America's last great economic recession was in the 1970s, when the price of oil first began to greatly affect the world economy. That makes the 1970s similar to our contemporary life--rising environmental concerns and aesthetic similarities make 2011 even more like 1971.
Some great cult classic movies came out of the 1970s, a decade that is just now long enough ago for real nostalgia to set it. Here is a list of some great cult classic movies from the 1970s.
The 70s was a time when concerns for the environment were first becoming mainstream. Bless the Beasts and the Children is a smarmy story of a group of kids trying to save a herd of buffalo. What makes Bless the Beasts and the Children a cult hit is how difficult it is to find these days, and how downright awful the film is, especially after 40 years in the can.
Don't confuse Willard with its (slightly more popular) sequel Ben--Michael Jackson wrote the theme song for Ben, and made big bucks on it. Willard is the original, described by critics as "The Blob with rats." 70s horror movies are somehow worse than even the exploitation horror flicks of the 50s and 60s, probably because of how dated the costumes and slang are, and the poor quality of film used by directors.
Theatre of Blood gets my vote for the coolest horror flick of the 70s. Vincent Price stars in Theatre of Blood as a Shakespearean actor who fakes his own death, forms a cult, and returns to New York to torture and kill his critics using decidedly Shakespearean methods. A gruesome and suspenseful movie, especially compared to the horror movie schlock that came out in the 70s.
A young Chevy Chase and Richard Belzer are the standout actors in The Groove Tube, an R-rated mockery of American television that should have probably earned an "X" rating. Multiple scenes of full-frontal male and female nudity usually got your movie censored in the 70s--half the jokes in The Groove Tube would earn a modern movie an X or NC-17 rating, particularly the upside-down penis painted to resemble a face making a public service announcement about VD. Hilarious and rare, The Groove Tube was way ahead of its time.
No 70s movie starring David Carradine and Sly Stallone should be considered a "cult classic," but Death Race 2000 is so darn awful that you have to add it to this list. Death Race looks to the future and predicts that in the year 2000, the most popular sport in America is a thing called Death Race. This is a car race that rewards bonus points for running over innocent bystanders, with children and the elderly being the most valuable. I think I'd prefer Death Race to Jersey Shore, but what do I know. Instant cult classic.
Cooley High is the black version of American Graffiti, a coming-of-age story about young black men in Chicago. Yes, there are scenes of monkeys throwing shit at people. Yes, there is an awesome soundtrack. Yes, there's a tragic ending. And yes, the show What's Happening is a spin-off from this movie. Also famous for inspiring the mega-popular Boys 2 Men album "Cooleyhighharmony."
Most people don't remember that seminal 70s tune "Car Wash" comes from this weird little movie. Car Wash is a day in the life of the employees of a Southern California car wash. George Carlin makes an awesome cameo in this movie, and is one of a handful of non-black characters. Watching this movie for the first time in twenty years the other day, I was struck by its vision of racial harmony--the white characters are interesting, well-developed people, as are the black characters. Imagine that.
When I was a kid, Slap Shot was known as the dirtiest movie ever made, mostly because Paul Newman says the F word every few seconds. Slap Shot is still the funniest movie ever made about hockey. Since, in some parts of the country, hockey is a cult sport, Slap Shot was a guaranteed cult classic 70s movie. The best scene in Slap Shot finds hockey player Ned Braeden stripping in the center of the ice in the middle of a huge fight between two rival teams, accompanied by the sounds of "The Stripper" playing over the PA system. Lots of laughs, but most copies of this movie you find today are victims of either a really awful transfer or poor film storage.
The Warriors got a bad rap because of some gang violence that broke out in theaters where it was being shown. Watching the movie now, The Warriors is a pretty clear cut case of "road movie" meets "gangster movie." A gang has to make it all the way back to Coney Island from Woodlawn Cemetery in order to escape attacks from rival gangs. Recently made into a popular video game, The Warriors is growing in popularity again.
What is there to say about Cheech and Chong's delightful valentine to good old marijuana that hasn't already been said? Cheech and Chong would make many movies after Up In Smoke, but none nearly as funny or as interesting. Even without a joint in your hand, Up In Smoke is good comedy, and this movie's setup has been copied time and again by stoner comedy movies throughout movie history.
The 70s are "the new 60s," a time long since past that today's hipsters and nostalgics look back to and yearn for. Lots of awesome movies came out in the 70s, but you'd be hard-pressed to add any of the movies on this list of 70s cult movie classics to AFI's greatest films or really any critical list of truly great cinema. 70s movies weren't about great art, necessarily, but did a wonderful job keeping a generation plagued by economic troubles and political crises entertained.