Watch 8 Classic Cult Films for Free: Night of the Living Dead, Plan 9 from Outer Space & More

night of the living dead free

The whole cat­e­go­ry of cult movies is a slip­pery one. Every­one knows what a hor­ror flick or a West­ern looks like but describ­ing a cult movie is much more sub­jec­tive. Cult movies can be any genre. They tend to be campy or kitschy or in some oth­er way very strange. Often they are either movies that are so weird­ly and intense­ly per­son­al that they alien­ate and baf­fle main­streams audi­ences, or films that are such utter and com­plete train wrecks that some­how they push through the mere­ly mediocre into the sub­lime. Or, in the best cas­es, both.

Dan­ny Peary, in his sem­i­nal 1981 book Cult Movies, put such high art movies as Cit­i­zen Kane along­side mid­night movie sta­ples like Freaks (watch it free online) and El Topo. Some­how that doesn’t feel right. Hav­ing the sup­posed best (or sec­ond best) movie ever made in the same cat­e­go­ry as a hap­less mess like Troll 2 seems to be a dis­ser­vice to both movies, no mat­ter how rabid the fan­base is.

For their list 30 Cult Movies That Absolute­ly Every­body Must See, the writ­ers of the web­site io9 wres­tled with this exact issue:

We debat­ed a lot what we would con­sid­er a “cult movie” for the pur­pos­es of this list, and we most­ly stuck to films that were not huge box-office hits and did­n’t get mas­sive main­stream expo­sure when they were first released. The films on this list most­ly either flew under the radar or were con­sid­ered mas­sive flops when they came out orig­i­nal­ly.

Like any such list, there is plen­ty to be quib­bled with — Don­nie Darko is ranked high­er than Eraser­head? Real­ly? – but that’s real­ly just part of the fun. Below are a few cult movies that you can watch right now for free – two of which are on the io9 list.

Plan 9 from Out­er Space – There’s a great scene in Tim Burton’s biopic Ed Wood where a cross-dress­ing Wood runs into Orson Welles at a bar. They share a drink and com­mis­er­ate about the dif­fi­cul­ties of being a vision­ary in Hol­ly­wood. By all def­i­n­i­tions, Wood was as much of an auteur as Welles. His movies were a prism through which he worked through some very per­son­al issues.

It’s just that, unlike Welles, Wood was a com­i­cal­ly inept and lazy film­mak­er. Crit­ic Michael Medved once dubbed his Plan 9 from Out­er Space as the worst movie ever made. And it’s a hard to argue with that asser­tion. Shots in the movie alter­nate dis­ori­ent­ing­ly between day and night in the mid­dle of the same scene. The act­ing isn’t so much as wood­en as som­nam­bu­lis­tic. The spe­cial effects are laugh­ably child­ish –a flam­ing space­craft at one point of the movie was accom­plished by set­ting a hub­cap alight with some gaso­line. Yet through­out the entire film, Wood’s boy­ish enthu­si­asm shines through. Plan 9 might be ter­ri­ble, but it’s also a lot of fun.

Night of the Liv­ing Dead – Though George A. Romero’s Night of the Liv­ing Dead was made for next to noth­ing, all of the production’s lim­i­ta­tions some­how turned into assets. The film’s grainy black-and-white cin­e­matog­ra­phy and hand-held cam­era gave Romero’s zom­bie gore-fest a lev­el of real­ism that was unseen in hor­ror movies up to that point — like a news­reel from the apoc­a­lypse. The Liv­ing Dead wound up being one of the most prof­itable movies of all time, which for investors proved to be unfor­tu­nate. In what has to be one of the costli­est cler­i­cal errors in movie his­to­ry, the dis­trib­u­tors for­got to include a copy­right state­ment in cred­its. As a result, the movie quick­ly fell into the pub­lic domain. Check it out.

DetourEdgar G. Ulmer’s hasti­ly pro­duced film noir bears all the marks of a movie made on a shoe­string. The direc­tion is ham hand­ed. The act­ing is often shrill. A tale about tox­ic love and ill-got­ten gains, Detour should have by all rights been anoth­er for­got­ten, dis­pos­able B‑movie. Yet some­how Ulmer man­aged to cap­ture ligh­in­ing in a bot­tle. “Haunt­ing and creepy,” writes Roger Ebert. “An embod­i­ment of the guilty soul of film noir. No one who has seen it has eas­i­ly for­got­ten it.”

You can find more cult clas­sics in our col­lec­tion of 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More, includ­ing The Wild Ride with Jack Nichol­son, Blue­beard (also direct­ed by Edgar G. Ulmer), the 1962 indie hor­ror film Car­ni­val of Souls, Demen­tia 13 (an ear­ly Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la  hor­ror film), and Abel Ferrara’s cult clas­sic slash­er film The Driller Killer.

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

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