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Reviewed by:
  • The Cult Film Reader
  • Stacey Abbott (bio)
Ernest Mathijs and Xavier Mendik (eds), The Cult Film Reader. Maidenhead: McGraw Hill/Open University Press, 2008. 549 pp. US$54.95. (pbk)

The notion of cult is an increasingly widespread subject within both popular and academic discourses. While once it was a moniker reserved for midnight movies like Night of the Living Dead (Romero US 1968) and El Topo (Jodorowsky Mexico 1970) or grindhouse screenings of exploitation films, now you can dress up like a nun and attend Singalong Sound of Music and call it cult. Cult cinema is an evolving concept and the subject has in recent years moved away from the periphery towards the centre of debates within film studies. Ernest Mathijs and Xavier Mendik's The Cult Film Reader is a response to this transition, uniting a large selection of previously published articles about cult film and moulding them into a comprehensive and enlightening exploration of the topic. It brings together influential works that have established the terrain for the study of cult cinema, including Siegfried Kracauer's 'Cult of Distraction: On Berlin's Picture Palaces', Umberto Eco's 'Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage', Jeffrey Sconce's seminal Screen article 'Trashing the Academy', Henry Jenkins' oft-cited '"Get a life!": Fans, Poachers, Nomads' and John Fiske's 'The Cultural Economy of Fandom'. The book places these chapters alongside works by more recent academics such as Matt Hills' 'Media Fandom, Neoreligiosity and Cult(ural) Studies', Mark Jancovich's 'Cult Fictions: Cult Movies, Subcultural Capital and the Production of Cultural Distinctions' and Martin Barker, Ernest Mathijs and Xavier Mendik's 'Menstrual Monsters: The Reception of the Ginger Snaps Cult Horror Franchise', who are building upon this work to create new approaches to the subject. It also interweaves into the discussion well-established texts that, [End Page 316] while not directly about cult film, have had a significant bearing upon the discourses that surround our understanding of cult, including Walter Benjamin's 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', Susan Sontag's 'On Camp' and Pierre Bourdieu's 'Introduction to Distinction'. The chapters are all well written and rigorously argued by leading scholars in the field. By pulling all of this work together in The Cult Film Reader, the editors have produced an invaluable collection for anyone researching or teaching cult cinema.

Furthermore, in structuring the book in this manner, the editors are not simply linking together core readings to be used for teaching but chronicling the evolution and growth of a new discipline. This approach is supported by the book's introduction by Mathijs and Mendik, which offers a comprehensive series of definitions of cult film, recognising the diversity and complexity of the concept by examining the topic in terms of the film texts, audiences, production and industrial contexts and cultural status. These definitions are then explored in more detail through each of the chapters in the book.

The one significant gap in the collection, however, is a detailed discussion of exhibition. While in their introduction the editors note the importance of the unique relationship between the academy and the industry to our understanding of cult cinema, a discussion of exhibition and distribution is noticeably absent. The section on consumption does move beyond the film text to consider the film within its discursive surround, but this is largely focused upon audiences and fandom. A more detailed discussion of the range of ways exhibition and distribution have shaped our experience of cult cinema would have been incredibly useful.

Having said this, the collection is still coherently structured, broken down into four broad sections: 'The Concept of Cult', 'Case Studies', 'National and International Cults' and 'Cult Consumption'. Each section begins with an introduction by the editors that explains the rationale for its content. Rather than simply supply a summary of the chapters in the section, the editors provide the necessary context surrounding the topic to understand the choices that have been made and their significance for the study of cult cinema. This means that the book not only serves as a text exploring discourses around cult film but also as a history of Cult Film Studies and...


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pp. 316-319
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