Cellar Dweller (1988)

Greetings, readers! Rare midweek review for you today, I got to watching this film the other night before bed and just had to write it up, and didn’t feel like waiting until the weekend to watch it again. I’m also a little wigged-out on Nyquil right now from a cold (not sure if I picked it up at Cinema Wasteland last weekend or at work, where it seems everyone is sick…), so hopefully I won’t get too many fever/decongestant hallucinations mixed in with the film.  Let’s do this!

Spoilers ensue.

The 1950s.  Meet Colin Childress (Jeffrey Combs!), a prominent EC Comics-style comic book artist, creator of the popular “Cellar Dweller” series.  Don’t get too attached — he buys the farm before the opening credits roll.  The official cause of death is listed as suicide by self-immolation; but what the viewers at home get to see, that the officials don’t, is that the Cellar Dweller manifested out of Childress’ drawings, and Childress accidentally burned himself alive while trying to destroy the beast.

Fast forward thirty years…

Meet Whitney Taylor (Debrah Farentino, still operating under her maiden name of Mullowney at the time this was made).  An avid collector of Cellar Dweller comics, she’s come to the artist’s colony where Colin Childress lived and worked.  She’s interested in learning more about the man, and possibly trying to puzzle out the whole suicide thing — don’t forget, this is pre-Wikipedia.

She quickly meets the quirky, kooky inhabitants of the artist’s colony, led by Mrs. Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo!).  It’s an artist’s colony, of course they’re quirky! Mrs. Briggs disapproves of Whitney’s comic book stylings, but grudgingly allows her into the colony.

Before long, Whitney has found her way into Childress’ old studio and has begun the creation of a new series of Cellar Dweller stories, done in full sequential art style, and in glorious, moody black and white.  And wouldn’t you know it, she found the same creepy, moldering old book (y’know, the one with the pentagram scarred into the “leather” cover) that Childress was using for inspiration!

Three guesses who’s making a comeback, and the first two don’t count.

With Cellar Dweller on the loose and hungry for murder, it’s up to Whitney to find a way to banish the demon.  But is it possible to destroy the beast without destroying herself as well?

THE END?

This ranks right up there with SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA in terms of perfect ’80s video horror.  And how could it not? Check these stats:

Directed by, and with creature effects by, John Carl Buechler, who also gave us such classics as TROLL and FRIDAY THE 13TH VII: THE NEW BLOOD.  To top that, CELLAR DWELLER was written by “Kit Du Bois,” aka Don Mancini, who wrote every film in the CHILD’S PLAY series.

While Mancini’s script isn’t the most original — it borrows plenty of elements from films like THE EVIL DEAD and PUMPKINHEAD — it’s very fun, and everything fits together beautifully, with some good solid gags and worthwhile scares.

Buechler’s directorial skills are relatively run-of-the-mill, but his creature effects…! His creature effects are what people go to see movies he’s involved with for, and the Cellar Dweller is no exception.  Played by a man (Mike Deak, who also played the Sasquatch in ABOMINABLE and the gun-wielding Werewolf in Rob Zombie’s WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE SS faux-trailer accompanying GRINDHOUSE) in a muscular rubber suit, the Cellar Dweller has a wonderfully expressive animatronic face, with flexing lips, eyes and ears.

The film is a little light on gore, though what we do have is wonderful — Cellar Dweller casually gnaws on torn-off limbs and hurls severed heads around like so many volleyballs.  What did take me by surprise was the quantity of high-quality female nudity on display in this film, including a prolonged shower sequence cut short by a grisly Cellar Dweller attack.  The girls are a bit thin for my personal tastes, but I can appreciate any set of breasts.

Final Analysis: Blood, Boobs and Beasts, this movie has everything I could ever ask for in 80s video horror.  This is a must-see — shame it hasn’t had a legitimate DVD release yet.  If you’re comfortable with bootlegs, the one made available by the VHS Preservation Society is of excellent quality.

Overall, I give CELLAR DWELLER (1988)…

FIVE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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