Showgirls. Clue. Rocky Horror. Mean Girls. What’s Your Fave Cult Film?

 

Showgirls. Rocky Horror Picture Show. Clue. Drop Dead Gorgeous. Hocus Pocus. Troop Beverly Hills. What do all these movies have in common? Answer: They are all pretty great movies. True but they are also movies that bombed at the box office but found new life on DVD, and video and have since been deemed “cult classics.” According to Wikipedia,

“Cult films are known for their dedicated, passionate fanbase which forms an elaborate subculture, members of which engage in repeated viewings, dialogue-quoting, and audience participation. Inclusive definitions allow for major studio productions, especially box office bombs, while exclusive definitions focus more on obscure, transgressive films shunned by the mainstream.”

We don’t need Wikipedia to tell us what a cult movie is. We know cult movies. We live for cult movies. Amber Atkins from Mount Rose, Minnesota is literally my spirit animal. “I owe my life to that deaf baby.” That’s the Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards, and Allison Janney Drop Dead Gorgeous cult classic in case you were wondering.

These are movies we endlessly share memes from with our best friends. We endlessly quote the movie at brunch: “On Wednesdays we wear pink.” LGBTQ people latch on to cult movies for so many reasons. Is it for that sense of community we so longed for growing up?

Related: Peaches Christ brings us new parody of “Troop Beverly Hills”

We spoke with Andy Scahill, Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado, about the queer communities fascination and love with cult films. The disarmingly attractive scholar spoke about the shared experiences members of our community long for, experiences we didn’t have growing up. Scahill, the creator of Rainbow Cult, a monthly interactive queer movie night explained, 

“Part of what makes queer spectators unique is that we’ve learned to be scavengers, to find pleasure where we can in subtext, or laughing at straight culture through exaggeration or camp. Part of the joy is seeing these films in the audience I always wanted to. I wanted Rainbow Cult to be about the cult-like experience of loving movies and sharing that love with other queer people.”

 

Andy Scahill

This makes perfect sense to 10-year-old me wondering why I was, and still am, obsessed with The Poseidon Adventure. I loved it growing up, and watched it every year always hoping Linda Rogo, the former hooker turned housewife, might somehow make it out of the doomed luxury liner. [spoiler alert: she doesn’t] Imagine my surprise decades later when multiple gay friends told me they too were obsessed with the passengers on the SS Poseidon. Imagine my delight when I got to sit in a theater in Chelsea watching the movie as Hedda Lettuce hosted Cinema Classics! Here was 10-year-old me living his best life, with other gays screaming “Manny” as the ship turned over. Is this what Prof Scahill is talking about?

 

Cult movies have existed since, well the beginning of movies. Look no further than Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and “But ya are Blanche, ya are!” Another example – The Women. I remember being in a Puerto Vallarta house with some older gay friends who dressed up nightly to recite the lines from the original playbook together. Their joy was infectious even though I had no idea what they were saying or talking about, having never seen either the original film or the dreadful remake.

When talking with Professor Scahill about why exactly a movie is “camp” or “cult”, he mentioned the Goldie Hawn/Meryl Streep box office bomb, now legendary Death Becomes Her

“Certainly the performers are each at the top of their game. Calling Madeline and Helen ‘the zombie equivalent of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford,’ Kristy Puchko notes how gay men are often drawn to powerful femme fatales who refuse to play by the rules. ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’ executive producer Tom Campbell, who used the film as an inspiration for a deadly runway challenge, finds pleasure in the sympathetic female anti-hero: ‘We root for the undead divas because they’re trying to win a game that’s rigged against them, and—to borrow an apocryphal quote from Ginger Rogers—they sort of have to do it ‘backwards and in high heels’.”

 

Another box office bomb with a fervent queer base is Troop Beverly Hills. This is another movie I loved watching with my sister and her friends (all Girl Scouts themselves) over and over. “Patches. We don’t need no stinking patches.” The younger me didn’t realize I was watching a soon-to-be-cult classic. On the power of this Shelley Long starring vehicle becoming a queer classic Scahill commented,

“Troop Beverly Hills is an underdog story – like Legally Blonde it doesn’t view femininity as the opposite of strength, wisdom or ambition. As queer people I think we both laugh with the films outdated politics. And let’s be real the costumes are pretty amazing. We had our audience ‘tooting and booting’ every Shelley Long outfit that came on the screen.”

If you are still unclear about what makes a cult movie, in “What Is Cult Cinema? A Checklist,” Dan Bently-Baker offers these eight qualities that tend to define the cult film:

So this ends our, very brief, lesson on the relationship between cult movies and the gay community. Sound off in the comments below with your favorite line from your favorite cult movie. I’ll go first, and yes it’s from Drop Dead Gorgeous, Amber [Dunst] tells Loretta [Janney] lovingly, to never have kids. Her response:

“Well God love ya for thinking I still could!”

Professor Scahill leaves us with some parting words to digest about watching cult movies with our chosen family,

 I finally get to see all these movies with the audience I always wanted to — a big loud joyous group of queer people.”

 


{**This post is solely the opinion of this contributing writer and may not reflect the opinion of other writers, staff, or owners of Instinct Magazine.​”}

Sources: Bright Lights Film Journal

2 thoughts on “Showgirls. Clue. Rocky Horror. Mean Girls. What’s Your Fave Cult Film?”

  1. The gay community definitely loves a cult classic. There’s a gay bar down the street from me & they play cult classic movies throughout the year a couple times a week. It’s a lot of fun.

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