While I'd never join a cult in real life (famous last words), years of film viewing has shown me more than a few fictional groups I'd sign up for in a heartbeat. Inspiring yet loony leaders, hippie ideals, and the occasional encounter with real supernatural power are all things that turn up in cinematic cults -- making them seem so alluring. With that in mind, I decided it was time to make a list of five cults from horror films that I know I'd happily join. It's a little heavy on the Ivan Rassimov and Christopher Lee, though. Is that because these guys were in a lot of movies about cults or because I'm a little obsessed? I'll let you figure that out ...
Eaten Alive always kinda reminds me of Zombi Holocaust, because like that movie, it gives you two cool things instead of one. Lenzi's flick brings us not only cannibals in the jungle, but a religious cult led by the sinister Ivan Rassimov too. So you get people being devoured by flesh-eating tribesman, plus kinky sex and the messianic delusions of a wannabe Jim Jones too. It's like a double win!
Rassimov plays Jonas Melvyn, a psycho cult leader who's hoping to develop a Utopian society in the jungles of New Guinea. He's a complete Jim Jones rip off, but it doesn't really matter because he's badass Ivan Rassimov. In the convoluted tale, one of his followers has a sister (Janet Agren) who spots her on a reel of film. Sis winds up in New Guinea too, being led through the jungle by cannibal film veteran Robert Kerman. While dodging the locals they eventually find themselves at Jonas' retreat, where the cult leader takes a shine to Agren. Next thing you know, he's giving her a dildo covered in snake blood (now who wouldn't swoon at that?) and slipping her drugs. Clothing's optional at Camp Jonas, but sexytime with the cult leader is not. Consider me S-O-L-D.
Cult of the Cobra
It's a shame that Universal's Cult of the Cobra starring Faith Domergue, Richard Long, Jack Kelly, William Reynolds and David Janssen is so damn boring, because a cult of seductive snake ladies should be anything but. Serpent worship has existed for centuries -- and I'm not really talking about the contemporary speaking in tongues and laying on of hands kinda stuff. There's a sensuality and darkness here that has yet to be fully explored. Although films like Conan the Barbarian (all hail Thulsa Doom!) touch upon it, most films never delve into the mystique completely. Hopefully Jennifer Lynch's Nagin/Hisss can rectify that somewhat.
Six American G.I.'s stationed in Asia uncover a secret cult -- the Lamians -- a group of women who can transform into serpents. After the men are discovered by the Lamians, the cult vows to avenge the Cobra Goddess. A mysterious woman (the elegant and aloof Domergue) slithers into their lives on American shores and starts killing off the soldiers one by one. While the similarities to Val Lewton's Cat People are apparent, Cobra has some interesting things going for it -- particularly some moody photography and unique perspective shots. The woman to snake transformations all happen off screen, which was probably a smart move for the time but feels a little frustrating by today's standards. The theme of the soldiers vs. a "foreign" enemy certainly bears a lot of metaphorical weight. While this film is a pretty big disappointment overall, I'd still consider becoming a disciple of the Cult of the Cobra.
A gorgeous, lush island off the coast of Scotland. Sex magic, naked dancing and orgies. Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland. What more do you need to surrender your body and soul to the Celtic neo-pagan cult in Robin Hardy's cult classic, The Wicker Man? Sure they might be a little fire happy, but they seem to live like Gods and Goddesses in the pagan equivalent of the Playboy Mansion -- only with no breast implants and more body hair. On a serious note, the cult in Wicker Man helps speak to a socio-political-religious counterculture movement happening during the time period -- addressing everything from gender roles/issues, to Britain's rural economy, and morality. And while the amount of phallic symbolism in the film can be read on several levels, as a potential cult member -- I'd only really be interested in it for the free love aspect. As long as they don't make me sing folk songs.
All the Colors of the Dark
If you haven't read my recent review of Sergio Martino's giallo favorite, All the Colors of the Dark, what the heck are you waiting for? Martino has made some stellar flicks and most of them featured the beautiful and über-cool Edwige Fenech, which is reason numero uno I'd wanna hang out with the 70's trip-cult in the film. But aside from Fenech, Colors boasts a cult leader who would make the perfect girlfriend to hang out with. His long, gold fingernails means he wouldn't mind palling around with you at the nail salon while you get a mani-pedi. Judging from the number of dreamy, orgiastic sequences and goblets featured in the film -- he certainly loves to party. And best of all, he has the coolest hang out -- a castle in the country-side. He's also friends with steely-eyed Ivan Rassimov, which is an added bonus.
The Devil Rides Out
This is not only one of my favorite Hammer films, but also one of my favorite films about cults. Charles Gray plays the evil Mocata, a leader of a group of Satanists who run afoul of occult expert Duc de Richleau (played by Christopher Lee). It's war between the two men when Richleau interrupts a Satanic ceremony to rescue his friend -- particularly since Mocata summoned Lucifer himself to the party. What follows from there is a battle between the very forces of good and evil as the wicked Mocata subjects Richleau and his friends to a torturous night of devilish supernatural attacks.
What sets Mocata's cult apart from some of the others on the list is that he isn't some delusional wannabe Messiah. Mocata has real power and can summon demons and the Dark Lord himself. When you manage to conjure the Angel of Death and a Goat of Mendes, that's pretty impressive. Of course, Lee's Richleau is no less impressive -- a gentlemanly scholar with an encyclopedic knowledge of the occult. I'd join either of these cults, but since Lee doesn't have one, I think I'm on team Mocata for now.