The term “cult film” isn’t a term that you tend to hear a lot about unless you’re specifically looking for something that falls in the genre. In fact, the definition of a cult film is probably different for everyone.
The technical definition is probably along the lines of a movie that wasn’t well received by the public/critics on its initial release but gained a following later on, whether through home video sales or even streaming at this point.
I always say a cult film is the kind of film you see at a special midnight showing like your Rocky Picture Horror Show, The Blob (1958), and The Room. You know the ones where people dress up and act out the scenes with the characters in the film. I also tend to lump a lot of “So Bad It’s Good” films in this genre as well.
The 80s produced its fair share of cult films, some great… some not so great. I’m going to share 10 cult horror films from the 80s that you need to watch. These aren’t necessarily ranked by how much I like them. I’m listing them based in when they came out.
When it comes to slasher films, the ones that immediately come to mind are probably Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, etc. What about slasher cult films?
Slasher films are one of my favorite horror film genres and I could probably fill this list with films from that genre. The one film I did pick for the list is Pieces.
Pieces fits into a lot of different genres. It’s considered to be an exploitation film, a splatter film, and also a Giallo film. It was critically panned for these reasons but gained a cult following years later on the home video market. It also had various midnight screenings and was even popular in drive-thrus… when they were around.
Pieces is a film that revolves around an unknown assailant that targets college girls, cuts them up with a chainsaw, and takes their body parts. It features a cop that is really good at tennis, brutal death scenes, and a shocking ending.
It even has Bruce Le in it! …and yes, that’s spelled correctly in this case.
The Thing (1982)
It’s hard for me to think of John Carpenter’s The Thing as a cult film because it’s so widely known and loved. I mean heck, it’s probably my all-time favorite horror film. But, to be fair, it did have a poor showing in theaters. It found its following on the home market and then it eventually became widely regarded as a good film.
The story takes place in Antarctica in a research outpost. The group that works at this outpost unwittingly brings an alien entity into their base. The alien is an organism that is able to take over the cells in the human body and change its shape at will.
The alien’s main goal is to hide and adapt and spread… but it ultimately wants to get back to its own planet. Once discovered, the Thing morphs into disturbing creatures in order to protect itself. Think of an animal that has been cornered. The group begins to lose trust in one another as anyone can be infected with the organism.
John Carpenter’s The Thing is known for its amazing practical effects and cool monsters. It has drama, tension, isolation, alien monsters, and Kurt Russell… what more could you want in a movie?
Night of the Comet (1984)
Night of the Comet is a science fiction horror comedy that actually performed relatively well when it was in theaters… well… I mean it did well enough to come in 3rd during its opening weekend. Unfortunately, it had a short run in theaters. Now for the familiar story, Night of the Comet became very popular during its home release.
The story revolves around a comet that passes Earth. This comet was apparently the same one that wiped out the dinosaurs. The comet vaporizes a majority of the inhabitants on Earth and turns the rest into blood sucking zombies. Well, that is, except for our 4 main protagonists. A majority of the movie actually centers on these protagonists and how they cope with their new situation.
Night of the Comet is a fun movie all around. The character interactions are a blast and the environment is visually stunning. It’s a film that makes light of the scenario it presents and gives us an entertaining film.
The Stuff (1985)
Ah The Stuff. A satirical horror comedy film… depending on who you ask. Larry Cohen wrote and directed this film and thought of it more as a satirical comedy whereas the movie was sold as a horror film. As such, it didn’t do great in the box office but found its footing in home video sales.
The movie revolves around an unknown white goop that is marketed as an after dinner snack. It’s known to be bad for people, but it tastes great! So, why not market it for the masses? This is where the satirical aspect of the film comes in to play. The film shines a light on consumerism and how companies push products on consumers, regardless of whether it is healthy or not.
The movie even parodies many ad campaigns such as the “Where’s the Beef?” commercials that we popular at the time. Either way, it’s an interesting film that has a unique monster and a good premise. I promise you won’t be able to get enough of The Stuff!
Return of the Living Dead (1985)
What happens when you mix a group of punks with a group of undead zombies with an insatiable appetite for brains? You get horror comedy gold that’s what. Now, Return of the Living Dead actually did pretty well in the box office, but I’d say that Return of the Living Dead is a cult classic because it actually helped redefine the zombie genre. Return of the Living Dead popularized (i.e. started) the trope of zombies saying, “brains.”
The plot revolves around two Medical warehouse employees unleashing a gas that brings back the dead. The container that they open was left there from a supposed zombie outbreak that happened long ago (which is a reference to Night of the Living Dead). The container even contains a corpse inside. The group unwittingly bring back all of the dead things inside of the warehouse.
There’s a bright idea to burn all of the reanimated corpses at the nearby mortuary/crematorium which, of course, creates more zombies. Shenanigans ensue as the dead from a local graveyard start coming back and that’s when things hit the fan.
“Brains!” From IMDB
Return of the Living Dead is a fun time. It is able to blend comedy and horror together seamlessly and the special effects are great. The zombie from the container, or Tar Man as he is known as, looks revolting, disgusting, and any other similar adjective… and what I mean by that is they did a great job with him. The same goes for the rest of the zombies as well.
Now I’m sure I’m going to get an earful for including Troll on the list and not Troll 2, but a) Troll 2 came out in 1990 and b) do you really need me to talk about Troll 2? It’s a cult film that’s so well known that its cult film status is really debatable…I guess kind of like John Carpenter’s The Thing.
In any case, Troll is a movie that didn’t make any waves in the box office but gained a cult following later on. Probably due to Troll 2, but still.
The plot revolves around the Potters. The Potters move in to their new apartment complex and very quickly their young daughter is captured by an evil Troll. The Troll, named Torok, takes on her appearance and proceeds to capture other people in the apartment.
He’s creating a monster paradise throughout the apartment by converting each room into forests and turning tenants into monsters. The Potter’s son, Harry Potter Jr… Obligatory Harry Potter joke and we’re moving, we’re moving… seeks out help from a local witch in order to stop Torok.
Troll is a movie with laughably bad acting, a ridiculous plot, some decent effects, and the always wonderful Phil Fondacaro. It also features a musical scene where all of the monsters in Torok’s forest sing. If that doesn’t sell you then I don’t know what will.
Mad Ron’s Prevues from Hell (1987)
You like horror movies? I mean, you have to if you’re reading this. Mad Ron’s Prevues from Hell is a horror movie compilation. The movie focuses on unrated trailers of horror movies from the 60s-70s. The story, as it is, is about a Nick Pawlow and Happy Goldsplatt showing off a collection of Mad Ron’s movie Prevues to an audience of zombies.
The story isn’t really where this movie shines though. This movie shines in the interaction between Nick and Happy. Happy is a zombie ventriloquist dummy and Nick does a really good job with his performance. The skits between these two make me laugh and are honestly a highlight of Mad Ron’s Prevues from hell.
Skits between a man and his puppet aside, the main focus of Mad Ron’s Prevues from Hell are the Prevues. There are 48 Prevues in all during this movie’s runtime. The Prevues range from horror favorites such as: Night of the Living Dead, Last House on the Left, Silent Night Deadly Night, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The film also features many films that are not so well known such as: I Eat Your Skin, The Corpse Grinders, and The Wizard of Gore.
Mad Ron’s Prevues from Hell is a guilty pleasure of mine. The cheesy acting and dialogue is a must see and the Prevues are fantastic.
Street Trash (1987)
Street Trash is a movie that aims to offend. No, really, it was written to offend literally everyone. The plot of this movie is a bit all over the place though. It centers on homeless people that live in a junkyard and focuses on how they handle it. Some create shelter from the surrounding debris while others make knives out of human femurs and kill anyone that crosses them.
There’s also the threat to the homeless by way of a liquor called Tenafly Viper. Anyone that drinks this stuff is instantly melted in the most gruesome ways possible. The film is listed as a Dark horror comedy and also falls within the melt movie sub-genre.
Street Trash wasn’t widely released and was panned from those who saw it. It received a few re-releases that remastered the footage and added commentary/interviews.
Street Trash does do its best to offend, but there are also a lot of very humorous scenes throughout the movie. There are scenes between a mobster and his driver that are absolutely hilarious. In addition, there is a sequence where someone has his genitals removed and has it thrown about the junkyard. The homeless people proceed to toss it around while the man runs after to retrieve it… I’m not kidding.
You know, I’m not actually sure why this didn’t do better in the box office…
Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
Killer Klowns from Outer Space is one of the more popular cult films on this list. Chances are, even if you haven’t seen this film, you’ve probably heard about it. Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a cult classic through and through.
It’s a horror comedy that doesn’t take itself seriously but can still freak you out. I can’t find exact numbers on how the film performed, but I saw initial reviews were not positive. This is another time when home video saved the film.
The movie revolves around killer klowns arriving from outer space… It’s nice when movie titles spell out the plot for you isn’t it? The klowns terrorize a local town and kidnap everyone in sight. The reason they kidnap people? Well, they need to drink blood in order to live.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space isn’t Shakespeare, but that’s not what the title Killer Klowns from Outer Space invokes. We want klowns from out space!… and that’s exactly what we get.
Hobgoblins is an example of the lowest of budget films. This film is often referred to as one of the worst films of all time and for good reason. It has terrible acting, terrible effects, bad monster designs, a ridiculous premise, and plot holes… but it’s so bad that it’s actually really funny.
The plot centers around a group of friends that are plagued by the titular monsters. The Hobgoblins are able to bring out a person’s greatest desires, creating illusions in the process. The illusion always seems to end in death though. The main group hits the generic horror movie stereotypes of prude, needy, aggressive bully, and whore. So you can imagine that the illusions get pretty ridiculous.
I’ve heard this film also gets midnight showings, but I haven’t found anything to support that. I will say it gained more notoriety and fell firmly into cult film status after being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K). It’s highly regarded as one of the best episodes (citation: my opinion) and shows this movie is best when viewed with friends.
Got any cult films that you really enjoy?
There are plenty of other movies that could have made this list, but these were the first 10 to pop up in my mind. What are some of your favorite cult films?