The Return of Russell: Cinematic Panic Brings Different Kind of Film Festival to Black Lodge


This weekend, the second Cinematic Panic film festival unspools on the big screens at Black Lodge. "Like last year, the big idea is, half of the submissions are from Memphis; the rest from all across the country and from other countries," says Matt Martin, proprietor of the recently revived video store and hangout spot. 

In total, filmmakers from 25 different countries submitted entries to the Panic, which includes dozens of short films and features in and out of competition. "Our only criteria is, whatever you make, it's gotta be weird." says Martin.

The festival competition begins on Thursday, December 5 with Flesh City, a gonzo horror fantasy from Berlin director Thorsten Fleisch. This is a film whose own trailer proclaims "It will make your eyes bleed".

Cinematic Panic also features weird and shocking classics, such as Thursday's second film, the infamous J-horror nightmare Ichi The Killer

Friday night sees the return of a Memphis classic. The Importance of Being Russell was a big hit at the 2006 Indie Memphis Film Festival. Directed by Sean Plemmons, the film stars one of the Bluff City's independent film pioneers John Pickle as the titular Russell, a self-proclaimed redneck who finds himself drawn into a plot of world domination via mind control, also known as "getting city-fied".

Pickle says the film grew from a character he created for Pickle TV, which weirded up cable in Memphis for the better part of a decade. "I used to do multiple characters on the cable access show, and Russell was one that I came up with one night out of necessity," says Pickle. "That particular character seems to resonate with with people more than 80 characters that I had done previously. So I just started writing more skits with Russell."

While filming his horror feature, The Last Man on Earth, Pickle and his collaborators, which included Jimmy Ross, had the idea to give Russell his own film. "We all just kind of giggled at it, but the more we thought about it the more just kind of evolved. And so we started getting together like every Sunday night for almost a year, and hashing out the story of what it would it could be and what it should be. ... It just evolved over time, because when we first started digging around with it the the Russell character wasn't like he ended up being in the movie. He was he was a lot more offensive and brash and pretty much just a kind of person you wouldn't really want to be around. I didn't necessarily agree with that at the time, but I'm glad we got we went with it because the Russell character turned out to be very likable."

The Importance of Being Russell is a marvel of DIY filmmaking that includes a special-effect-heavy finale visually inspired by Forbidden Planet courtesy of special effects artist Greg Stanford and makeup artist Maddie Singer.

After Russell is the 1985 Lovecraftian classic, Re-Animator, which was a major influence on Pickle's short film "Cannibal Records".

Saturday includes sci-fi shorts and the David Cronenberg adaptation of William Burrough's Naked Lunch.

Then, Brad Ellis and Allen Gardner of Memphis' Old School Pictures present their latest feature, Cold Feet. The horror comedy, which puts a bachelor party in a haunted house with a ghost who has motives of her own, sold out at Indie Memphis 2019 and won a screenplay award at the New Orleans Horror Film Festival.

Sunday features a full day of films, including the competition horror comedy The Curse of Valburga from Slovenia.

Tickets are $20 for the weekend, and you can see the full schedule here

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