by Lucy Leitner
Proving that lost arts are alive and dancing in Pittsburgh, Sunday’s Tablet of Tease Event at Belvedere’s Ultra Dive in Lawrenceville kept a decent group of horror fans from getting up for work on time. A double feature of Brian Cottington’s short homage to horror television of the past/master’s thesis Tablet of Tales and performances by the Princess Teasers of burlesque troupe the Bridge City Bombshells, the event was a successful throwback in a city that often plays that role itself.
If Cottington’s film is a short, the two tales within are daisy dukes. At around ten minutes, each segment is a nightmarish vision of the future from the mysterious and heavily pierced denizen Fritz Allister Murnau (Johnny Daggers) of a strange café that seems more like part of the Black Lodge than Squirrel Hill. The first story deals with Suzie (Melinda Neyman), a short-tempered, though heavily medicated, college student who is unduly bothered by her studious roommate’s (DaMia Law) lack of support when she’s cast as the lead in a production of Sweeney Todd. The second segment is the tale of Jordan (Nicholas Tats) who, in an attempt to get over his ex-fiancee, picks up the girl of his dreams (Elizabeth Couteau), who turns out to be the stuff of nightmares, though not, as theorized in last week’s preview, a dude.
With limited resources, budget, connections, etc., the film was surprisingly restrained. While other no-budget horror shorts play out like sadistic snuff, Cottington’s picture had a maturity that shows promise. Going to over-the-top camp is an easy gimmick for the new filmmaker and Cottington’s and Daggervision Films’ refusal to venture into that territory should be applauded. They made do with an inexperienced cast and imperfect dialogue without devolving into ridiculousness and self-parody. Though the twists were expected, the film hinged more on dread than shock—we knew where we were going, just not how we’d get there and how much blood there would be.
The problem areas are sparse and can be easily ameliorated. A quick pharmaceutical placement at the end of the Suzie tale would add an eerie prescience to the enigmatic storyteller that is only shown at the onset of the Jordan segment. And that first story would also benefit from a bit more time to hold the abundance of characters.
Projected on a wrinkled sheet in the back room of Belvedere’s Ultra Dive, the film had a retro grindhouse quality that complemented the archaic setting of both segments of the film.
Tablet of Tales benefits exponentially from the Pittsburgh setting, namely the city’s uncanny ability to play a normal city from forty years ago. In a town where the cheaper the apartment the more it looks like a setting from an old Roman Polanski movie, the possibilities for mining dread from the mundane are endless. Belvedere’s is one such establishment and provides the ideal backdrop for the noir-ish inciting incident of the Jordan story. Cottington’s apartment also serves as a perfect setting for cooking an ominous breakfast, or for a Mickey Rourke character to inhabit.
Sunday’s event functioned as a multifaceted premiere of both Tablet of Tales and the newest members of burlesque troupe the Bridge City Bombshells, Lusciouss Lottie and Lita D. Vargas. These Princess Teasers performed, along with Boom Boom Bridgette, as characters from the Suzie story while Elizabeth Couteau appeared in tribute to her own performance in the Jordan half.