Horror movies work hard to create the kind of atmosphere that lends itself to cult obsession. That's because creating "scare" requires a complete manipulation of all the elements of a movie, from sight to sound to lighting and dialogue. You can pull off comedy and drama without manipulating each and every part of a film, but horror requires a totally different approach, one that pretty much ensures entry into the world of the cult film.
Here are ten cult horror movie classics--movies that spawned generations of horror movie-obsessed fans and influenced countless filmmakers throughout cinematic history.
Starring Ralph Morgan, Maxine Doyle, and Mischa Auer, Condemned to Live is a very early example of cult horror. Director Frank Strayer essentially made two movies with the same plot, an earlier movie called The Vampire Bat and this film. Since The Vampire Bat was a flop, Strayer recast the movie, tweaked a few things in the script, and reshot the story. In Condemned to Live, villagers want answers from the town doctor about a series of strange murders. It turns out that the doctor is the source of the horror, thanks to his mother having been bitten by a vampire bat while he was in the womb. As famous for its awful story and effects as anything else, Condemned to Live is a horror cult hit.
Produced by Gene Corman (Roger Corman's brother), Attack of the Giant Leeches is your standard 1950s atomic age horror film in which radiation seeps into the water and creates terrible creatures that threaten to destroy the world. As famous for being an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 as anything else, Attack of the Giant Leeches features Playboy Playmate Yvette Vickers in some (for the time) scandalous skin scenes that have nothing at all to do with the plot.
Roger Corman was hardly better than when he tried his hand at horror-comedy. A Bucket of Blood was his first horror-comedy release, concerning the murderous impulses of an artistic beatnik. Insulting "beatnik culture" was the sport of the day at the time this film was made, and A Bucket of Blood has it in spades, though film students and historians praise this movie for its honest depiction of the Southern California beatnik scene. A Bucket of Blood is a real time-capsule of a movie, though it isn't the scariest or most suspenseful movie on this list by a long shot.
Sometimes known by the title Monstrosity, The Atomic Brain must be seen to be believed. An old rich woman hires a weirdo doctor to transplant her brain into a young and beautiful body. Three immigrant women (so much racism!) are chosen for the task, and the old woman sets about choosing which body she likes the most. The movie gets weird when the scientist decides to replace one of the women's brains with that of a cat. Recently turned into an off-Broadway musical, The Atomic Brain is making a comeback as a campy and decidedly bizarre example of 60s horror cult classics.
Bloody Pit of Horror is an Italian film shot in the gothic style as an homage to the writings of the Marquis de Sade. The plot is pretty loose--an artist brings models to his creepy castle and starts torturing them to satisfy his dark desires--but Bloody Pit of Horror is most notable for the intricate sets and props and the strangely ineffective protagonist, who tries and fails to save nearly every one of the victims.
A surreal German horror film, Blood Demon is a rare cult horror classic, very seldom seen outside of cult horror movie circles. Very loosely based on Edgar Allen Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum, Blood Demon tells the story of a dead Count who returns to seek revenge on those who had him executed for torturing and killing women. Christopher Lee stars as Count Regula--be aware that most "rental" versions of this 60s classic are heavily cut, so to see the original film in all its bloody glory you have to order it from European film retailers.
The ultimate cult horror classic, 1968's Night of the Living Dead is the film that started the zombie-obsession that continues to this very day. George A Romero's classic zombie horror film set the standard for zombie movies--most zombie movie conventions started right here. In contemporary dollars, Night of the Living Dead earned nearly $250,000,000 in revenue, having been shot for around $200,000 in adjusted dollars. Considered one of the most successful horror movies of all time, Night of the Living Dead is also still very creep, and a true gem for any cult horror movie fan's collection.
This horror film is so bad it has earned a place in the pantheon of cult horror movie classics. If the cheesy title doesn't say enough, I Eat Your Skin's awful script and amateurish filming and costumes will tell you all you need to know about bad horror movies.
A classic cult horror movie setup--two highly religious sisters running an inn in Spain begin to kill their immoral guests. Ignore the corny B-movie atmosphere and script and pay attention to how influential this film has been. Movies like Hostel would never exist without It Happened at Nightmare Inn. Pay attention to the excellent acting chops of one of the sisters, played by Aurora Bautista.
There are few truly cult horror movie classics from the 1980s, but Horror Planet (also known as Horrorplanet or Inseminoid) is one of them. All the elements are here--an unlikely plot (concerning the impregnation of a scientist by an alien species), terrible acting, a script that could have been typed by a monkey, and awful sets, costumes, and props.
Cult horror movie classics are not known for being great movies, but for providing cheap entertainment, a little bit of gore, and tons of atmosphere. Without the ten films on this list, modern horror movies would not exist at all.