Cemetery Tales: A Tale of Two Sisters (Crimson Screen Horror Film Festival): Fading Actress Faces Macabre Terror

Director Chris Roe blends a classic cinematic melodrama approach with a healthy dose of EC Comics-style horror in his black-and-white short film Cemetery Tales: A Tale of Two Sisters, the first installment in a planned Cemetery Tales series.

This 1949-set tale stars Traci Lords (Not of This Earth, 1988; Skinner, 1993) as Victoria Chastain, a former screen queen who has taken to the bottle and pills since the murder of her twin sister Vivian (also played by Lords) a year to the day earlier. Living as a recluse, she ignores her agent (Bruce Davison of Insidious: The Last Key [2018] and Willard [1971]) and his ever-dwindling job offers for her, and treats her psychiatrist (Michael Broderick of True Detective, season 3) and maid (Roslyn Gentle of Picnic at Hanging Rock [2018]) with disdain. She visits her sister’s grave, and the horrors of a broken mind soon give way to more ghastly terrors.

Roe, who cowrote the screenplay with Matt O’Neill (whose acting credits include Edgar Allan Poe’s Lighthouse Keeper [2016] and Candy Corn [2019]), helms Cemetery Tales: A Tale of Two Sisters with style and an obvious knowledge of, and love for, classic cinema. His use of light and shadow recalls film noir and German Expressionist techniques, and many of his shots evoke styles from the decade in which the short is set. Alexander J. Wysocki’s cinematography is sumptuous. Roe also pays homage to George Romero, giving credit to the legendary horror director during the film’s closing titles and recalling Night of the Living Dead (1968) with a graveyard set piece.

Lords is terrific as the down-on-her-luck former idol, playing her role with moxie and attitude galore. Victoria spouts venom at all who try to help her, and her scene at her sister’s grave is a highlight. The supporting cast, as might be expected from these seasoned professionals, is superb, too. The proceedings start off a bit slowly as Victoria’s agent, maid, and doctor all try to get her back in touch with a hearty meal and the real world, but it’s hard to argue with having Davison, Gentle, and Broderick on screen.

The territory of Cemetery Tales: A Tale of Two Sisters  is somewhat familiar to cinephiles, as is the climax, but Roe’s short is an engaging work, and it reminds us of how dramatic weight and eeriness drove classic horror films long before gore and shock-for-shock’s sake came along.

Chris Roe won the award for Best Director for Cemetery Tales: A Tale of Two Sisters at the Crimson Screen Horror Film Festival, which ran at the S. of Broadway Theater in North Charleston, South Carolina from May 24–26.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.