September 6-12, 2006

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Cult Leader

What's That One Where ...?: Cult Leader wants your fuzzy movie memories

By Steve Palopoli

SO, THERE IS a new feature I want to do in this column, but I'm going to need the help of all the film fans out there who read it. It's called "What's That One Where ... ?", and here's how it works: We are all bedeviled by at least one movie that left a mark on us that we want to find again, except we can't remember the name. Sometimes this foggy notion can haunt a person for years. It sucks, right? Well, Cult Leader is here to help. Email the details you can remember about your own lost movies, and I'll tell you what they are. If I get a real stumper, I'll put it out there to see if other readers can come up with anything.

It dawned on me that this was a way to use this column's powers for good (rather than evil, per usual) after playing this game with my friend Sadie, who works at Scandalous Hair Design in Willow Glen and has the unenviable task of trying to keep my hair under control (she does a brilliant job, by the way). One day, Sadie and I were talking about this very phenomenon of movies that you just can't quite put your finger on, and she told me about a movie from her childhood that she had tried for years in vain to figure out. All she could remember was this:

"There was a teacher and her students and there were three guys after them, and one of there wore a translucent clown mask, and it was in the desert. I'll never forget that mask, it was so freakin' scary."

I figured out that the movie she was talking about was Fortress, an Australian thriller starring Rachel Ward that played on HBO in 1986. There was indeed a teacher and students, though they were actually in the Australian outback. They were taken hostage by three men, all of whom wore masks that are easily the best-remembered detail of the film (though it is highly regarded today among those who saw it). The creepiest part is probably the Santa mask worn by one of the gang members (called "Father Christmas," eek)—either that or the fact that the movie was based on the true story of a kidnapping incident in Australia.

When I reminded Sadie about the Santa mask, she lit up and said, "That's it!" She was totally psyched, the way a true fan is when she or he is reunited with a cinematic loved one. I had printed out some details on the movie for her, including postings people had written about their own vivid childhood memories of it and the fact that it was recently released on DVD in the United States. Later on, I got this phone message from her: "Hey Steve, it's Sadie calling. I just wanted to call and tell you thank you so friggin' much. I just got finished reading through those papers you gave me, like, three times. I'm not joking, I'm going to go out and buy it right now. And it's so comforting in a weird way that other people are haunted by the same movies."

It is comforting; and why not? Movies are a huge part of our shared cultural experience, and our responses to them can be powerful memories. So c'mon, beat my brain! Email me and include everything you can remember about the film. Be sure to put "What's That One Where ... ?" in the subject line. When I've got enough, I'll run a whole column's worth of them.

Cult Leader is a weekly column about the state of cult movies and offbeat corners of pop culture. Email feedback and memories of your lost films here.

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