It probably won't surprise you that the concept of the "cult" film is not a simple or clear one to outsiders. There are many different cults, with different values and different idols, in the universe of "cult" films. For instance, there has always been a "so-bad-it's-good" faction, whose members like to ridicule cheapness, and "low" social vulgarities. The early prophets of this faction are people like conservative social commentator Harry Medved, who cowrote the "Golden Turkey Awards" and "The Fifty Worst Films of All Time" books, which helped set the ideological tone for years of sneering, sarcastic ridicule of "bad" films.
There is what we might consider the Danny Peary faction. An excellent writer, Peary lionized a particular kind of "cult"criticism in his multiple volumes of the "Cult Movies" books. Never dismissive, Peary celebrates these films for their unique qualities and their advocacy of outsider voices. Peary is a fan of the subversive and the humanistic and the books are essential reading for anyone interested in what lies just outside the bounds of the canon.
And then there is Michael Weldon. Springing from the same post-war junk pile that birthed the band The Cramps, Weldon's aesthetic is that of the unapologetic connoisseur of the sublime aspects of trash culture. A fan of "Mad" Magazine, late night televised horror movies and the snotty proto-punk of the '60s, Weldon soaked up the frantic zeitgeist of his age, formed a Cleveland punk band called Mirrors in the early '70s. A few years later, in New York, he was a pioneer of the mimeographed zine revolution with his weekly publication "Psychotronic TV," a sort of alternative TV Guide presenting his recommendations of which films and television episodes to watch, along with other cultural commentary.
The Psychotronic track of "cult" movie appreciation is responsible for many of today's predominant attitudes about these films. Never snobbish or dismissive, Weldon sees Bela Lugosi and Vampira (to name a couple of obvious examples) as prophets of the trash punk aesthetic. If their films are "bad" they are bad in the sense that the Ramones are "bad." Bad is better, because the world is bad. This aesthetic coloration appears today in the programming of Weird Wednesday and Terror Tuesday at the Alamo Drafthouse, in the Fantastic Fest idea of programming, and in the selection of cultish titles selected for the Lates series here at AFS.
I spent years trying to complete my own collection of "Psychotronic Video" magazine (the somewhat more sturdily put-together followup to the early mimeographed fanzine, and now it seems that the internet has done it for me, as the online site Archive.org now hosts a full archive of "Psychotronic Video" magazine plus some of the early "Psychotronic TV" issues as well
. This is a big deal, and in one fell swoop has justified the invention of the iPad. Enjoy these issues with their years of interviews, reviews and features. This is truly a cultural treasure.
Special thanks to Rodney Perkins for bringing this archive to our attention. And of course special thanks to Michael Weldon, whose current venture, the Psychotronic Store has in one fell swoop justified the invention of Augusta, Georgia.