Monday, April 28, 2014

The Five Best Cult Films of the 1960s

Cult film--it's a label that's often applied far too loosely. For purposes of this list, my definition is that a cult film is a motion picture that: (1) lacked significant popular or critical success when originally released; (2) has maintained a small, but loyal, following over an extended period; and (3) has not "gone mainstream." Some movies started out as cult pictures, such as the original Night of the Living Dead, but became famous and lost their cult status.

The 1960s was a banner decade for cult films, so it was a challenge to narrow our choices to the five best cult films of the decade. At the risk of omitting some popular choices, here are our picks:

Carol Lynley--is she really a mother?
1. Bunny Lake Is Missing – Not all cult films are low-budget efforts, as evidenced by this "A" picture that has been sadly forgotten by all except a few faithful fans. Carol Lynley stars as a young American woman, recently transplanted to London, who claims that her daughter has been kidnapped…but no one can remember having seen the girl. Director Otto Preminger’s last great film surprisingly recalls his first classic, Laura. Both films begin as conventional crime dramas dealing with kidnapping or murder, but then an unexpected plot twist takes each in a different direction. An underrated gem.

2. The Last Man on Earth – As far as he knows, Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) is the only remaining human in a world destroyed by a plague of vampirism. Each night, a horde of the bloodsucking creatures gathers around his fortified house and cries out in hunger for the man inside. This first adaptation of Richard Matheson’s terrifying 1954 novel I Am Legend was made in Italy on a shoestring budget. Price is the only English-language actor in the cast. But, despite its financial limitations, it remains an impressive work filled with compelling images and frightening sequences. Later versions starring Charlton Heston (The Omega Man) and Will Smith (I Am Legend) pale in comparison.

Constance Towers in The Naked Kiss.
3. The Naked Kiss (1964) – A prostitute, yearning for a better life, gets a second chance in a Thortonesque town. She finds meaning in her life through caring for handicapped children--but evil lurks in the shadows of this idyllic community. Sam Fuller's lurid melodrama still packs a punch. It paved the way for more acclaimed films like David Lynch's Blue Velvet. Ironically, Fuller's previous film, Shock Corridor, is a better-known cult classic. In my opinion, though, The Naked Kiss is a far superior movie.

B&W publicity still of woman,
balloons, and giant creature.
4. The Lost Continent – I always loved this plot summary from one of my fellow Cafe bloggers: "Shipwrecked survivors drift to an apparently deserted land of strange creatures, killer seaweed, and Spanish soldiers who answer to El Supremo, a leader who appears to be no more than a child--and 'hardly old enough to wipe his own bottom' (as one character puts its)." The Lost Continent also features people that "wear" hot air balloons so they don't sink on boggy land and a groovy title song crooned by a Tom Jones wannabe. What's not to like? Surprisingly, this lively adventure was made by  Hammer Films and stars the marvelous Eric Porter (Soames on the original British TV series The Forsyte Saga).

Linda Lawson as Mora.
5. Night Tide (1961) – A lonely sailor (Dennis Hopper) on shore leave meets a mysterious young woman who plays Mora the Mermaid at one of the pier's tourist attractions. Unfortunately, she may be a siren--"half human and half creature of the sea"--with homicidal tendencies. Written and directed by Curtis Harrington, Night Tide is a moody, stylish black-and-white mystery that makes excellent use of its seaside setting, complete with arcades, coffee houses, and gaudy tourist traps. Though often slow and talky, Night Tide has a haunting quality that lingers after the final credits. Hopper gives a remarkably restrained performance and Linda Lawson channels Simone Simon (The Cat People).

Honorable Mentions: Carnival of Souls; Black Sunday; Danger: Diabolik; Seconds; and Nothing But the Best.


  1. Agree on THE LOST CONTINENT, one of the looniest movies ever made. It's many things but never boring. Really need to see BUNNY LAKE one of these days.

  2. I have to disagree about Last Man on Earth. I found it so slow and dull as to be unwatchable. (And I love old movies!) Have to check out Bunny Lake again. Saw it decades ago. It got terrible reviews, you know. The others I am not familiar with.

  3. I gotta check out this list! Wish I had taken the time to see Shock Coridor and The Naked Kiss tonight on TCM but no such luck. I'm quite familiar with your honorable mention of Carnival of Souls because it was filmed here, in my town. But sounds like you've got some goodies for me to screen. Fun post, Rick!

  4. This is a great list of cult classics! I was so excited to see that TCM showed "The Naked Kiss" last night so I could revisit it. The photo you have posted is quite chilling when you realize what preceded it. As always, my favorite selection is "Bunny Lake is Missing". It is Classic Preminger and I enjoyed your comparison with "Laura" as well. Awesome and thought provoking list, Rick!