Clarification... or Dead-Horse Beating... You Decide, but I'm Shooting the Horse Before It Turns Zombie on Us...

The other day, I went off quite wildly over my frustration at a would-be zombie comedy in the Western vein, Undead or Alive. My disappointment was couched mainly in terms of the film most likely becoming some form of cult film despite not really being worthy of gathering a regular, loyal audience, either by intent or execution. I appreciate that someone out there cares enough to bring a genuinely wacky idea to the movie-going public. It would just be nice if that someone cared enough to make it genuinely entertaining too, if not at least halfway into that territory known as "good."

It used to be that cult films -- or midnight movies or whatever you prefer to call them -- it used to be they had to earn their stripes. Good or bad, they at least had to bring something truly bizarre, often forbidden, and sometimes surreal to the audience. Many times they would be specific genre entries just barely stylized enough to separate in a minor way but uniquely from their precursors. The best of the lot presented entirely strange, foreign worlds that their mostly fortunate viewers would never forget. Many times these films would overtake the very dreams of their viewers. These were the films that I cherished. The ones that did not let you go. If I seem harsh on the current batch of would-be contenders to the Crown of Cult, it's because I remember what these films used to be like.

Eraserhead, El Topo, Pink Flamingos, even the by-now overseen Rocky Horror Picture Show... good or bad, all of these were so out-of-left-field for their times, and often so bewildering for any time, it is easy to see what brought their devoted bands of outcasts and weirdos to the theatres night after night. The schlock horror flicks that grabbed their loyal factions: the ones I like or at least appreciate, such as Spider Baby, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Last House on the Left and the Hammer films, and the ones I don't, like Bloodsucking Freaks or most of Jesus Franco's list (I make special exceptions for his films with the gorgeous Soledad Miranda, Spanish girl of my dreams). The silent cult (of which I claim membership, especially Keaton and Murnau), that continues to dream of when the only words appeared on title cards (an art in itself, it turns out; it's something you will only learn if you learn to read, modern citizenry). Indifferent to them or otherwise, what I don't deny them is that I understand how they gained such loyalty, and I recognize the uniqueness of even the ones that I dislike.

And then there are the filmmaker cults: Hitchcock, Lang, the Archers, Dreyer, Godard... It's hard to truly discern what makes an individual filmmaker invoke such loyalty from an audience. The answers are as disparate as the styles of the filmmakers themselves. What makes me swear devotion to anything Wes Anderson does, even if I, like many others, have begun to sense that he is beginning to unravel before our eyes? Or is his artistic vision meant to convey this sense, even if he really is not unraveling? Maybe we are the ones that are unraveling, and his films have actually remained constant. Whichever way I take it, I doubt I will ever miss one of his films, and I will return to Rushmore especially -- one of the few films of the past two decades truly deserving of a devoted cult following -- for the rest of my life, unraveling or not.

Even if you are a cult filmmaker, or a filmmaker with a cult following, you still cannot purposefully make a cult picture. The audience has to come to you. They have to either by instinct or accident (do truly bizarre, special films give off pheromones?) discover your film, and then your film has to follow through on the exotic promise they are sensing for a cult film to be born.

The problem today is that too many people -- given the instant pulse that the preponderance of media has borne in us -- are trying too hard to create cult films. My pal The Working Dead mentioned in a comment to the previous post his disappointment in Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter, a film whose title promised at least a wacky good time, but is executed in such a half-assed way that it could almost be a Troma film (another group that specializes in cult immediacy, and which, more often than not, actually fails. Go ahead, get pissed off -- even I love Toxie).

I don't have any idea if the Glasgow Phillips and his production team purposefully set off to make a cult film when they created Undead or Alive. Surely, given that they were making a zombie flick, The Evil Dead's success story had to come into the discussion at some point. I think my final point would be that if you are going to at least dabble in an area which could potentially land you in cult territory, at least make a more than scatterbrained attempt to do it right. Just a few decent scenes could have turned Undead or Alive's fortunes around for me. The same holds true for Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter, a much more low-budget affair which I believe I described a while back as seeming to be shot by the Canadian version of my group of friends in Alaska. Clearly, it was being made on even more of a lark than Phillips' film, and in hit-or-miss ratio, it might actually be better. And probably even more ambitious. I don't like either film, but if the Jesus film actually gained a real cult following, I would groan but I would understand that there is a odd, scrappy charm to it where I wouldn't complain when others drank the Kool-Aid.

But with Undead, I would make the afflicted watch every single better zombie film there is (and that would be a good amount). Then, just to give them a basic Western sense, I would make them watch Rio Bravo, Stagecoach, Once Upon A Time in the West and at least one of Ford's Cavalry trilogy. Then, for Western comedy, I would make them watch Blazing Saddles and Keaton's Go West. And then I would ask them if they understood just how simple it would have been to make this film just halfway entertaining, if the filmmakers weren't so lazy. I don't care if the filmmakers had to steal outright from these films; use a few basic set-ups and then fill in the blanks. Whatever, just make some attempt beyond the obvious. Don't take the easy way out of every scene.

And then, whatever their answer would be to my entreaties, I would kick them in the nuts. And they would appreciate the nut-kicking too, if only because that seems to be more in line with their actual sense of humor.

See how catching it is? No matter how much I fight them, they are bringing me down to their level...


EggOfTheDead said…
Oh, man. The only thing you listed that I haven't seen is El Topo. Do I have to watch El Topo? I saw Holy Mountain - and liked it - but I don't think I can handle Jodorowsky now that I'm sober :-)



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