Tuesday, September 18, 2012


The Camp and Cult Blogathon is an event looking at movies on the fringe - obscure, overlooked, often unpolished films throughout history that still managed to attract audiences in spite of, or often because of, their lack of professionalism, hosted by She Blogged By Night. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the host site.

Psychomania (AKA The Death Wheelers)
from John & Sue's DVD collection

Participating in this blogathon made me realize I don't own any DVDs or VHS tapes of films that could be considered "cult" or "camp" - at least, not now, in 2012. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I mean, it's certainly no crime to the cinematic gods that I, a film geek, don't own a Russ Meyer or a Ray Dennis Steckler film (despite what some of you may think). Anyone who has read WSW long enough knows that I've written about cult films, underground films, whatever you wanna call them, but when it comes to owning movies, I guess I've always favored more mainstream material. (Relatively speaking; I own films by Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson and Kevin Smith, for example, and they're not exactly middle-of-the-road filmmakers.)

What does "cult" even mean in 2012? To me, part of the implication of the term within this context is that it's somewhat obscure, rare, hard to find. But as I've talked about here before, the internet has made practically everything in pop culture relatively easy to buy, rent or watch. It's certainly easier, say, than traveling 100 miles from Smalltown, USA to the nearest big city to see a 16mm print of a 60s biker flick you discovered in the Leonard Maltin guide, or searching all the video stores in town for an out-of-print 70s slasher flick you read about in Fangoria.

This is something I was aware of when I collected comics: the thrill of the hunt, the long search for an item that's rare or hard to find. I know I'm not the only one who considers this to be part of experiencing anything considered "cult." When you don't have easy access to something, you tend to appreciate it more, and that's where the devotion and reverence for a cult film comes from. 

Still, I'm not exactly an expert on the subject, so take my views for what they're worth. And I'm even less qualified to attempt to define "camp," so I won't go there.

I knew I could count on my pals John and Sue to have a fair amount of mondo bizarro films, and after perusing their selection, I settled on a British creeper from 1973 called both Psychomania and The Death Wheelers. It's about the world's most wholesome looking biker gang who, through their leader's spirit medium mother, discover a way to cheat death. The good bits: the score, which includes an original song sung by one of the bikers that's more Donovan than Steppenwolf. Also...

...no, actually, that's about the only thing I liked about it. The premise has potential, but it's undone by its need to take itself way too seriously. Maybe it's the British way to approach even Z-listers like this as if it were Macbeth, but it could've used a good shot of John Waters-like self-aware silliness. Plus, not enough sex and/or violence.

Psychomania happens to be the last film of none other than veteran Brit character actor George Sanders. He plays butler to the biker leader and his mom, but alas, Addison DeWitt doesn't get any really juicy scenes. I've written before about how heartbreaking it can be to see Golden Age Hollywood greats slumming in low-budget genre fare in their twilight years. The money for something like this couldn't have been that good...!

The great thing about watching movies like this with John is that he is a champion heckler of many years standing, and he was in rare form on Sunday when we all watched it. Sue is almost as good - her heckling has a sillier edge, while John tends to go for the jugular. I, on the other hand, am the type of person who thinks of a great one-liner five minutes after the moment arrives. Heckling is often a vital part of the camp and cult experience. I just wish I were better at it.

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  1. Great post. That's a good point about cult films being considered cult by lack of availability. Rob Zombie mentions Skidoo in The Devil's Rejects, and it was a kind of hardcore film nerd reference at the time, but now it's been on TCM several times and is even out on DVD!

    If everyone has seen a movie then is it cult anymore? I don't know! It has to affect its cult standing, that's for sure.

    Psychomania is one of those films I got off of TCM Underground but haven't seen yet. I watched about 10 minutes on TCM when it aired and it looks imminently heckle-able! I need to find people to watch it with.

  2. I wasn't aware TCM played movies like these. Interesting.


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