew them well enough to put on my own list! I have long had Vanishing Point and Death Race 2000 on my "to watch" list, so I think I'm gonna bump them up the queue :)

Nick Cato said...

I saw THE WARRIORS last Friday (9/27) here in NYC at midnight and MAN did we have a blast. There's been somewhat of a midnight movie resurgence here in the big city: in the past year I've seen EL TOPO, PINK FLAMINGOS, and THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, that last which looked beyond amazing on the big screen. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE in 2 weeks!