EXPLORING THE ALCOVES OF CULT CINEMA …

A CONNOISSEUR’S CULT 150

The cult film. What exactly does it mean anyway? The word seems to cover such a wide interpretation that almost any film could arguably be defined as a cult. Somewhere along the line it relates to films that innovate and transgress; films that inspire a strong sense of nostalgic affection; films that excel within their own genre; and most importantly, films that are truly loved by a devoted audience.

The ability of the cult film to excite, offend, reward and occupy a place in the heart of an individual is a precious thing indeed. With this in mind, although it would be hard to argue that Carry On Screaming! or Danger: Diabolik are greater films than, say, Citizen Kane or Tokyo Story, I find them both more rewarding. I would therefore be making a discerning personal choice to watch Carry On Screaming! over Citizen Kane since it offers something only a cult film can – genuine unlimited affection. This kind of barmy notion is the basis for my list of films for the Cult Connoisseur.

So, the difference between this selection and my Great Films list? Whilst the films on that list are all widely recognised masterpieces of cinema, the films on this list are equally perfect but less widely recognised as masterpieces and, being cult films, with a limited appeal. They also inspire a boundless affection within me. Personally I find it hard to love films like The Battleship Potemkin or The 400 Blows and regularly return to them as much as films like Two-Way Stretch or Dawn Of The Dead. The amount of continued pleasure a film can give you is as much a reason for it to be a masterpiece as anything else.

I should add, a handful of films that would sit perfectly on this list (all Hitchcock, Wilder, and Kubrick, the Ealing comedies, Bride Of FrankensteinOh Mr Porter!, The Third Man, The Night Of The HunterInvasion Of The Body Snatchers, Mary Poppins, Night Of The Living DeadRosemary’s Baby, Aguirre – Wrath Of God, Life Of BrianThe Elephant Man, Brazil and Blue Velvet) have been excluded since they already feature in my Great Films and are consequently unquestionable masterpieces of cinema in any given light. That’s not to say the films on this list aren’t masterpieces too. They all are – well just about – in their own peculiar ways. These are films to cherish. The weird, the wild and the charming. Every one a pleasure (and no guilt whatsoever).

This is a deliberately alternative list. Although some of these films are widely recognised as exemplary pieces of cinema, many of them aren’t given the praise they deserve. Such films are widely appreciated but also taken for granted and rarely praised. It’s a uniquely personal list of course, reflecting the eras, genres and performers I adore, so if you don’t agree with much of it then i) shame on you, and ii) by all means create your own list (which I encourage everyone to do!). But I would defend every film on this list as being supreme examples of cinematic entertainment, in their various strange ways and on their own distinctive terms. Heavy on horror and comedy, such is the nature of the cult film. And particularly heavy on British horror and comedy, such is my nature.

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HÄXAN: WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES (1922)

Dir. Benjamin Christensen

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FREAKS (1932)

Dir. Tod Browning

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ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932)

Dir. Erle C. Kenton

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THINGS TO COME (1936)

Dir. William Cameron Menzies

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ASK A POLICEMAN (1939)

Dir. Marcel Varnel

There’s precious little as joyful and enduring as a good Will Hay comedy and whilst Oh Mr Porter! is the flawless classic, this is my favourite. Smugglers, Headless Horsemen and a ridiculous ancient rhyme all play their part. Hay is at his shifty and pompous best, with Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt continuing to be his best support team as Harbottle and Albert.

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CAT PEOPLE (1942)

Dir. Jacques Tourneur

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DEAD OF NIGHT (1945)

Dir. Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer, Alberto Cavalcanti

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THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)

Dir. Christian Nyby (and Howard Hawks)

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ANIMAL FARM (1954)

Dir. Joy Batchelor, John Halas

Britain’s first animated feature-length film and whilst Uncle Walt brought cute and cuddly animals to life, here husband and wife team Halas-Batchelor present the characters and situations as Orwell had written them. As such, this is a sad, cruel and powerful piece of animation. Impressively, Maurice Denham provides all the animal voices.

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KISS ME DEADLY (1955)

Dir. Robert Aldrich

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BIGGER THAN LIFE (1956)

Dir. Nicholas Ray

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THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

Dir. Terence Fisher

The original Hammer horror, a film which relaunched the craze for gothic melodrama 20 years after the Universal series, but now in lurid colour for the first time, and with greater emphasis on gore. This remains one of the very best, told with brevity and tight pacing, starring relative film newcomers Peter Cushing as the misguided Baron and Christopher Lee as the hideous Creature.

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HELL DRIVERS (1957)

Dir. Cy Endfield

As well as pre-dating the kitchen sink boom and tougher crime dramas of the next decade, this film is distinctive for bringing together a cast of actors that would go on to dominate much Film and TV of the 1960’s. Joining Stanley Baker are a Prisoner (McGoohan), a Dr. Who (Hartnell), a Bond (Connery), a Man From UNCLE (McCallum) and Carry On king Sid James. Guess all it needed was Michael Caine to complete the set of British sixties icons!

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THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957)

Dir. Jack Arnold


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NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957)

Dir. Jacques Tourneur

This adaptation of M.R James’ Casting The Runes manages to stay faithful to the author’s use of spine-chilling unease and eerie atmospherics. The fact that the demon appears almost immediately is offset by the fact that a) it actually looks pretty good and b) the rest of the film conveys such a sense of  lurking terror in Tourneur’s typically menacing use of B&W. A British horror classic.

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THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959)

Dir. Terence Fisher

Hammer does Holmes. So Baskerville Hall and the moor become a macabre gothic landscape. And Peter Cushing is the connoisseur’s Sherlock, more capricious and prickly than Rathbone, paving the way for Jeremy Brett et al.

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I’M ALL RIGHT JACK (1959)

Dir. John Boulting

All social classes and institutions come under gentle barrage in the Boulting Brothers landmark satire. And probably the best British cast ever assembled – Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, Peter Sellers, Dennis Price, Magaret Rutherford, Irene Handl, Richard Attenborough – all at the peak of their comic talents.

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BLACK SUNDAY (a.k.a THE MASK OF SATAN) (1960)

Dir. Mario Bava

Partly as a response to Hammer, Bava made the most terrifying and gruesome gothic horror of the era, kick-starting a new wave of Italian horror (which Bava continued to steer by instigating Giallo and Slasher sub-genres) and turning Barbara Steele into a goddess of the genre, although the typecasting apparently lead her to saying “I never want to climb out of another fucking coffin again!”

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THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960)

Dir. Terence Fisher

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EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)

Dir. Georges Franju

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THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN (1960)

Dir. Basil Dearden

A sublime heist comedy, falling somewhere between the quaint cynicism of the Ealing comedies and the more daring social drama of the 60’s, with a fantastic script from Bryan Forbes. Jack Hawkins leads a group of discredited ex-army officers who combine their skills to pull of a bank robbery. A riposte to all stiff-upper-lip heroism, with a despicable bunch of corrupt gentlemen determined to avenge the perceived stupidity of their society.

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PEEPING TOM (1960)

Dir. Michael Powell

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SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS (1960)

Dir. Robert Hamer

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THE TIME MACHINE (1960)

Dir. George Pal

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TWO-WAY STRETCH (1960)

Dir. Robert Day

An absolute gem from Peter Sellers’ British period, here abetted by Wilfred Hyde-White, Bernard Cribbins and David Lodge in a scheme to break out of jail, commit the crime and break back in. Lionel Jeffries has one of his best roles as fiery Prison Officer ‘Sour’ Crout and Maurice Denham is wonderful as the kindly Governor obsessed with his prize Marrow. The characters here must surely have been an inspiration for the classic sitcom Porridge.

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THE INNOCENTS (1961)

Dir. Jack Clayton

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THE REBEL (1961)

Dir. Robert Day

Stone me! The Lad ‘imself swaps East Cheam for Paris  in his first leading film role. Expanding on the ‘Poetry Society’ radio episode of Hancock’s Half Hour by taking wide swipes at the pretentious art world, Galton and Simpson find the perfect vehicle in which to prick the pomposity of old ‘Ancock, combined with glossy postcard scenery and the support of George Sanders, Dennis Price and Irene Handl. Just the fact that it’s the best film starring Britain’s greatest ever comic performer makes it essential.

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WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND (1961)

Dir. Bryan Forbes

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CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962)

Dir. Herk Harvey

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BILLY LIAR (1963)

Dir. John Schlesinger

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THE BIRDS (1963)

Dir. Alfred Hitchcock

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CARRY ON CABBY (1963)

Dir. Gerald Thomas

Apart from Charles Hawtrey’s pratfalls and Kenneth Connor in drag, this doesn’t feel too much like a Carry On (and indeed it wasn’t originally intended as one). Strong on story and characterisation as well as innuendo, Sid James and Hattie Jacques were probably never better than they are here, as a couple whose marriage is falling apart. Kitchen Sink Carry On? You bet.

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THE HAUNTING (1963)

Dir. Robert Wise

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IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963)

Dir. Stanley Kramer

Stepping aside from his socially-conscious dramas for one film, Kramer set out to make the biggest epic comedy ever and in many ways succeeded. The maxim of ‘the bigger the budget the smaller the laughs’ has no place here, especially given the colossal comic cast: Silvers, Berle, Winters, Caesar, Merman, Rooney, Terry-Thomas and fleeting appearances from Keaton, Benny, Durante, The Three Stooges, Joe E. Brown and Jerry Lewis. Spencer Tracey plays the ultimate straight man.

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JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

Dir. Don Chaffey

Certainly the most handsome and most iconic showcase for Ray Harryhausen’s pioneering stop-motion creations. The flying Harpies, the seven-headed Hydra and the giant statue of Talos are among the challenges for Jason (Todd Armstrong) and his crew. And the rise of the skeletons is a high point of the whole fantasy genre.

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THE SERVANT (1963)

Dir. Joseph Losey

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SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963)

Dir. Samuel Fuller

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GOLDFINGER (1964)

Dir. Guy Hamilton

The coolest and kitchiest Bond, before the franchise veered from being either too daft or too serious. Such matters are a considerable cause for debate, but the same conclusion is usually reached: Goldfinger has the best Bond, best Bond Girl, best Bond Theme, best Bond villain and sidekick and most iconic Bond scenes. Ergo, it’s the Best Bond film.

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A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964)

Dir. Richard Lester

As fresh and frenetic as The Beatles’ own innovative sound and the whirlwind of media intersest surrounding them. The lunacy of Beatle-humour and Alun Owen’s script is well served here by a supporting cast of Norman Rossington, John Junkin and Victor Spinetti. And for once, Wilfred Brambell gets to play a “very clean old man”. The essential sixties rock movie.

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THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964)

Dir. Roger Corman

The seventh and arguably best of Roger Corman’s cycle of Edgar Allen Poe inspired films, this one sums up the approach well: an elaborate and colourful sense of historical period, deliciously camp melodramatic performance, a well-stretched budget and a strange psychedelic dream state. Satanists, dwarf jesters, tarot cards, plague-ridden peasants and Jane Asher. Lovely.

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BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965)

Dir. Otto Preminger

A particularly strange slice of psychological terror from noir master Preminger, who creates a skewed B&W depiction of London from the point of view of a paranoid outsider. When Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) goes to pick up her 4-year old Bunny from nursery she’s told that no child of that name exists. The cast includes Laurence Olivier, Keir Dullea, Martita Hunt, Noel Coward and an appearance from St Alban’s finest, The Zombies.

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FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (1965)

Dir. Russ Meyer

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THE GREAT RACE (1965)

Dir. Blake Edwards

A colourful sprawling tribute to the golden age of silent comedy from Blake Edwards, starring the splendid trio of dastardly Jack Lemmon, dashing Tony Curtis and lovely Natalie Wood. The film was a flop, but can now be seen as Edwards’ most assured slapstick extravaganza, notably in the famous pie fight. The original poster proudly announced the film as “The greatest comedy of all time!”. Well, not quite. But close.

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THE IPCRESS FILE (1965)

Dir. Sidney J. Furie

Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) was the anti-Bond. With his NHS glasses, scenes of him preparing his dinner and having an altercation in his local supermarket, this adaptation of Len Deighton’s espionage thriller brought an element of realism back to the cold war movie. But not too much. A tense and stylish slice of the sixties spy genre, the closing brainwashing sequences are particularly riveting.

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THE LOVED ONE (1965)

Dir. Tony Richardson

One of the best comedies of the 60’s, Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood adapted Evelyn Waugh’s satirical novella about the L.A funeral industry into an excessive black comedy which promised “something to offend everyone”! A great cast – Robert Morse, Jonathan Winters, Rod Steiger, John Gielgud, Robert Morley, even Libarace – and typically vibrant direction from Richardson.

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REPULSION (1965)

Dir. Roman Polanski

With something of a penchant for tales of paranoid terror in lonely bedsits, Polanski made this fantastically chilling British horror before continuing the theme in Hollywood with Rosemary’s Baby and later in France with The Tenant. Catherine Deneuve plays Carol, a troubled Belgian girl left alone by her sister in an apartment, who descends into psychosis through her dangerously neurotic fear of men. Few films are as genuinely disturbing as this remarkable psychological horror.

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BLOW-UP (1966)

Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni

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CARRY ON SCREAMING! (1966)

Dir. Gerald Thomas

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CUL-DE-SAC (1966)

Dir. Roman Polanski

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DALEKS’ INVASION EARTH: 2150 A.D. (1966)

Dir. Gordon Flemyng

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FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966)

Dir. Francois Truffaut

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FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966)

Dir. Richard Fleischer

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THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966)

Dir. John Gilling

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SECONDS (1966)

Dir. John Frankenheimer

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BEDAZZLED (1967)

Dir. Stanley Donen

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CASINO ROYALE (1967)

Dir. Val Guest, Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish

The most enjoyable disaster ever committed to film. 5 directors. 7 Bonds. Peter Sellers refused to be in the same frame as Orson Welles. The eclectic cast includes David Niven, Woody Allen, Deborah Kerr, Ronnie Corbett, William Holden, Ursula Andress, Bernard Cribbins. A crazy psychedelic film of excess, in many ways it captures the 1960’s as perfectly as any film. Plus a superb Bacharach score.

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FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967)

Dir. Terence Fisher

The Hammer Frankenstein saga was always more satisfying than their Dracula counterparts and this is one of the best. Concerning itself with the extraction of the soul itself, as opposed to the traditional physical alterations. One of the most critically acclaimed Hammer films, it was chosen by Martin Scorsese for an NFT season of his favourite films, where he explained that “the implied metaphysics are close to something sublime”.

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PLAY TIME (1967)

Dir. Jacques Tati

Four years in the making, with it’s own enormous purpose-built set (known as Tativille), this epic visual comedy saw Tati return as M. Hulot for the first time in 9 years and allowed him to further explore the theme, that he began in Mon Oncle, of conforming in an ever-changing modern technological world. An exquisite comedy that reveals new subtle moments of brilliance with every repeat viewing. No mere Tati folly, for sure.

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QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1967)

Dir. Roy Ward Baker

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BARBARELLA (1968)

Dir. Roger Vadim

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DANGER: DIABOLIK (1968)

Dir. Mario Bava

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THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968)

Dir. Terence Fisher

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IF…. (1968)

Dir. Lindsay Anderson

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TARGETS (1968)

Dir. Peter Bogdanovich

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WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968)

Dir. Michael Reeves

You can be sure Michael Reeves would have become one of horror’s greatest directors had he not died aged 25, a year after the release of this startling film. Tigon’s Tony Tenser may well have been expecting an exploitative yarn set in the English Civil War, but what he got was something surprisingly poetic for a cheap horror flick and an unflinchingly brutal depiction of violence. And witness the rare sight of Vincent Price underplaying it all!

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THE BED SITTING ROOM (1969)

Dir. Richard Lester

Some years after the apocalypse, Lord Fortnum (Ralph Richardson) fears he is mutating into a bed-sitting room. An absurd play by Spike Milligan and John Antrobus becomes an even absurder film by Richard Lester. A stellar cast of Milligan and Secombe, Pete and Dud, Arthur Lowe, Marty Feldman, Michael Hordern, Jimmy Edwards, Ronald Fraser, Rita Tushingham, Roy Kinnear. So pretty damn good really. Did I mention it’s all completely insane?

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A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN (1969)

Dir. Bill Melendez

After several acclaimed TV specials, Melendez brought his perfect treatment of Charles M. Schulz’ Peanuts to the cinema. Our angst-ridden hero, Charlie Brown, takes part in a Spelling Bee. Beyond that, the film’s plot is just a series of stunning animated vignettes, notably the wild pop-art of The Star Spangled Banner, Schroeder playing Beethoven and Snoopy skating at the Rockefeller ice rink. And Vince Guardaldi’s jazz score is a treat as always.

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THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN (1969)

Dir. Joseph McGrath

Billionaire Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers) adopts a hobo (Ringo Starr) and sets out to show society the error of it’s ways with a series of elaborate financially-heavy practical jokes. A dark no-holds-barred satire on greed, played as farce and with a plethora of guests stars including Richard Attenborough, John Cleese, Yul Brynner, Raquel Welch, Roman Polanski, Christopher Lee and Laurence Harvey.

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SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1969)

Dir. Gordon Hessler

A completely mad and particularly gruesome example of the ‘anything goes’ mentality of late 60’s/early 70’s horror, where various seemingly unconnected strands collide together in a rather nasty finale involving an acid bath. The presence of genre legends Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and, briefly, Peter Cushing have ensured it’s cult following. Just go with it and don’t ask questions.

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TINTIN AND THE TEMPLE OF THE SUN (1969)

Dir. Eddie Lateste

In the surprisingly narrow field of Tintin films, this is by far the best. The animation is a treat and lovingly faithful to the world of Hergé. It also does an impressive job of cramming both The Seven Crystal Balls and The Prisoners Of The Sun (perhaps the two finest Tintin adventures) into 77 minutes without feeling rushed.

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DEEP END (1970)

Dir. Jerzy Skolimowski

A funny, tragic and delirious drama set in an unsavoury bathhouse, as 15-year old Mike (John Moulder-Brown) develops an obsession with his colleague Susan (Jane Asher), moving the film into dangerous psychological dark waters. A strange German/British co-production from the great Skolimowski, I can’t recommend this film enough – read my article on it here!

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DOUGAL AND THE BLUE CAT (1970)

Dir. Serge Danot

Purportedly a children’s film, this is a gloriously bizarre, psychedelic experience. But then, The Magic Roundabout was never exactly run-of-the-mill, was it? But this film manages to be even stranger than the TV series thanks to the arrival of the devious Buxton – the titular Blue Cat – who takes his orders from the evil Blue Voice (Fenella Fielding). The UK release of course benefits from Eric Thompson’s wonderful narration.

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THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970)

Dir. Peter Duffell

Perhaps the most enjoyable Amicus anthology, these four tales are an estate agents worst nightmare. Writer Denholm Elliot is haunted by his own creation; Peter Cushing gets dangerously involved with a waxwork dummy; Christopher Lee has Nanny trouble and, hilariously, Jon Pertwee turns into a vampire. Terror (and chuckles) await you in every room!

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THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS (1970)

Dir. Arthur Hiller

Jack Lemmon does a fine line in growing exasperation/nervous breakdown in this increasingly frenetic comedy from the pen of Neil Simon. On occasions it even forgets the comedy, delving into a drama of anxiety and desperation – enough to put anyone off a weekend away in a busy city! But this is Lemmon at the height of his powers, as one of cinema’s greatest comic actors. Sandy Dennis also reaches the same manic heights.

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PERFORMANCE (1970)

Dir. Donald Cammell, Nicholas Roeg

The first half is Britain’s greatest gangster picture, the second half is Britain’s greatest psychological drama on the dark flipside of the Swinging Sixties in it’s dying days. James Fox turns in a remarkable and unlikely character study as sadistic gang enforcer Chas. Mick Jagger is perfect in the less unlikely role of Turner, an eccentric reclusive rock star. For a film about duality, this is one of a kind.

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THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1970)

Dir. Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder decamped to Britain for his treatment of Sherlock Holmes. It was meant to be four stories, only two made the final cut. I can only hope footage still exists for an uncut version in the future. Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely are a great pairing as Holmes and Watson, simultaneously commanding and parodying the archetypal roles. And Christopher Lee, having previously been Sir Henry and Holmes, here plays Mycroft.

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THE RISE AND RISE OF MICHAEL RIMMER (1970)

Dir. Kevin Billington

The key satirical film in Peter Cook’s remarkable career, after the black fantasy of Bedazzled, what’s most surprising is just how straight Cook plays it all, allowing the illustrious supporting cast (Arthur Lowe, John Cleese, Denholm Elliot, Ronnie Corbett, Dennis Price, even Harold Pinter) to shine. Written by Cook, Cleese and Graham Chapman, this is a hugely underrated gem of British comedy.

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THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)

Dir. Robert Fuest

Vincent Price oozes delicious melodrama in the role of the mad vengeful Dr. Phibes, even more impressive given that he never speaks, all his lines pre-recorded and played through a gramophone attached to his neck! And any film with the line “A brass unicorn has been catapulted across a London street and impaled an eminent surgeon. Words fail me, gentlemen” has to be worth your consideration. A comic horror classic.

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BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (1971)

Dir. Piers Haggard

Tigon’s horror output was always more lurid than the contemporary Hammer films and more disturbing than those of Amicus. One of the most disturbing is this tale of Witchcraft in a 17th century English village. Linda Hayden gets her best seductress role as the demonically possessed Angel Blake, whilst Wendy Padbury represents childlike innocence. A suitably unpleasant companion piece to Tigon’s previous Witchfinder General.

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A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)

Dir. Stanley Kubrick

The controversy and hype surrounding Kubrick’s wild take on Anthony Burgess’ novella, particularly it’s growing cult status during the 30-year ban in the UK, has somewhat obscured the fact that, beneath all that, this is a wonderful explosion of stylish excess and a bizarre 70’s kitsch vision of the future, aided by absurd performances from Aubrey Morris and Patrick Magee.

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THE DEVILS (1971)

Dir. Ken Russell

A delicious mix of black comedy and horror, an excess of bad taste even by Ken Russell’s standards, and yet somehow undeniably a major work of art from a serious film-maker. As well as brilliantly intense performances from Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave, the stars of the show are Derek Jarman’s incredible, almost surreal sets. Wild and masterful British cinema.

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ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971)

Dir. Don Taylor

The neglected Apes film and the last really good one. After two very downbeat films, this entry throws satire into the mix, alongside issues of race, animal experimentation, government intrusion and women’s rights. It also allows Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter to expand the characterisation of Cornelius and Zira. But being an Apes films it of course all ends horribly (does that count as a spoiler?).

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HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971)

Dir. Hal Ashby

Funerals, Suicides, and a 60-year age gap, all to the sound of Cat Stevens. Little wonder it became a cult sensation. Hal Ashby’s fantastically black comedy presents the screen’s most unlikely romantic pairing, wonderfully played by Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon. A dark, idiosyncratic jewel from the most daring age of Hollywood.

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STRAW DOGS (1971)

Dir. Sam Peckinpah

Well yes, it’s one of the notorious trio of British films (alongside The Devils and A Clockwork Orange, see above) which tested the censors to the limit in 1971 and remains provocative for *that* dubious rape scene. But let’s celebrate Straw Dogs for what it really is: one of the finest home-invasion horror films, executed with a hideous sense of style, as Dustin Hoffman’s timid pacifist erupts into primal violence.

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10 RILLINGTON PLACE (1971)

Dir. Richard Fleischer

Richard Attenborough turns in a quietly chilling performance as John Christie, the seemingly mild and meek landlord who murdered at least 6 women at his flat in 10 Rillington Place. Equally impressive is a young John Hurt as the tragic and naive Timothy Evans, accused of the murders and sentenced to death. A gripping dramatisation of a shocking real-life case.

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TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (1971)

Dir. Monte Hellman

In a 1955 Chevy 150 is the brooding Driver (James Taylor) and the likeable Mechanic (Dennis Wilson). In a 1970 GTO Judge is GTO (Warren Oates). Flitting between the two, free-spirited The Girl (Laurie Bird). Beware of existential hazards on Route 66 heading east. This mesmerising road movie in stunningly vivid widescreen takes it’s hold with every obscure turn and Oates steals the film as the rival, telling tall tales to bemused hitch-hikers.

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THE AMAZING MR BLUNDEN (1972)

Dir. Lionel Jeffries

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ASYLUM (1972)

Dir. Roy Ward Baker

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DEATH LINE (1972)

Dir. Gary Sherman

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FRENZY (1972)

Dir. Alfred Hitchcock

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THE HEARTBREAK KID (1972)

Dir. Elaine May

 

 

 

 

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THE RULING CLASS (1972)

Dir. Peter Medak

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TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972)

Dir. Freddie Francis

Sir Ralph Richardson no less is the crypt keeper, overseeing Amicus’s finest collection of gruesome tales. Joan Collins is terrorised by Father Christmas, Ian Hendry has one hell of a car crash, Peter Cushing has trouble with some Neighbours From Hell, Richard Greene is embalmed alive, and whatever you do don’t annoy a blind Patrick Magee in an old people’s home.

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VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972)

Dir. Robert Young

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ANDY WARHOL’S FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (1973)

Dir. Paul Morrissey

Treading a fine line between trashy and arty, as do all the Morrissey/Warhol films, this gory retelling has it’s tongue firmly in cheek. When watched in 3D the effect is even more hilarious, with great looming surgical tools and various disemboweled organs splattering towards the screen. The dialogue from Dr. von Frankenstein (Udo Kier) sets the ludicrous tone: “To know death, Otto, you must fuck life – in the gall bladder!”

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THE ASPHYX (1973)

Dir. Peter Newbrook

A curious entry in 1970’s British horror, this tale of a Victorian scientist discovering the secret of eternal life stands up for it’s extremely handsome photography and the fact that it never quite goes where you expect (something helped by the unusual opening and closing scenes). And the enjoyment of hearing Robert Stephens exclaim “We must trap my Ass-fix!” or “It’s my Ass-fix!” never really tires.

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DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)

Dir. Nicholas Roeg

Rather than trying a course of bereavement counselling, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie head off to wintry Venice after the death of their daughter, where they encounter two strange elderly sisters (one of whom is a blind psychic) and a killer dwarf. Good grief!

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HORROR EXPRESS (1973)

Dir. Eugenio Martin

I’ve always loved films set on trains: the isolation, the bumpy corridor acting, the changing backdrops and the obligatory model shots. This hugely enjoyable Spanish/GB co-production on the Trans-Siberian Railway has all of this and brings together Cushing and Lee again, as well as a fun supporting turn from Telly Savalas as a bullying Cossack Captain. Great chills on a budget.

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THE HOUSE IN NIGHTMARE PARK (1973)

Dir. Peter Sykes

Now listen, shut your faces … no missus, ooh no nay, nay and thrice nay etc. Who needs Bob Hope in a spooky comic horror when you can have Frankie Howerd as Foster Twelvetrees, the greatest (worst) actor of his generation? Actually Hammer director Sykes doesn’t just settle for spooky – this is genuinely creepy, even nasty. So titter ye not!

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THE LONG GOODBYE (1973)

Dir. Robert Altman

Having re-imagined comedy (M*A*S*H) and western (McCabe and Mrs Miller) with his naturalistic approach, the maverick Altman made this wonderful contemporary noir, transplanting Chandler to the morally muddied landscape of 1970’s L.A. Elliot Gould is at his best as Phillip Marlowe, a man out of his time, and the detective mystery itself is great, no surprise as it’s written by Leigh Brackett, original screenwriter of The Big Sleep (1946).

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O LUCKY MAN! (1973)

Dir. Lindsay Anderson

A picaresque cinematic odyssey from Lindsay Anderson, a satire on practically everything as Malcolm McDowell’s coffee salesman experiences the bizarre ups, downs and sideways paths of life. A black comedy drama horror musical with actors in multiple roles and Alan Price providing a superb Greek Chorus. Remarkable.

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ROBIN HOOD (1973)

Dir. Wolfgang Reitherman

A much-maligned Disney retelling, making it all the more of a cult favourite. Peter Ustinov, Terry-Thomas and Phil Harris provide voices; Roger Miller provides songs. Few Disney films are quite as much fun as this. Oo-de-lally!

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STEPTOE AND SON RIDE AGAIN (1973)

Dir. Peter Sykes

One of the best from the much-exhausted cannon of 70’s sitcom adaptations, here Oil Drum Lane is far grubbier than it ever was on TV and the feel of a timeless fictionalised working-class London – with it’s dog races, merry gang extortion and knees-up funerals – is all crudely palpable. ‘Aaaaarold!

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THEATRE OF BLOOD (1973)

Dir. Douglas Hickox

A deliciously hilarious macabre horror, with a lip-smacking Vincent Price at his excessive best in a role that absolutely demands it – a mad vengeful Shakespearian ham. Amongst his victims are Arthur Lowe, Dennis Price, Robert Morley, Michael Hordern and Jack Hawkins. Eric Sykes and Milo O’Shea are in hot pursuit. And Diana Rigg takes on a number of peculiar guises. Wonderful.

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THE WICKER MAN (1973)

Dir. Robin Hardy

Possibly the definitive cult film. Curious, unsettling and alarming – and that’s just Christopher Lee’s wig! A fascinating and perverse classic, not just in the horror genre but throughout all of cinema. One of the few films to merit the term ‘unique’. So yes, pretty essential viewing really.

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CAPTAIN KRONOS – VAMPIRE HUNTER (1974)

Dir. Brian Clemens

Hammer’s 70’s output is too easily derided for desperately throwing more sex and violence into a worn out cycle, but even at the end of Hammer’s reign they could throw up an unusual and highly original entry. The best example is this fresh twist on vampire lore from The Avengers supremo Brian Clemens, the first in a planned series that never was. Horst Janson is the swashbuckling Kronos. Laurie Johnson provides the stirring score.

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THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS (1974)

Dir. Peter Weir

A really weird one from Peter Weir, his first before trailblazing the Australian New Wave with Picnic At Hanging Rock and The Last Wave. The inhabitants of the town of Paris profit from the many car crashes which seem to happen there. Darkly comic and endearingly strange, this is Ozploitation at it’s finest. The spiked man-eating VW Beetle is of course a metaphor for the dangers of small-town seclusion. Or Consumerism. Or car fetishes. Or something.

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FRIGHTMARE (1974)

Dir. Pete Walker

With a fine line in luridly-titled exploitation horror films (Die Screaming Marianne!, House Of Whipcord) Pete Walker combined quaint British settings with excessive gore and cannibalism in his best film. Stealing the whole thing is Walker regular Sheila Keith as the sinister Dorothy Yates, recently released from a mental asylum and boy, does she know how to use a drill!

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GHOST STORY (1974)

Dir. Stephen Weeks

A very strange and highly atmospheric haunted house tale. Clearly more inspired by the nerve-tingling style of MR James than the gothic melodrama of Hammer, Stephen Weeks allows the purposefully steady pace to takes it’s grip on the viewer, before delivering an effectively shocking finale. Definitely one of the neglected gems of British horror.

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THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974)

Dir. Gordon Hessler

Reviving the Sinbad cannon after 1958’s The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad, Ray Harryhausen’s best 1970’s work adds a Centaur, Griffin, the bat-like Homonicus and the six-armed statue Kali to his list of wonderful creations. Tom Baker plays the evil Koura, a performance which secured him the role of Doctor Who (in terms of his acting impressing the producers, not that this role is anything like The Doctor!).

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THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974)

Dir. Jorge Grau

Falling between Romero’s Night and Dawn, this British-set (but not necessarily filmed) Italian horror is one of the very best zombie films. And, unlike many other zombie films, it doesn’t look at all cheap. The socio-political meanings of it are buried there somewhere (one thing Romero would have made clearer) but the scenic photography and moments of gore are sublime. The finale is spectacularly gruesome.

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MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1974)

Dir. Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam

The first of any kind of Python that I saw, watching this as child was like a firework of absurdity going off in my head. As an adult, I can only conclude that it’s the best thing the Python team ever did. One of the few films where every single moment is continually quotable. I shall just conclude with “Let’s not go to Camelot, it’s just a silly place”.

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GREY GARDENS (1975)

Dir. Maysles Brothers, Ellen Hoyde, Muffie Meyer

One of the most poignant but also most bizarre documentaries ever made. Big Edie and Little Edie, aunt and first cousin of Jackie Kennedy who live together in their isolated and decrepit New York mansion (overrun with cats and raccoons), are both eccentric to say the very least. I’ve always thought of them as a socialite Steptoe and Son – two bizarre characters trapped together in their squalid existence, only with added decadence.

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ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING (1975)

Dir. Robert Stevenson

After creating fantastical visions of a timeless London in Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomstick, Robert Stevenson makes the most British of Disney films with this supremely fun tale of a microfilm, a stolen dinosaur skeleton, Chinese spies and a team of action-packed Nannies. Peter Ustinov purrs his way through the film as the head of the Chinese network, supported by Derek Nimmo, Joan Sims, Helen Hayes and Bernard Bresslaw.

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PROFONDO ROSSO (1975)

Dir. Dario Argento

There are parts of this film which remain the most terrifying stuff I have ever watched. Later films would see Argento almost swamp the terror with an excess of style, but here every element succeeds to maximise the horror, from the creepy flashbacks to the driving Goblin score. The greatest Giallo, bar none.

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THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER (1975)

Dir. Blake Edwards

The connoisseur’s Panther film and certainly the funniest (yes, even A Shot In The Dark). All the series’ elements are at their best: the Cato attacks, Herbert Lom going crazy, Richard William’s great animated title sequence, a magnificent Mancini score and one of Sellers most consistently hilarious performances, surrounding himself with some of his favourite co-stars: David Lodge, Graham Stark, John Bluthal and Victor Spinetti.

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SHIVERS (1975)

Dir. David Cronenberg

Cronenberg hit the ground running with his first feature, displaying all the wit, style, daring and graphic body horror that would define his career. The low budget only raises Cronenberg’s creativity as the rich bland residents of a clinical high rise apartment block become host to a gruesome parasite, turning them all into sex maniacs. Smart, satirical and shocking.

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THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975)

Dir. Bryan Forbes

An offbeat satirical thriller, with Bryan Forbes adding his usual eerie directorial skills to the tale of new bride Joanna’s (Katharine Ross) growing paranoia in the all too idyllic Connecticut suburb of Stepford. William Goldman adapted Ira Levin’s novel, although he famously quit the project after Forbes’ wife Nanette Newman (who appears in almost all his films) was cast as one of the wives.

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THE LIKELY LADS (1976)

Dir. Michael Tuchner

Forget that it’s a sitcom spin-off (even if it is one of the great sitcoms). This episodic comedy drama sees Bob (Rodney Bewes) and Terry (James Bolam) lost in their middle-aged lives, pining for youth and the promise it offered, set against a changing Newcastle landscape. As such, this film, and the writing of Clement and La Frenais, is more closely aligned to the social commentary of the New Wave than 70’s sitcom – only a lot funnier!

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THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976)

Dir. Nicholas Roeg

A film that could very well have fallen from space, such are the obscure otherwordly qualities of both David Bowie’s performance and Nicholas Roeg’s typically oblique direction. Who better than Bowie at the height of his warped creativity to play a morose alien (regardless of whether or not it could be classed as acting!) and who better to bring out those alien qualities than the off-kilter Roeg?

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MARATHON MAN (1976)

Dir. John Schlesinger

The consummate Hollywood thriller of the 1970’s, laced with a feverish sense of paranoia throughout. Several iconic scenes – murder at the opera, the dentist’s chair – and a sinister under-played performance from Laurence Olivier as Nazi war criminal Dr. Szell, have made it a cult favourite. But it’s William Goldman’s expertly plotted screenplay that make it gripping on every viewing.

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SILVER STREAK (1976)

Dir. Arthur Hiller

The first and best collaboration between Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, this rollicking comic thriller impressively manages to mesh a neat Hitchcockian murder plot with sustained comic lunacy. Plus Patrick McGoohan as a villainous art forger. The cinematic definition of fun.

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THE AMERICAN FRIEND (1977)

Dir. Wim Wenders

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ERASERHEAD (1977)

Dir. David Lynch

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JABBERWOCKY (1977)

Dir. Terry Gilliam

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SUSPIRIA (1977)

Dir. Dario Argento

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DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

Dir. George A. Romero

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THE SHOUT (1978)

Dir. Jerzy Skolimowski

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MAD MAX (1979)

Dir. George Miller

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QUADROPHENIA (1979)

Dir. Franc Roddam

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THE WARRIORS (1979)

Dir. Walter Hill

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SIR HENRY AT RAWLINSON END (1980)

Dir. Steve Roberts

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AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)

Dir. John Landis

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CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)

Dir. Desmond Davis

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THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

Dir. Sam Raimi

Evil Dead II may have been slicker, but the first film is sicker. A perfect example of ingenuity on a small budget, Sam Raimi’s definitive ‘video nasty’ is a gruesome little treat, aided by some deliciously cheap effects and an overhanging sense of something fantastically corruptive, which still stands up today.

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EXCALIBUR (1981)

Dir. John Boorman

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THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER (1981)

Dir. Jim Henson

In the words of Kermit “Gee, I wish I were you people seeing this for the first time.”

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POSSESSION (1981)

Dir. Andrzej Żuławski

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TIME BANDITS (1981)

Dir. Terry Gilliam

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THE THING (1982)

Dir. John Carpenter

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A PRIVATE FUNCTION (1984)

Dir. Malcolm Mowbray

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THE FLY (1986)

Dir. David Cronenberg

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THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE (1986)

Dir. Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, David Michener, John Musker

The textbook cult Disney film. Vincent Price

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WHEN THE WIND BLOWS (1986)

Dir. Jimmy Murakami

The grim effects of radiation sickness from the man who gave us The Snowman. An elderly couple (voiced by John Mills and Peggy Ashcroft) recapture the Blitz spirit by building their own shelter before a nuclear attack, unaware that the nature of warfare has significantly changed. Roger Waters and David Bowie provide the soundtrack.

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THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)

Dir. Rob Reiner

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WITHNAIL AND I (1987)

Dir. Bruce Robinson

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DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (1988)

Dir. Frank Oz

Recapturing the glossy comedies of the 50’s and 60’s, Frank Oz’s remake of the Brando/Niven movie Bedtime Story is a perfectly honed comic caper about two rival con artists. Michael Caine plays the consummate bounder. And hurrah for the days when Steve Martin was still an achingly funny screen presence. And to think, it was originally intended as a vehicle for Mick Jagger and David Bowie!

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A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988)

Dir. Charles Crichton

John Cleese, having perfected the half-hour sitcom format with Fawlty Towers, aimed to write a perfect feature-length comedy and again succeeded. Taking the great Ealing comedies as his benchmark, Cleese brought 78-year old Crichton out of retirement to direct this classic heist comedy, with starched Britishness rubbing up against brash Americanism to brilliant effect.

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MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO (1988)

Dir. Hayao Miyazaki

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BARTON FINK (1991)

Dir. Joel Coen

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TWIN PEAKS – FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992)

Dir. David Lynch

Perhaps annoyed that the series had given too much of the game away, Lynch decided to muddy the waters more than somewhat, taking us through the final 10 days of Laura Palmer’s life with much focus on the sinister Lodge and a total disregard for the casual. A unique and terrifying film, for those not sufficiently weirded-out by the TV series.

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My journey through the world of film cult-ure continues and no doubt this list will grow with it. But these are my essential starting blocks. So if any film here that you haven’t seen has piqued your interest, then seek it out – you’re in for a treat.

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7 responses

  1. I have to admit that I really enjoy reading your blog…Thanks to your suggestions I found such inspiring (and weird!) movies!

    ^_^

    December 12, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    • fantasticvoyages

      Thanks a lot, very kind! The weirder the better! Glad I’ve helped you discover and enjoy some strange and wonderful films. I’ll finish the write ups for this cult film list sometime soon!

      December 13, 2010 at 11:56 pm

  2. A really great definition of what a cult film is. Sometimes I can’t find the right way to put it (my younger brother asked me the other day why a film is considered a cult film, and I could only say “watch Eraserhead to find out”).
    Great list too!

    April 28, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    • fantasticvoyages

      Thanks for the comment – much appreciated! (And reminds me that I must finish writing a response to each film!) Deciding what is/isn’t a cult film is hard to pin down. I think certain films just have the right sense of cult-ness about them – Eraserhead being a definitive example!

      May 2, 2011 at 10:18 pm

  3. Alex

    WOW.
    Thank you for this neverending source of recommendations. Will not stop until see them all.
    GREAT SITE!!!

    April 30, 2011 at 1:43 am

    • fantasticvoyages

      Hey thanks a lot Alex, most kind! Good luck tracking them all down (you can’t go wrong with any of them in my humble opinion!) But I warn you, as I explore cinema even deeper I may well expand the list to 300!! …

      May 2, 2011 at 10:21 pm

  4. Many thanks for posting this list.
    I must admit to being slightly (completely) obsessed with cinema and there are several films here I have yet to see!

    ~Ivy~

    February 7, 2012 at 9:27 pm

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