When you think of “film festival fare,” what usually comes to mind are sincere indie dramas, light language comedies, and earnest documentaries about social issues. But that’s not what’s on the marquee for Memphis’ newest festival, Cinematic Panic.
Black Lodge Video was a Cooper-Young institution for 15 years. As anyone who frequented the place can recall, there was always a few film freaks hanging around in the store watching selections from its vast video catalogue. You never knew what you were going to see on the vintage big-screen projection TV.
Since the Lodge shut down its original location four years ago, co-owner Matt Martin has been on a frustrating and seemingly quixotic quest to bring it back to life. Last year, it was announced that they had finally found a new home. The bigger and better Black Lodge would relocate in a storefront at 405 N. Cleveland. The completely new space will include not only the legendarily huge video collection for rent, but also an arcade with new and vintage video games, and a combination movie theater and music venue in the back.
Once the new Black Lodge was in operation, Martin says he envisioned a weekly event called Cinematic Panic that would be in the spirit of the old days of cinephiles daring each other to watch the unwatchable. “The idea was to show the most weird, off-putting, bizarre, uncategorizable movies I could find.”
But while he was helping Memphis filmmaker Chad Allen Barton with the Piano Man Pictures Roadshow, a touring retrospective of films created by the collective, Martin says Barton suggested changing the concept. “He said something that struck me: If you do it every week, the shock loses its power.”
Barton and Martin set out to try something new: a film festival dedicated to outré cinema. They scheduled the first Cinematic Panic festival for October, when the new Black Lodge was scheduled to be completed, and called for submissions. “We wanted to see what we can find here locally, and as far as our reach can muster,” says Martin. “That turned out to be global.”
Barton says they were unprepared for the more than 300 submissions they got from all over the world. It was an avalanche of the kind of movies that rarely get screenings in conventional festivals outside of midnight slots. “Everybody wants to be Sundance,” says Lodge co-owner Danny Grubbs.
“We’re underneath Sundance,” says James Blair, Lodge partner and chef who is designing the menu for the new kitchen. “We’re in the sewers of Sundance. That’s where you’ll find us.”
Last House On The Left
Martin says movies intended to unsettle have been around the beginning of cinema. “What does Edison first shoot for? A version of Frankenstein. Shock and horror has been a staple of fiction since drawings on the cave. We look back at the Edison stuff, or look at Nosferatu, or “Un Chien Andalou” by Dali and Buñuel. These are all films that were trying to explore the newly created concept of cinema, and asking, how far can this go? Can we shock and terrify with just images and sound? The answer, of course, was a resounding yes.”
But the Black Lodge team was dealt setback after setback as they tried to create the new space. “We’ve been panicking for a year and a half at this point,” says Blair.
"Return of the Flesh Eating Film Reels"
Grubbs says the construction is “80% done.” The 6,000-square-foot space lacks internal walls, but the floors, plumbing, bathrooms, and other critical systems are already complete. When it became apparent that the store would not be complete in time for the scheduled film festival, the team did some soul searching and decided to stage it as a pop up event in the cavernous space as a thank you to the Black Lodge faithful. “People have waited a long time, patiently, for the new Lodge to be built,” says Martin. “We don’t get to be public about its development very often. We knew everybody was anxious, so we decided to give them a glimpse. Come inside the space and watch movies on this massive screen. Get a feel for what the Lodge is going to do.”
Running five days starting Wednesday, October 24th, Cinematic Panic is jam-packed with classic weirdness and new strangeness. To set the tone, the first night will feature Videodrome, David Cronenberg’s landmark mashup of body horror and mass media theory, as well as David Lynch’s little seen 2002 “sitcom” Rabbits which stars Naomi Watts as a humanoid rabbit.
Other werid classics screening include Todd Solondz’s 1998 black comedy Happiness, Peter Jackson’s perverse puppet show Meet The Feebles, the 1986 H.P. Lovecraft adaptation From Beyond, Sam Rami’s groundbreaking comedy horror Evil Dead, and a pairing of Last House On The Left and Audition. “[Last House On The Left] is a brutal film by anyone’s standards," says Martin. "It’s a difficult watch. But it’s 40 years old, and as relevant as ever with its comments on assault and sexual trauma. It’s one of the films that changed horror from the old school world of monsters and castles to the monsters next door to you. Then we chose Audition because of the role reversal of female as tormentor.”
Memphis made movies include two features: Barton’s satire Lights, Camera, Bullshit and Jim Weter’s 2012 At Stake: Vampire Solutions. Among the 101 short films are John Pickle’s “Return of the Flesh Eating Film Reels,” and works by several Memphis filmmakers, including Ben Siler and Laura Jean Hocking.
Joe Finds Grace
Eight features will screen in competition, including Joe Finds Grace, a film Barton describes as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame goes on a road trip of self-discovery.”
There’s no jury, so winners of the short and feature competition will be determined purely by audience reaction.
The snacks Blair has prepared fit with the festival's "I dare you" theme, such as chocolate covered grasshoppers and fermented Japanese string beans. There will be musical performances scattered in with the films, and Saturday night after Evil Dead, the festival will transform into the popular Black Lodge Halloween show, headlined by Negro Terror.
Grubbs says after the festival is over, they plan to finish construction and hope the new Black Lodge will be fully operational by the end of the year. This will be the first of many Cinematic Panic festivals. “We’ve got eight projectors, so we could do multiple screens in the future if we wanted to,” says Grubbs.
“No. No.” says Barton. “Please. No.”
Cinematic Panic runs from Wednesday, October 24 to Sunday, October 28 at 405 N. Cleveland. Schedule available here.