What’s Your Obsession?

by | June 13, 2020 | General | 4 comments

People tend to get attached to certain films, books, TV shows and music to the point of obsession. We find something we like and just can’t get enough of it. Facebook groups, fan conventions and online clubs sprout up over just about anything. For proof, look at things like “Game of Thrones,” “Star Wars,” the Marvel superhero films and the James Bond flicks. Many of these fall into the category of cult classics.

A cult classic is defined as something that is popular among a particular group or section of society. Cult films are known for their dedicated, passionate fanbase, an elaborate subculture that engages in repeated viewings, quoting dialogue, and audience participation. The term cult film was first used in the 1970s to describe the culture that surrounded underground films and midnight movies. Cult status can also be applied to books, as witnessed by the “Twilight,” “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” series. So many cult classics, so many genres…where do I begin? The mind reels with anticipation.

I suppose the obvious place for me to begin is with pulp fiction novels. I grew up reading the works of Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane, among others. It got to the point where I had to own every book I could find by my favorite authors so I could enjoy them over and over. When I was a teen, Spillane was a definite guilty pleasure, the sort of read-under-the-blanket-with-a-flashlight stuff reserved for adults. Then I discovered my parents’ collection of Harold Robbins books. I sure went through a lot of flashlight batteries after that.

We have a wonderful used bookstore where I live, which I only visit once a year because I could easily drop a week’s pay. I picked up some vintage paperbacks, the kind that used to sell for a quarter in the drugstore. Can you imagine the royalties for a book that only costs 25 cents? No wonder they were called starving authors! The titles alone are lurid enough to grab your attention – “Strip the Town Naked,” “Shack Woman,” “Nude in the Sand,” “Gutter Girl,” “Station Wagon Wives,” “Summer Resort Women,” “Sorority Sin,” and “The Lady is a Lush.” That last one sounds like an old Sinatra song, doesn’t it?

Some of the log lines are just as sleazy as the books— “She showed men the way–the wrong way!” “A man, a woman, and a bottle. A tale of sexual excess.” “The intimate story of Ruth Gordon, who made a sin resort out of a fashionable country club.” “Sex and savagery in the advertising agency jungle!” “The nights were cold, but her bed was warm.” “They said she was born to be bad, and she set out to prove it.” “Society uses an ugly word to describe these women!” “She gave herself to men, to women…even to complete strangers.” You get the idea.

All of these came out in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, and the writing reflects the era. If there was a woman’s point of view in any of them, I missed it. These were aimed at a male audience, the kind of guys who idolized the Rat Pack, swilled Martini’s, and tried to emulate the Playboy lifestyle. I doubt if Harriet Nelson read any of these books, but Ozzie probably read a chapter or two while she was at the PTA meeting.

Along the way, I became a classic film buff, and gravitated toward film noir from the mid-1940s and beyond. Some of them are among my favorites, and they also reflected the times. World War II had ended, GI Joes were coming home to rebuild their lives, and the country was a bit more cynical than before. A new kind of anti-hero emerged, usually in the form of a tough, wisecracking hero, aided or hindered by a glamorous but dangerous (possibly deadly) femme fatale of the frosty blonde variety. For prime examples of this type of brooding melodrama, check out “Double Indemnity,” “The Blue Dahlia,” “The Big Sleep,” “White Heat,” “Detour,” and “Notorious.”

Sometimes, a film will develop such a following because, in the words of critic Michael Medved, “It’s so bad it’s good.” “Night of the Living Dead” is a prime example, but an even better one is “Plan 9 from Outer Space” (1959). It was made by Ed Wood, probably the worst filmmaker ever. He was responsible for such gems as “Bride of the Gorilla” and the cross-dressing expose “Glen or Glenda.” Wood began “Plan 9” with a home movie of his idol, Bela Lugosi, made shortly before his death. He listed him as the star to increase box office appeal, even though his screen time was less than two minutes. Wood then doubled the actor with a guy who was taller, thinner and younger than Lugosi. He also used hubcaps suspended from thread to mimic flying saucers. You have to see this one to believe it.

I found a DVD collection of films from the 1970s, called “Drive-in Cult Classics.” These were ultra-cheap flicks that were shown as the third feature at the drive-in, or at college midnight movie fests. The casts were comprised of C-list actors, the kind that popped up as supporting players on TV shows. These were what we used to call sexploitation movies, the ones that took advantage of the recently-abolished censorship code, giving moviemakers free reign to put out just about anything.

The plots are laughable, the dialogue is unnatural, some of the acting isn’t good enough for community theater, and the sex scenes are ridiculous. One featured an intimate bedroom encounter between a husband and wife, but the guy never took off his pants or shoes while wriggling atop his naked spouse. How realistic is that? Gratuitous nudity also abounds. In another one, the lead actress walked across the screen topless for no reason. That scene came at a place where the story was getting confusing, and the director probably couldn’t think of anything else to do.

And those titles! “Pick-up,” “The Sister-in-law,” “The Teacher,” “The Stepmother,” “Trip with the Teacher,” and “Malibu High Hookers,” to name a few. Check out these poster teaser lines:

“She destroyed her husband’s brother by the most immoral act imaginable!”

“She corrupted the youthful morality of an entire school.”

She forced her husband’s son to commit the ultimate sin!”

“This high school senior worked her way through the faculty lounge.”

A prime example of a cult classic is “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975). A local theater hosts a midnight screening of this one every year as part of their summer classic film series. I’ve seen people showing up in costume and reciting dialogue along with the actors, so this is no longer surprising. What did surprise me was when I attended a Sunday afternoon showing of “The Wizard of Oz” last year. I didn’t expect to see so many kids dressed in calico dresses, ruby red slippers and pigtails, accompanied by their mothers decked out as the Wicked Witch of the West, complete with brooms. I felt like I had entered an alternate universe.

I guess a cult classic can be anything you’re passionate about. What’s your favorite cult classic?

Tim Smith

Tim Smith is an award-winning bestselling author. His books range from romantic mystery/thriller to contemporary erotic romance. He is also a freelance photographer. When he isn't pursuing those two careers he can often be found in The Florida Keys, indulging his passion for parasailing between research and seeking out the perfect Pina Colada.


  1. Larry Archer

    “Touch A Touch A Touch A Me, I Wanna Be Dirty!” from Rocky Horror is one of my all-time favorites. Especially when you can get in the aisles and do the Time Warp. “It’s just a jump to the left!”

  2. Lisabet Sarai

    I was going to mention Rocky Horror but you beat me to it. That came out when I was in graduate school and I saw it many times. I know all the lyrics by heart.

    The Drive In Cult Classics collection sounds like a hoot.

    And since we’re in the erotica zone, are you familiar with the films of Radley Metzger? “The Lickerish Quartet”, “Score”, Isabelle and Therese”, etc. These were basically soft-porn but really well done, with an amazing amount of sexual tension. He shot most of them in eastern Europe so some of the backdrop is sensational. “The Lickerish Quartet is set in some castle!

  3. Rose B. Thorny

    Hello, Tim,

    I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to just one favourite, but I can narrow it down to the first movie I remember really falling in love with, somewhat passionately, the first time I saw it and it remains an oft-watched favourite to this day. It was the first pre-recorded VHS tape I bought, when VCRs came out, and I bought it again as soon as it came out on DVD. Age-wise, I was about 11 the first time I saw it (on our black and white Viking television), And speaking of wise, Robert Wise was the director. It didn’t hurt at all that the leading man was Michael Rennie. Bernard Herrmann’s musical score was also super cool.

    You don’t have to be a Jeopardy! champion to guess, “What is ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still'”? Coincidentally (or not, perhaps), it was released the year I was born. Whether or not it is actually considered a “cult” classic, it *is* a sci-fi movie classic.

    Of course, from an erotic standpoint, there is no sex in the movie. I’m pretty sure there’s none in the book upon which it was based (“Farewell To The Master” by Harry Bates, who received a paltry $500.00 for the movie rights) either, but in my own mind, between the time Gort takes Helen Benson aboard the space ship and the time she and Klaatu emerge from the ship at the the end of the movie, I like to believe that they had their great moment together. I also wonder if anyone else ever thought the same thing, and if they did, why didn’t they write a book about the offspring of that union? For that matter, why haven’t I?!!

    In any case, that’s the first of a good number of movies, as well as TV shows (notably The Avengers — the Emma Peel years — and Star Trek in its many incarnations, especially “The Next Generation”), that became my “cult” favourites, although I haven’t joined any groups of book or movie cultists, nor have I ever attended any conventions of such fans. I’m rather a private nerd.

    All things considered, with everything that is going on in the world, I still believe there is hope, so, with any luck ‘”Klaatu barada nikto” remains Gort’s directive.

    Rose 😉

  4. Jean Roberta

    Interesting post, Tim. Two other types of lurid novels from what might be called the Golden Age of Pulp Paperbacks are lesbian melodramas, some of which have been reprinted, and porn for gay men, which mostly (as far as I know) appeared in magazines sold under the counter. The Rocky Horror Show is interesting because it was a parody of the kind of horror films that were produced in the 1950s/60s by Hammer Studios, often starring Vincent Price. And those usually featured gothic plots by nineteenth-century authors, in which the sexuality is supposedly hidden. Dr. Frank-n-Furter in the Rocky Horror show is clearly based on Victor Frankenstein (a “student of unhallowed arts,” not a Dr.) who creates a new being out of dead body parts in Mary Shelley’s novel. But the created being in Rocky Horror is a luscious male sex object. Fun stuff.

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