Pass the Kool-Aid: Five Flicks That Aspired To Cult Status

Pass the Kool-Aid: Five Flicks That Aspired To Cult Status (photo)

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The trailer for this week’s “Repo! The Genetic Opera” announces itself, via a quote from Fearnet editor Joseph McCabe, as “an instant cult classic!” With that idea in mind, distributor Lionsgate is forgoing the industry standard 3,000-screen release and taking “Repo!” on tour as a roadshow (“It’s not just a film,” the official website boasts, “it’s an event!”). Some cultists have already bought in; at “Repo!”‘s U.S. premiere at September’s Fantastic Fest, at least a dozen people showed up dressed as characters to the movie, even though they hadn’t even seen it yet. Terrance Zdunich, one of the stars and co-writers of the film said, “It’s already becoming a “Rocky Horror” experience and we hope it continues in that vein.”

The phrase “instant cult classic,” though, is something of an oxymoron. By definition, a cult film has to first be passed over by the mainstream before a smaller band of passionate fans can obsess over it. Before “Eraserhead” could become a cult film, it had to sustain a disastrous premiere (which as chronicled in J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum’s book “Midnight Movies,” resulted in a Variety review that called the film “nonsensical” and “sickening”). Eventually it was seen — and then nurtured — by independent distributor Ben Barenholtz, who is quoted in “Midnight Movies” saying, “Some people think you can create a cult film, which is nonsense.”

That hasn’t stopped some filmmakers from trying. “Repo!” is just the latest of example of a film with cult success as its ultimate goal. These movies, good or bad, are always interesting, because if you are courting a cult, you are, to a degree, courting failure, since that’s the place cults rise from. You are consigning your film to the cultural margins, not to mention the financial margins (though the people who make these films always seem surprised when they don’t make a lot of money).

Before you see “Repo!” (at midnight, no doubt), here are five other movies that have also attempted to become “instant cult classics” with varying degrees of success.

11062008_snakesonaplace.jpgSnakes on a Plane (2006)
Directed by David R. Ellis

After 30 Hollywood studios turned down a script inspired by a story about Indonesian brown tree snakes climbing onto planes during World War II initially titled “Venom,” the project eventually coalesced around star Samuel L. Jackson, who was sold on the project when it was pitched to him with four words: snakes, on, a, plane. During the initial stages of post-production, “Snakes”‘ distributor New Line kept trying to iron out the film’s quirkier elements, retitled it for a time the innocuous sounding “Pacific Air Flight 121” and cut down the more adult elements to achieve a PG-13 rating. Then word of the project and that brilliantly stupid title started to hit the Internet and became a sensation; ordinary people with no affiliation to the picture began creating loving odes to the project on blogs or YouTube. Sensing the chance to create a cult hit, New Line reversed itself, added in more gore (like a snake jumping out of a toilet to bite a guy on his johnson), nudity (like a snake jumping out of a toilet to bite a guy on his johnson) and profanity (like the things a guy says when a snake jumps out of a toilet to bite him on the johnson). They even treated “SOAP” fans as unpaid screenwriters and began incorporating their ideas into reshoots designed to beef up the movie’s R-rated credentials, including Jackson’s signature line, “I have had it with these muthafuckin’ snakes on this muthafuckin’ plane!” Though all the hoopla added to public awareness for the picture, it didn’t translate at the box office, where the film took in $34 million on a $33 million budget before its extensive marketing was added to the equation. New Line sold the movie as a piece of dumb trash then seemed shocked to discover that people tend to avoid movies that they perceive to be dumb trash. In retrospect, it’s clear that a lot of this “Internet cult” wasn’t really excited to see “Snakes on a Plane,” they just enjoyed fooling the Hollywood machine into thinking they were.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.