MONKEY REVIEW: Cellar Dweller

May 25, 2008

cellardwellerI learned a few things as I researched Cellar Dweller, a 1988 Empire Pictures horror fantasy, and here you go:

1. John Carl Buechler directed it, and though he’s mostly known for special effects and make up work, he also directed Troll, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, and Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College (I didn’t even realize this movie existed, and there’s even a fourth one!). Buechler (Buechler…? Buechler…?) is also embarking on a remake of Troll, set for release next year. Two of the main characters in the 1986 original Troll are called, coincidentally, Harry Potter Sr. and Harry Potter Jr.

2. Don Mancini wrote the screenplay as Kit Du Bois. After this, Mancini went on to write the Child’s Play movies. And…well, that’s pretty much it. Now he’s remaking Child’s Play, for release next year as well. It’s the circle of life, Hollywood-style.

3. Deborah Farentino, who appears in this movie as Deborah Mullowney, appeared on the Sci-Fi series Eureka recently and Earth 2 in the 90’s, and became Farentino when she married James Farentino. She will be appearing in neither the remake of Troll or Child’s Play as far as I know, though. She’s also magically hotter now, twenty years later, than she was in this movie, and she’s pretty gorgeous here.

So, anyway, the movie. I started watching Cellar Dweller on the Chiller cable network, and it had Jeffrey Combs in the pre-credits sequence as a 50’s era EC style cartoonist named Colin Childress, whose monstrous creation, based on his readings of an ancient book of curses (I think that’s the actual name of the book, even!), comes to life behind him in his basement workspace, mirroring the action in “Cellar Dweller,” one of his horror comic strips, and murdering a scantily clad woman. Childress fights back, and he and the monster die a fiery death. I stopped watching not long after that, deciding to try to track the movie down and watch it uncut, as I’m a pretty big Combs fan, ever since Re-Animator. It’s not on DVD yet, but I tracked down a new VHS copy via an Amazon reseller, which had a decent pan and scan print of it. As it turned out, Combs’ role was limited to the prologue, and the rest of the movie takes place 30 years later after his death, now considered a murder/suicide, with his house having been turned into a remote artist colony called the Throckmorton Institute of the Arts. (Try using “Throckmorton” as your new swear word. “What in the Throckmorton?” “Holy Throckmortons!” It works pretty well.) Comic book artist Whitney Taylor (played by Farentino) arrives at the colony wanting to create her own work based on Childress’s work, whom she idolizes. The other artists at the colony are pretty hilariously bad, but then Taylor signs her graphically violent horror comic strips with a big, giant, very unscary “WHITNEY.” She finds the book of curses and conjures up the same monster, who starts to wreak gory havoc in the house, based on the comic strips she draws. It’s a neat idea, but it’s not done in a very cinematic way, as the action cuts between what’s going on in real time and what’s going on in the strips, with most of the emphasis on the strips, undercutting a lot of the impact of the horror scenes. As this is a low budget B-movie at heart, there’s nudity and some gore, including one pretty spectacular decapitation. The monster is sort of scary sometimes, but it’s also unexpectedly sort of Gremlin-like at times, but the good Gremlins, not the bad ones. Other times, during wide shots, it looks like a Yeti, and I swear its fur changes color from scene to scene. Plus there’s one close up where it’s eating a body part, and it’s got like doe eyes. NOT scary. Cellar Dweller‘s got a sort of kooky charm going for it that makes it watchable, though, and it probably helps that the running time is pretty short at 81 minutes, with some elaborate opening credits eating up a lot of that time. It’s probably not a must see at any level, but it’s a goofy time passer, anyway.

MONKEY RATING: FOUR MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

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