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The best cult movies of 2007 didn't exist

By Steve Palopoli

WHAT WAS the best movie experience of 2007? Grindhouse, no question. This artificially engineered double feature from writer-directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez worked on so many levels. First, it delivered conceptually—sort of important since its whole raison d'Ítre was to re-create what might be shown on a random night in the glory days of the grindhouse movie theater. It's not just the dirtying up and scratching of the film stock that got it done. Rodriguez's segment Planet Terror nails the feel of a cheap Dawn of the Dead rip-off from 1979 so perfectly that four out of five housewives don't realize we've secretly replaced their copy of Lucio Fulci's Zombie with it! Tarantino's Death Proof has a more modern vibe, but the excitement of the car stunts—and Kurt Russell's sleazy performance—recaptures the magic of the early-'70s films Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry that it references.

But it's more than just a throwback. Because anyone who's tried sitting through, say, Dr. Butcher M.D., knows that a lot of these controversial films from the grindhouse era are un-freaking-believably boring. They might have a couple of jaw-dropping scenes of sex and violence, but the advent of YouTube has pretty much eliminated the need for today's modern fanboy to sit through an hour-and-a-half of terrible dialogue and worse dubbing to get to them. Fans and critics who argue about how "authentic" Grindhouse is are missing the point. The postmodern touches, along with better writing and acting than most real grindhouse films could afford, keep Planet Terror and Death Proof from being mere reruns. They're tributes, not copies, and in the end Grindhouse delivers something unlike anything that's come before.

But the best parts of it, for me, were the fake trailers shown before and between the two main films. Here is my four-way tie for best cult movie of the year:

Machete: Rodriguez also directed the first of the fake trailers, starring Danny Trejo in a grindhouse variation of the character of the same name he played in Spy Kids. It suggests a hilarious and probably impossible plot that combines immigration issues, a fake identity for Trejo as a day laborer, an assassination plot against a U.S senator, and a huge dose of paranoia a la The Parallax View. "If you're going to hire Machete to kill the bad guy, you better make damn sure the bad guy isn't you!" Sweet!

Werewolf Women of the S.S.: I liked this trailer from Rob Zombie a lot more than his remake of Halloween. Basically a spoof of the infamous 1975 exploitation film Ilsa, She Wolf of the S.S., it even duplicates the opening crawl that was supposed to establish Ilsa's redeeming message and make people feel OK about watching a violent sex movie with Nazis. Adding werewolves to the mix is just sheer brilliance. So is "Nicholas Cage as Fu Manchu."

Don't: If you ... are thinking ... there could be a better parody of all the slasher movie titles that told you not to do stuff ... Don't! Seriously, what was left to say after 1975's Don't Open the Door! and 1980's Don't Answer the Phone! other than the commands in this trailer like "Don't look anywhere"?

Thanksgiving: "This year, there will be no leftovers." Eli Roth's contribution is possibly my favorite, because Thanksgiving is about the only major holiday that never got its horror movie. Perhaps producers were stuck on what exactly the killer in such a movie would dress as, but Roth came up with the answer ... a pilgrim! This thing is so funny, from the opening that exactly mimics the trailer for Halloween, to the cheerleader on a trampoline, to the character "Judy" who loses two different high-school studs to decapitation in the space of 15 seconds.

When Grindhouse was released on DVD in the United States as two separate films rather in its original form, the biggest letdown was that the trailers, other than Machete, weren't included—leaving YouTube as the only viewing option for most of them. They need to be seen; in fact, they're so good that some fans are clamoring for the fake films they advertise to really be made. Rodriguez has suggested he may make Machete, and Zombie asked on his website how many people would want to see Werewolf Women of the S.S. (He is said to be "strongly considering" doing it). Full-length versions might be stretching it, but as a glimpse of an alternate movie universe these were my favorite movie moments of the year.

CULT LEADER is a weekly column about the state of cult movies and offbeat corners of pop culture. Email feedback to [email protected]

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