Among the many Memphis cultural institutions hit hard by the pandemic has been Black Lodge. Memphis' independent video store reinvented itself as a mini-cinema and performance space for music and other countercultural performing arts by moving from its old home of 15 years in Cooper-Young to a big new space in the Crosstown neighborhood. Things were just getting rolling when the coronavirus hit early this year.
The Lodge has been back for a few months, renting films to members from its 30,000-strong collection of DVD and Blu-Ray titles. But like any place that depends on in-person gatherings right now, they are fighting for survival.
The Time Warp Drive-In, presented in partnership with Memphis' favorite psychotronic filmmaker Mike McCarthy and Malco Theatres, kept the Black Lodge name alive while they were searching for a new home, and new business model. The monthly screenings of classic genre and cult films had been suspended since March's shutdown. Tomorrow night, Saturday, September 19, it returns with a tribute to one of the most iconoclastic filmmakers of all time.
University of Memphis film professor Marina Levina likes to say that all horror is body horror, meaning that the terror of our own biological weirdness is at the heart of the genre. Nobody exemplifies that axiom better than David Cronenberg. The Canadian director's movies have long questioned the line between our humanity and the artificial world we create. None of his films were more prescient than 1983's Videodrome.
Cronenberg's vision in Videodrome is strictly analog. He did not predict the internet and the rise of computers like his fellow Canadian William Gibson. But in the dream-like Videodrome, he did touch on the bizarre and dangerous side-effects of our information-saturated culture. James Woods stars as Max, the cynical operator of a low-power UHF TV station in Vancouver. When looking for more sensational programming to satisfy his prurient viewers, he stumbles across a secret show that depicts the graphic torture and murder of innocent victims. Rather than be repulsed and report the station to the authorities, he delves deeper into the mystery, and pays with his sanity and his humanity. Videodrome co-stars Debbie Harry, legendary frontwoman for OG punks Blondie, as Nicki, Max's secret lover who may be either a victim or avatar of Videodrome. The film's message, which has only become more clear in our current age, is that the power to control the collective hallucination is the power to control reality itself.
The evening's second film is Scanners, the infamous 1981 horror hit which put Cronenberg on the map. The film stars British TV wildman Patrick McGoohan, of the cult sci fi series The Prisoner, as Dr. Paul Ruth, a conscience-free scientist working for ConSec, a shadowy corporate conglomerate investigating the existence of mutant psychics walking among us. These psychics can not only read minds, a skill which ConSec believes can be useful for corporate espionage, they have the ability to... well, just watch.
That's Michael Ironside, the heavy from Total Recall and Top Gun, in one of his first ever roles as the smug, head-banging telepath. The effect was achieved by filling a mask with gore and blasting it with a shotgun, a crew-endangering stunt that would get you instantly sued out of existence if you tried it today. They don't make 'em like Scanners any more.
The third film of the triple features was Cronenberg's second of 1983. The Dead Zone is a Dino De Laurentiis production based on a 1979 Stephen King novel. Christopher Walken stars in one of his iconic roles as the creatively named John Smith, a schoolteacher who awakens after a five-year coma to discover he has developed psychic powers and can see the future. When a chance meeting with politician Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen, deliciously sleazy) reveals that the would-be president will one day cause a nuclear war, Smith must decide whether or not to act on the information and try to change an apocalyptic future.
Admission for the Time Warp Drive-In is $10 for the triple feature. Gates of the Malco Summer Drive-In open at 6:45, and the first film starts at 7:15.