The offbeat allure of cult films


April 25, 2005, midnight | By Sayoh Mansaray | 15 years, 8 months ago


On a Saturday afternoon in February junior Clare Marshall and her family sit in her living room watching a film that Marshall is an avid fan of: "Napoleon Dynamite." Marshall and her family say quotes along with the movie and laugh aloud at the hilarious parts. "Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills," Clare says, imitating Napoleon's trademark throaty drawl. "You know, like nun chuck skills, bow hunting skills...computer hacking skills."

Marshall is not the only teenager who likes films that are completely different from most movies in theaters. The teen followings of non-mainstream films like "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Donnie Darko" show that today's teens are looking for films that are "off the beaten path," according to English and Literature as Film teacher Mike Horne. Teens are gravitating toward these quirky movies, raising some of them to a cult-like status.

The consensus among Blazers is that a cult movie is a quirky, different film that did not do well in theaters but has since gained a strong and faithful following on DVD or video. In recent years the definition of cult films has begun to evolve and broaden to include films that did not actually flop in theaters. Regardless of the specific definition, recent cult films are attracting teen fans.

"It feels real"

As Marshall continues to watch the film, a scene plays in which Napoleon talks to a girl on the phone. The girl has been forced by her mother to thank Napoleon for a picture he drew of her in hopes of getting a date. "It took me like three hours to finish the shading on your upper lip," Napoleon says to the girl, as Marshall quotes along with him.

Many teens, Marshall included, like cult films because they differ from other films in theaters. Horne says that teens gravitate to cult movies because they are not formulaic. "They are a little bit different, and they require some thought or interpretation," he says.

Junior Katrina Jabonete likes "Donnie Darko," a film about a teen who is teetering on the edge of schizophrenia, because it is so beautifully twisted and darkly weird that the film opens itself to a thousand different interpretations. She believes that teens are drawn to cult movies because they aren't as clean or processed as mainstream flicks and because cult films are less likely to offer a concrete conclusion. Basically, they are more like real life. "[They] deal with problems and emotions in a different, real way," she explains. "Teens relate to [these movies] because it feels real to them."

Time warp

While recent movies are gaining cult status, some students remain exclusively faithful to the classics, becoming part of groups that view their cult favorites over and over again.

Junior Linda Dye fits into this category. She thinks a cult movie is a film that is "so bad it's good." Take her favorite cult film, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," a 1975 musical about a group of gender-bending, quasi-alien, quasi-vampire, raving-lunatics-in-drag. "Ever since I first saw it, I've been completely in love with it," she gushes.

Dye is drawn to the film partially because the close knit following allows her to interact with people she might never have known before. When Dye attended the annual "Rocky Horror" screening at the University of Maryland, she dressed up as one of the film's characters. In a bustier, a feather boa and heels, Dye, along with the rest of the audience, yelled dialogue to the screen and made up their own lines as the movie played.

For Dye, this energy is what keeps her love for the film and its following alive. "You're sitting with these people you've never met, [but] by the end of the movie there's an energy - you're a community," she says.

"If I had a tumor, I'd name it Marla"

Regardless of whether a movie is a classic or a recent hit, movie fans often display their love of films by quoting them. On snowy days, senior Robin Weiss likes to write one-liners from "Fight Club" like, "If I had a tumor, I'd name it Marla" and "We are a generation of men raised by women" on the icy windshields of random cars.

Marshall likes to answer questions with "Napoleon Dynamite" quotes. If a friend asks, "What are you doing today, Clare?" she might respond with a Napoleon line: "Whatever I feel like doing - gosh!"

Horne says that a major component of cult films is quotable dialogue. "Half the fun is reliving it with your friends," he says, smiling. Some fans can quote most of a movie, he adds. Senior Walker Davis, for example, knows most of the lines from "The Big Lebowski."

According to Davis, cult films are never big budget productions, and no movie studio ever sets out to create a cult film - it just happens.

Many teens, like Marshall, just can't get enough of these films. Horne says that cult films are often bizarre, random and edgy, which adds to their appeal. He says that people who watch cult films may have different motives than other moviegoers. "Many people look to film as an escape, [but] others are looking to find different thoughts," he says.



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Sayoh Mansaray. Sayoh Mansaray is a junoir who is SUPER excited about being on the Silver Chips staff. She enjoys the simple pleasures in life, like sleeping late and eating. Sayoh hates waking up early (who doesn't?), so adjusting to school again has been a bit hard, … More »

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