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LI's 'Cult Movie' king reveals his 8 favorites

Danny Peary, who wrote the book on "Cult

Danny Peary, who wrote the book on "Cult Movies," first printed in 1981 at his home in Sag Harbor,  onApril 21, 2020. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Ask people how to define a cult film, and you’ll get a range of answers: It’s something edgy and transgressive, something campy, trashy or just plain bizarre.

Or you could ask the man who literally wrote the book on the subject: Sag Harbor resident Danny Peary, author of the now classic volume “Cult Movies.”

An anthology of 100 movies — from masterpieces like “Citizen Kane” to  garbage like “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” all discussed with equal respect — “Cult Movies” hit shelves in 1981, when midnight movies like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” were still thriving. Published by Dell in an oversize but affordable paperback format, “Cult Movies” quickly drew a cult following of its own. Peary, a West Virginia native and USC film school graduate, realized he had tapped into something when readers began deluging him with mail, most of it lists of their own favorite films.

“That book,” Peary, 70, says today. “I don’t even know how many copies were sold of the original, but it seemed like a million people read it. It’s unbelievable.”

Do cult movies still exist in an age of digitized, immediately accessible content? If anything, the increased competition for viewership has made word-of-mouth more important than ever, Peary says. Forty years ago, “cult movie” was synonymous with “commercial failure.” Today, he says, “Everyone wants to be a cult movie.”

A contributor to Dan’s Papers and a guest on the new streaming series “Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Movies of All Time,” Peary says the basic quality of a cult movie remains the same: It’s a personal connection that can’t be easily explained. “There’s a process of discovery,” he says. “You say, ‘How did they know me so well? That’s exactly what I’m feeling!’ The next step is you see it more than once. Then you have to share it. And the final step is: You find out you’re not alone.”

Here are a few of Peary’s personal cult favorites, old and new:

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)

The comedy duo famous for their “Who’s on First?” routine tarnished their legacy with several disposable monster-movie spoofs, but Peary says this one is the keeper — a mix of clever comedy and truly shivery moments. “It’s very respectful of the Universal Monsters, so the horror is actually still there,” he says. The cast includes Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. and an unseen Vincent Price. Peary says it's O.K. for kids, too. (Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes)

ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE (2018) Though barely released in the U.S., John McPhail’s zombie-Christmas-musical won over the few who saw it. Critics praised its youthful cast, low-budget charm, and even its last-minute choreography. Peary predicts the film’s cult will grow: “People are seeing it maybe 1% at a time,” he says. (Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes)

BONE TOMAHAWK (2015) “I love Westerns and I love horror movies,” Peary says. “There are very few that blend together.” One favorite example is this lesser-known title about a sheriff (Kurt Russell) trying to rescue a couple of townspeople from crazed cannibals. Peary calls it “’The Searchers’ with monster-movie elements.” The cast includes Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins. (Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes)

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019)

Eddie Murphy plays his childhood hero Rudy Ray Moore, a self-made star of blaxploitation cinema, in this labor-of-love production. Critics gushed over the film’s sweet spirit, groovy period costumes and Murphy’s charismatic turn as Moore. Come Oscar season, though, the film’s momentum stalled and Murphy was not nominated. “It’s a film I think people have to save,” Peary says, “and it’s one of the great performances from Murphy.” (Netflix)

FREAKS (1932) Tod Browning’s pre-Code horror film about jealousy and revenge among sideshow carnies — played by real ones — repelled audiences upon its release and remains a shocker even today. Peary calls it “one of the first films that was so extreme it could only hope to find a niche audience, even among horror fans.” (Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes)

GUN CRAZY (1950) (Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes) Joseph H. Lewis’ propulsive crime thriller is a gender-bent version of Bonnie and Clyde, with Peggy Cummins as a femme fatale who lures her husband (John Dall) into a life of crime. “It’s one of the great romances,” says Peary. “He’s a pacifist, she’s really violent, but they’re both gun advocates. Everybody should take the time to see that one.”

SLAP SHOT (1977)

A failing minor-league hockey team, led by aging player-coach Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman), discovers that violence sells even better than winning. George Roy Hill’s up-the-establishment comedy was far from a hit but has since built an enduring fan base. “People can relate to the minor leagues in a way they can’t relate to the major leagues,” Peary says. “These are my guys — these are my people.” (Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes)

THE SANDLOT (1993) Fans of “A Christmas Story” should like this nostalgic comedy-drama about neighborhood kids who gather to play baseball in 1962. “It’s one of those films where I don’t think people realize there are other people out there who like it,” Peary says. “But if they ever put on a convention at the Javits Center for ‘The Sandlot,’ I bet a lot of people would show up.” (Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes)

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