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Cult Films, what are they exactly, and what is our particular fascination with them in the US? The definition is as wide ranging as the films themselves, and has changed a bit over the years especially with the advent of the Internet. Firstly the Cult Film (CF) and the extremely dedicated fan go hand in hand. Over the years there has been much dispute over what classifies a CF, but it is generally accepted that a CF starts its life as a low budget film, or one that is specifically nonconformist or transgressive. At its worse it may have just bombed at the box office, at its best it might just be generally shunned by mainstream audiences. Cult Films could be described as the “Hippies” of the film world.

The classic cult film may have started as a film that was suppressed, outlawed or censored by the authorities, but then revived or simply kept alive by dedicated fans. In the case of movies like Reefer Madness, they may have started their life as a misguided, almost obsessive warning or morality film that eventually became almost comical and thus garnered new fans. As in many things that become inexplicably popular, some Cult Films just started as unique, but not particularly good, films that certain dedicated fans gathered to watch repeatedly, taking on character personas and acting out certain scenes, or adding audience participation. It may take many years, even decades for a film to acquire cult status, or with the advent of the Internet which allows short films to go viral, or become popular and seen by millions in a short period of time — a film may receive a cult following quickly. The purist follower will usually say that these new viral-type films can never truly be cult films and may even eventually ruin the idea of the status completely. In the end, though, it seems to be that fan-base or following that gives the film its cult status.

Starting in the late 1970’s, cult films have started to become more popular and watched by mainstream audiences, or perhaps it’s the idea of a film having cult status that garners it new status. One thing that is true is that more viewers usually means more money and that has created the suspicion within true cult fandom that Hollywood may perhaps be attempting to create fake cult status for some films. Anytime you see an advertisement claiming that a film will be an instant cult classic, even before it has been released, the film must be suspect. The very definition we have come to understand seems to make this impossible.

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