Cult and sf are both categories that suggest a skewed perspective on reality. Jeffrey Sconce uses the term “paracinema” to denote this different perspective, as he describes cult and other kinds of “bad” cinema that are often appreciated, ironically, for their deviation from—perhaps resistance to—dominant aesthetic codes. Sconce maintains that the resulting celebration of such “trash” is a rejection of the hegemony of academic film criticism, championing the trashy as “a final textual frontier that exists beyond the colonizing powers of the academy, and thus serves as a staging ground for strategic raids on legitimate culture and its institutions by those (temporarily) lower in educational, cultural and/or economic capital” (382). Through much of its history, sf has been similarly regarded. In Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, Darko Suvin calls it a “paraliterature” (vii) but celebrates its promise to interrogate dominant ideological codes that pass, unquestioned, as natural and apolitical in realist modes of representation. While Sconce's and Suvin's analyses of such different perspectives emphasize their foregrounding of class issues, this essay will focus on gender in the intersection of cult and sf. Both cult and sf have often been regarded as masculine forms, and the pleasures of excess that cult films celebrate often include the visual pleasures of scantily clad female bodies, images frequently associated with pulp sf's lurid magazine covers of the 1920s and 1930s. Yet sf also has a rich history of interrogating gender attitudes, using images such as aliens to express and examine patriarchal fears.
This essay explores cult's claims to transgression in this context of gender difference, focusing on a number of low–budget sf films of the 1950s and 1960s that have attained cult status, including Cat–Women of the Moon (1953), Devil Girl from Mars (1954), The Astounding She–Monster (1957), Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), The Wasp Woman (1959), Monstrosity (aka The Atomic Brain, 1963), Attack of the Puppet People (1957), and The Brain that Wouldn't Die (1962). I argue that these films demonstrate a dialectic of indulgence and critique that characterizes cult sf's treatment of gender difference, revealing how such difference—as well as differences in educational, cultural, or economic capital—informs the “raid” on legitimate culture that such films stage.