Five Weird Backstories Behind Infamous Cult Movies
Some cult movies are loved for being bad and campy. Others are celebrated for breaking taboos and creating controversy. Many more were ignored and forgotten in their own day, and have only been appreciated years after their original release. Cult movies are often strange and unique . Sometimes, as in the five examples here, the backstories behind cult movies are just as weird and fascinating as the movies themselves.
5. Snuff Sparked A Snuff Movie Panic
Made on an extravagant budget of $30,000 in Argentina, Snuff follows the murderous misadventures of a poorly-dubbed hippie gang and their Charles Manson-like leader, Satan.
When it was originally released in 1971 under the name Slaughter, the movie hardly attracted any attention on the grindhouse circuit. But then in 1975, an American producer named Allan Shackleton retitled it and added a new ending where the filmmakers killed and disemboweled an actress for REAL.
Okay, it wasn’t real, but Shackleton advertised that it was. He also passed around fake newspaper articles about an attorney who was fighting Snuff’s release. Enticed by the controversy, curious filmgoers turned Snuff into a huge hit, with all the fake outrage giving way to real protesters who picketed and made bomb-threats to theaters that screened the movie.
Even a few authority figures were duped. One New York detective claimed that there was an entire racket of similar murder-for-profit movies, while Gloria Steinem and Susan Sontag called for an investigation. In response, the Manhattan district attorney decided to look into the allegations, and the Los Angeles Police Department did an investigation as well.
Snuff was a hoax, and there’s no such thing as real-life snuff movies.
4. The Room Initially Had a Vampire Subplot
Dubbed “The Citizen Kane of bad movies” by one admirer, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is a mind-blowingly terrible drama about a love triangle between wealthy banker Johnny (Wiseau), his fiancée Lisa (Juliette Danielle), and his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero).
Thanks to its poor acting, dialogue, and editing, The Room’s become a cult favorite. Its numerous bizarre scenes include a football game played in tuxedos, an awkward birthday brawl accompanied by chicken noises, and possibly the funniest suicide ever committed to film.
Originally, Wiseau wrote The Room as a play, which he then adapted into a 500 page novel. While it’s hard to imagine how The Room could have been worse, a lot of oddball ideas apparently didn’t make it into the final movie.
According to Greg Sestero’s memoir, The Disaster Artist, Wiseau cut out a subplot about Johnny being a vampire. The big twist was supposed to be revealed when Johnny, driving his Mercedes-Benz, magically flew off a roof and into the sky. Sadly, this idea was scrapped due to practical purposes.
3. The Lead Actor Of The Crow Was Accidentally Killed In A Stunt
Alex Proyas’s The Crow is a dark revenge story about Eric Draven (Brandon Lee), a man who comes back from the dead to punish the gang that murdered him and his fiancée.
On March 30, 1993, while filming the scene where his character is killed, Lee was accidentally shot for real after a gun on set malfunctioned. The bullet hit Lee in the abdomen, and although he was rushed to the hospital for surgery, he died in the early morning.
With its lead gone, The Crow’s production was brought to a halt. After a few days, the producers decided to finish the rest of the movie. To account for Lee’s death, some of the script was rewritten, and the remaining scenes with his character were done with a body double and digital effects.
2. A Court Ordered Nosferatu To Be Destroyed
The vampire Count Orlok is definitely one of the creepiest movie monsters of all time. In addition to traumatizing an untold number of young Spongebob fans, Count Orlok is the star of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, the third highest-ranking horror movie on Rotten Tomatoes.
For all the acclaim and influence Nosferatu enjoys today, the movie might nearly have been lost because of a court ruling that ordered its destruction. Nosferatu was actually illegally adapted from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Despite the creators’ attempts at changing names and omitting details, including the use of the word “vampire,” the similarities to Dracula weren’t lost on Stoker’s estate. Stoker’s widow fought Prana Film, the studio responsible for Nosferatu, with a lawsuit over copyright infringement.
In the end, Stoker’s widow won out. Prana Film was financially ruined, and a Berlin court decided that all existing copies of Nosferatu had to be destroyed. Fortunately, an unknown British distributor ignored the ruling, and various copies ended up circulating across Europe and the United States.
1. The Men Behind the Sun Used A Real Corpse For A Special Effect
In Hollywood, there are plenty of urban legends floating around that certain famous movies, like Poltergeist, contained real corpses. Many of these legends are dubious at best, but T.F. Mou’s Men Behind the Sun is the real deal.
In making his movie about Unit 731, Japan’s secret biowarfare department that committed horrific experiments on enemy civilians during World War II, Mou wanted to pull no punches in showing graphic violence. For the movie’s special effects, the director used a variety of animal entrails, human limbs, and in a controversial autopsy scene, a cadaver.
To film that last scene, Mou annoyed a local police station for 2 months to get a corpse he could use. After they finally found him one, Mou asked the boy’s parents permission to use it in his movie, which they accepted.
Some have praised Men Behind the Sun for this graphic attempt at realism, while others have accused it of being an exercise in tasteless exploitation. For his part, Mou spent years researching the material, and considers it a serious historical movie about a politically sensitive issue.
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Bronstein, Carolyn. Battling Pornography: The American Feminist Anti-Pornography Movement, 1976-1986. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Google Books. Web. 24 March 2017.
Lannamann, Ned. “Tommy Wiseau: The Complete Interview(s).” The Portland Mercury. 13 August 2009. Web. 25 March 2017.
Massaccesi, Cristina. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. Leighton Buzzard: Auteur, 2015. Google Books. Web. 28 March 2017.
Morin, Ross. “The Citizen Kane of Bad Movies.” Ross Morin Film. Web. 28 March 2017.
Stine, Aaron Scott. “The Snuff Film: The Making of an Urban Legend.” Skeptical Inquirer. May/June 1999. Web. 24 March 2017.
Totaro, Donato. “T.F. Mous: The Man Behind the Sun, part 1.” Offscreen. January 1999. Web. 28 March 2017.