By Andrew Buckner
Rating: **** out of *****.
Writer-director Evan Schneider’s thirty-six- minute debut short film, “Tales to Line the Coffin” (2017), wonderfully calls to mind classic television shows like Tales from the Darkside (1983-1988). It also summons the endearing funhouse shock of same said features such as George A. Romero’s Creepshow (1982). Schneider’s suitably dark, smoky cinematography only aesthetically reiterates such a comparison. Such adds a low-key, nostalgia-laden charm to all we encounter. The minute and a half long commencing segment oversees a man, Tales Host (in a phenomenal turn from Peter Lewis Walsh that is reminiscent of Angus Scrimm’s iconic role as The Tall Man in the five film Phantasm series), in a mortuary contemplating death. This section is assuredly ominous and chill-inducing. With its issuance of soft, but menacing, lighting and poetic, alluringly penned and inquisitive dialogue it immediately hits a perfectly macabre note. The result is an assuredly attention-garnering sequence. Such is one that is beautifully made. It acts as the perfect introduction to this two-story anthology. When punctuated by the moody and memorable piano driven score from Denis Mikhailov, as well as an inventive and stylish opening and closing title shot, the aforesaid alignment to 80’s horror is complete.
The narratives which unfold are “Road Less Traveled” and “Tickled”. What ties these accounts together is the tried and true theme of vengeance. Moreover, the central figure in each account is the direct result of a history of bullying. In our initial venture, “Road Less Traveled”, a tormented high-school teen, Sam Wise (in a wrenching and fantastic enactment from Noah Tully Sanderson), ditches his persecutors in the woods. In so doing, he comes across Robert Raimi (in a representation by Paul Taft, who also appears in “Tickled” as Diner Patron Husband, that is both stalwart and charismatic). Telling young Sam about an ethereal entity that is said to haunt the area that surrounds them, a trail of anger fueled murder soon follows. This transpires to those who find themselves in the area Sam has stumbled upon. In the concluding anecdote, “Tickled”, a woman, Diane (in a riveting portrayal from Abigail Jean Lucas), goes on a breakfast date with a madman by the name of Devin (in a haunting and always gripping enactment from Nathaniel Glein Scott). He is plagued by nightmarish visions from his past. His short temper when he thinks he is being laughed at makes things even worse. As these elements take over Devin’s mind, the meeting between the two quickly takes a wickedly violent turn. This is when Vanessa asks Devin to go home with her.
Though the final moments of “Road Less Traveled” suggest a revelation, and come up flat and abrupt, the open-ended nature of this section is certainly appreciated. It is an awkward halt to an otherwise engaging, if routinely fashioned and paced, yarn. There is also an impalement late in this originating fiction which comes off as not entirely believable. Yet, it remains a stirring portrait. Regardless, “Tickled” is the best of the pair. Its restaurant set commencement serves as terrific character and narrative development. There is also a triumphant blending of humor and quietly ominous tone. This is woven into the early instances of this latter labor. Likewise, its dark, basement set finale is excellent, effective and intense. The climactic appearance of Vanessa’s wisecracking father, Officer Faulkner (in a scene-stealing depiction from Mark Davies), adds a welcome burst of well-timed guffaws. This settles nicely with the modern Fatal Attraction (1987) meets Saw (2004) measures found within the exertion.
From a technical standpoint, the endeavor is just as rousing. For instance, Marcus Blair, Daniel Delosh and Evan Schneider’s editing is assured and skillful. Amanda Koker’s costume design is authentic. Krystle Feher and Danielle Schneider offer an outstanding contribution with their make-up work. The same can be said for the sound department. It is composed of Jonathan Millett, Brianna Shockley and Haroon Wahid. Such a quality is sharp, suitably unnerving and awe-inspiring. Feher and Danielle Schneider’s special effects are largely convincing. The nine-person camera and electrical crew compliment Evan Schneider’s stylish and nostalgia-inducing direction beautifully. Though the screenplay he solely authored for “Road Less Traveled” falls prey to an over-excessive use of the many degrading terms which sadly arise with plotlines involving adolescent intimidation, it is still solid and smart. This is in the way it makes its clichés come across as impressively new. Yet, the script for “Tickled”, which Schneider co-authored with Isabella Deslandes and Christopher Rennie, is fantastic. It is fun, fast-paced and slyly introspective. But, one thing that is conceived spellbindingly well in each respective tome is the placement and build-up of the fear-invoking circumstances. Behind the lens maestro Evan Schneider also presents them just as mesmerizingly. Such occurs with an intricately mounted and ceaselessly nail-biting design.
The acting fares just as well. Elle Doucette as Vanessa and Amber Namery as Chelsea are exceptional. Colleen McGovern as Samantha, Brendon Sanderson as Blair Marder, Wolfgang Schuler as Devin’s Father and Marty Smith as the Diner Waitress in “Tickled” are sensational. Christie Devine as Diner Patron Wife and Taft’s Diner Patron Husband are just as memorable. In this aforesaid segment, they portray an aggressive couple. Their dynamic with one another is successfully played for laughs. It also mechanizes as an example of how well director Schneider handles scares and humor. This is as this section transpires while Devin is having tragic flashbacks to his youth. Correspondingly, Andrew P. Marsden as Joe Plaza and Brendan Fromm as Devin (Child) are enduringly notable and striking in their brief turns.
This Hop Top Films co-production and distribution, budgeted for approximately $10,000, is ambitious in scope and feel. Yet, there is a continuous focus to the various personas on-screen that guides it each episode. Such also etches in the sum an incredible intimacy. This balance is perfect for an affair of this ilk. There are also subtle links to each chronicle, such as seeing some of the cast of “Road Less Traveled” reappear in “Tickled”, which is a clever wink to the audience. In turn, “Tales to Line the Coffin” is the best type of retro genre effort. It blurs the lines between the antiquated and the modern. This is administered without ever appearing to instill artificial movements to its arc, as is often the case with similar photoplays, to do so. The result is a wonderfully done demonstration of talent all around. Schneider and crew have crafted a tour de force; an enjoyable love letter to terror compilations that fellow genre addicts are sure to admire. This is well worth seeking out.
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