While the 1970s might have been the golden era of cult classic movies (with the release of three of the most important cult films of all time, El Topo, Pink Flamingos, and Eraserhead), there were also some great cult classics from the previous decade, the 1960s. While there were so many great cult classics of the '60s, it's impossible to list them all here. Nonetheless, some incredible films deserve an honorable mention, such Barbarella, Blood Feast, The Wizard of Gore, 2,000 Maniacs, Putney Swope, and Peeping Tom. Here is a look at just a few of the best.
MOVIEWEB VIDEO OF THE DAY
9 A Fistful of Dollars
Sergio Leone directed and Clint Eastwood stars in A Fistful of Dollars, one of the first-ever spaghetti Westerns. It’s a fantastic film with an unforgettable soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, who has scored so many classics. There is a town in Mexico that is controlled by two feuding crime groups. They are both ruthless and corrupt. Clint Eastwood’s character, who has no name and is not very talkative or social, works for one group, and then the other, switching loyalties and creating quite a body count (and making a lot of money as well), decimating the bad men who run the town in this early twist on the classic Akira Kurosawa film Yojimbo. Eastwood's unnamed character has a distinctive look with a poncho and a thin brown cigar. He is as ruthless, if not more so, than the inept gangsters who run the town. Eastwood is perfect in this film, the first in a trilogy.
Related: The Best Spaghetti Westerns, Ranked
8 Night of the Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead isn’t the first zombie film, but it is arguably the most incredible and the most important and scary one ever made. More than that, it is one of the best horror movies ever made, and in general, one of the best films ever made. As ghouls rise from the ground, a group of strangers barricaded in a farmhouse fight themselves, fighting more with each other than with their mutual enemy, the zombies.
It’s a great analogy about humankind’s tendency to divide into groups and resort to macho violence, and it is no coincidence the film coincided with the Vietnam War. The lead character is a Black man, just one of the many reasons this film can be considered ahead of its time. There’s a sick girl who is kept in the basement, and she eventually dies and returns as a ghoul, attacking her parents in one of the scariest scenes in the film. The ending is pessimistic, cynical, and sad, and matches the political tone of the film.
7 Shock Corridor
Shock Corridor is a radical film way ahead of its time, dealing with sexual fetishes, incest, racism, mental illness, nuclear war, and a whole host of social issues and problems. It is based somewhat on the case of Nellie Bly, a reporter who was committed to an insane asylum, so she could report on the horrible conditions there. Jack is a reporter out to get a Pulitzer Prize and his wife is a risqué burlesque dancer. He gets admitted to a mental hospital where a murder occurred to try and find the culprit. He does this by claiming to have incestuous desires for his sister (who is actually his wife). Once in the institution though, he himself goes insane.
The other patients are all bizarre and represent modern cultural conflicts. One patient was the first Black person to go to an all-white school, where the pressure was too much, and he turns into a Black hating racist who dresses up in KKK garb. The idea of a sane person entering a mental hospital on a false pretense has been used many times, for example in American Horror Stories: Asylum. In one wild (triggering) scene, Jack is gang-raped by a group of nymphomaniac mental patients. They gather around him like zombies feasting on a meal.
6 Carnival of Souls
Carnival of Souls is an eerie, bizarre, dream-like surrealist horror film from director Herk Harvey. The director, unfortunately, only directed one film. The film has a plot similar to an episode of The Twilight Zone, in which a woman in a car repeatedly sees the same hitch-hiker, which is an impossibility. At the end of the episode, and at the end of the film, we find out what is really going on. In a like manner, the lead of Carnival of Souls sees the same creep over and over; she can never get ahead of him.
At the beginning of the film, she gets into a car accident where her car plunges into water. In one unforgettable scene, she goes deaf, and the film is silent for around twenty minutes - all very surreal and terrifying. In another scene, no one is able to hear her, as if she has become mute (or dead). She plays dark dirge-like music for a church bathing the film in haunting sounds. Numerous directors have cited this film as an influence.
5 The Wild Bunch
The Wild Bunch is a huge influence on many modern filmmakers, from Quentin Tarantino to John Woo. It’s a revisionist Western from Sam Peckinpah that contains outrageous violence. People are shot in slow motion as they ride their horses and their bodies go flying violently to the ground, blood everywhere, in a film which displayed epic and balletic violence long before any others. A group of six men is determined to commit one last crime and then give up their ways, pursued by a bounty hunter. This film and Bonnie and Clyde are frequently cited as bringing more explicit violence to the screen.
4 Spider Baby
Jack Hill’s Spider Baby was Lon Chaney, Jr.’s last film and features a young Sid Haig (now known for playing Captain Spaulding in the Rob Zombie Firefly Family films, such as House of 1,000 Corpses). It is an odd and sad story, which is fitting as Chaney never appeared in another film. Spider Baby is about a bizarre and dysfunctional family, with members who suffer from a rare genetic syndrome that causes them to become more childlike once they hit their teenage years. The devolution is both mental and physical.
Related: These Are The Best Cult Classics of the '90s
Lon Chaney, Jr. takes care of their kids and drives them around. One of the daughters is known as Spider Baby for her obsession with bugs and spiders, which includes eating them, as well as setting up spiderweb-like traps that are capable of killing people. When a lawyer turns up, things go downhill as people realize that there is something seriously wrong with the family. Fitting the definition of cult classics, Spider Baby did poorly at the time of release and only after years did it achieve cult status. The characters, the action, and the plot are all bonkers, and the amazing performances make this strange film realistic and depressing.
3 Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Russ Meyer’s over-the-top film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, about three tough-as-nails women who go around terrorizing people is an outrageous and at times campy experience. Meyer was most famous for his obsession with big-bosomed women and the ladies in this film are both buxom and terrifying, a gang of ruthless criminals who kill and maim for fun and for kicks. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! has intense fight scenes between a man and a woman where the woman ends up destroying the man, which is still rare today. In fact, in one fight, Tura Santana (as Varla, the leader) beats a drag racer to death.
Then the trio of women kidnaps his girlfriend and travels to the estate of a rich elderly pervert to get his money. The old man has sinister intentions regarding the hostage, who begs the old man’s son for help escaping his horny pervert father and the trio of psychopathic vixens. Meyer’s film has cult classic written all over it as the movie becomes more and more bizarre and violent. Varla is one of the most amazing female characters ever seen in a film. This is a true exploitation film in every possible way and is mandatory viewing for those who love cult films, especially the sleazy kind. If you like seeing big women beat men to death and have a great time doing so, this is the film for you.
2 2001: A Space Odyssey
Many people call 2001: A Space Odyssey the ultimate cult film, and some consider it one of the best Stanley Kubrick films. It has a legendary opening sequence with monkeys who learn to fight when some alien power plants an obelisk before them. Much later in the film the obelisk is seen on the moon. The plot involves a manned space flight that is under command of HAL 9000, a computer with artificial intelligence who is mad for power and attempts to kill Keir Dullea’s character.
HAL is scary, monitoring everything, even reading lips when the men talk quietly about what to do, and so he is a “Big Brother” figure who sees all and controls all and eventually declares war on the humans in the craft. Describing the plot does little to explain how great this movie is. 2001 is so masterfully choreographed that it is one of the most beautiful films of all time. The ending of the film cannot be described other than to say that watching it is an experience you will never forget. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a mind-blowing film.
1 The Conqueror Worm (Witchfinder General)
The Conqueror Worm (also known as Witchfinder General) is one of the most nihilistic, pessimistic films ever made. Its young director died at just age 25, and this was his last film. Vincent Price plays historic witch hunter Matthew Hopkins, traveling from city to city, trying and executing local witches. This is a different Vincent Price than we are used to. Even at his worst, his characters usually have a sense of humor. Not so in this film, where he plays an extremely severe and moralistic monster, mastering this evil and horrible character.
One man seeking revenge hunts down Matthew Hopkins for a final confrontation which is nihilist as we can’t ever feel joy that someone finally stops Hopkins. It is not clear from historical records how the real Matthew Hopkins died, but many people claim he was executed in the same fashion as his victims. In this film, we really see just how amazing Vincent Price is as an actor. Instead of cheering his evil antics on as usual, we just want him to die as he travels along with his sadistic sidekick killing and raping scores of innocent people.