Celler Dweller is available from Amazon on both the Scream Factory All Night Horror Marathon, Vol. 2 (Cellar Dweller, Catacombs, The Dungeonmaster & Contamination 7) 4-movie set, as well as the Cellar Dwellar / Catacombs [Blu-ray] double feature!
Just how much White Out is in one of those little bottles?
I believe that I first truly found my love for B-movies and genre films in the late 80’s. It was the beginning of my pre-teen years when I finally started living in areas with cable, areas with a video store within walking distance. It was also at this time that I first started developing my lifelong tendency to be a “night owl”. Since my mother had started letting me watch pretty much whatever I wanted by this time, I’d always find myself stepping away from looking for Dracula’s rib in Castlevania 2 for just long enough to watch Basket Case or Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama on the USA Network, or Ghoulies 2 and Killer Klowns From Outer Space on HBO.
Somewhere buried in all of these movies was Cellar Dweller. I remember deciding to stay up and watch it based solely on the name. “Something lives in the cellar? RADICAL!!!!”. I think we still said “radical” in 1988. If at any point I said “tubular”, then I deserve to be taken out into the street and beaten.
As I’m sure that I had a short attention span at that age, I was very pleased to be presented with not only images of comic books, but of the titular creature himself within the first 5 minutes! Sweet! My 11/12-year-old brain loved those things! Who are we kidding? My 38-year-old mind loves those things. Just throw in some of those “titulars” I was talking about earlier and I think I may have had my first wet dream. Oh, wait! We DO get a couple gratuitous nudity shots? Oh. Oh my. Excuse me for a few minutes.
Um.. sorry about that. Where were we?
Cellar Dweller is a 1988 monster flick from John Carl Buechler, director of Friday the 13th Part VII and Troll, and the FX guy on films such as Ghoulies, From Beyond, and A Nightmare on Elm St 4: The Dream Master. The film was written by Don Mancini, who would later go on to write the Child’s Play series. Cellar Dweller is also part of the last batch of films released by Charlie Band’s Empire Pictures line. I will gladly admit bias as there are not many Empire releases that aren’t fondly remembered by this reviewer.
The film starts 30 years in the past. The words at the bottom of the screen even tell you this. As the movie was made in the 80’s and is very clearly set then, this following segment is taking place in the late 1950’s. Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, The Frighteners) plays Colin Childress, writer and illustrator of the “Cellar Dweller” horror comic. As the movie starts, we find Childress in his cellar (it’s not called “Attic Dweller” after all) working on the latest issue. Childress pulls out an old, leather-bound book with a pentagram burnt into the cover. I don’t believe that it is ever really explained why he has this book or exactly why it does what it does, but Childress opens the book and reads a passage from it aloud.
As Childress puts the book away, we can see something standing up behind him. It, of course, is the Cellar Dweller. While some movies choose to prolong the suspense, most monster films of this time were all about giving you the creature early and then beating you over the head with it for the next 70-90 minutes. I couldn’t have been happier about that, even if the creature did look like an enlarged, roid-raging cousin of the Snuggle fabric softener bear. Clutched in the creature’s arms is a young woman in a ripped nightgown, like Childress had just drawn into his comic.
Childress flees from the room to the adjoining hallway where he grabs an ax from the wall rack. I’ve seen gun racks, but I guess that I’m new to the ax rack thing. Ax now in hand, Childress returns to the cellar to find that the creature has killed the girl and left her body on the floor. As Colin checks her body (and not in the same way that I just did), the creature rises from the shadows and swats at him. The creature knocks him into his desk, causing the evil book to fall into an open chest conveniently placed directly below. He also knocks over a jar filled with (I believe) paint thinner, spilling it onto the cellar floor. Hoping to dispel the creature, Childress sets fire to the comic pages with the Cellar Dweller drawn on them. The creature is banished, but in the process, Childress sets the house on fire and burns to death.
After some opening credits that seem oddly familiar to the opening credits of a couple other Empire films, the movie then forwards to modern times. And by “modern”, I mean “mid/late 80’s”. Aspiring comic artist Whitney Taylor (Deborah Farentino, Syfy’s Eureka/ here as Deborah Mullowney) has just arrived at the Throckmorton Institute for the Arts, an artist colony built on the site of Colin Childress’s house. Somehow, the house suffered absolutely no damage in the fire that killed Childress years earlier. Whitney is joining the colony to begin her work on a new comic inspired by the original “Cellar Dweller” comic. “Inspired” is a loose term as she appears to be doing the exact same thing Childress did.
The colony is run by Mrs. Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo, TV’s “Lily Munster”). Briggs makes it clear very quickly that she is not a fan of Whitney’s choice of medium and dismisses her artwork as “mere cartoons” and “populist tripe”. She admits that the only reason that Whitney was even admitted is because the school’s board of directors voted her in, presumably to capitalize off of her desire to continue Childress’s work in the house that he “went crazy and murdered that poor girl in”. Brigg’s also informs Whitney that the cellar that Childress used as his studio is strictly off-limits.
We are then introduced to the other artists at the colony, which include:
Meshelski (Vince Edwards, TV’s Dr. Ben Casey), a retired detective who now walks around with a gun, practicing “scenes”. I’m still not quite sure if he is an actor or a crime novelist.
Performance artist, Lisa (Cheryl Ann Wilson, TV’s Santa Barbara).
Amanda (Pamela Bellwood, TV’s Dynasty), a long time rival of Whitney’s
And finally, Phillip, an expressionist painter. The role of “Phillip” is played by Brian Robbins, known for his roles in Chud 2 and on the TV series “Head of the Class“. Brian would also go on to become a writer, director, and producer. He is not only responsible for the television shows All That, Arli$$, and One Tree Hill, but he was also behind the films Norbit, Varsity Blues, & Good Burger. So………
Fun Fact: While the “Cellar Dweller” may be the monster featured in this film, Brian Robbins may be one of cinema’s GREATEST monsters!!!
After being awoken one night, Whitney makes her way into the cellar. While searching around the former work space of her idol (in perfect condition, I might add), she finds the chest containing the old book of incantation. Curiosity gets the best of her and she reads a passage from the book aloud too. The next morning, Whitney convinces Briggs to let her set up shop in the cellar. Briggs will benefit by having Whitney out of the way and can now give Whitney’s unused room to another “more talented” artist. In a bit of self promotion, Whitney immediately sets to covering the walls of the cellar with posters from other Empire movies. She also starts experimenting with the book more, even including symbols from the book in her own art.
The Cellar Dweller is soon released from the confinements of the comic pages and proceeds to tear and chew his way through the cast members. While the killings themselves never get too explicit, the scenes of “CD” eating his victims get pretty bloody and gruesome. We even get to watch him swallow the eyeball from one of his victims. And just when you are about ready to cringe, Buechler chooses to hit you with a close up of the creature smiling and batting his eyes…. and there’s just a little bit of bloody dribble coming from his mouth…. like a big, fuzzy, murderous koala bear…
D’AAAAWWWWWWWW!!!! HE”S JUST SOOOOO DAMN CUTE!!!!!!
Seriously, how can you be mad at that face? Maybe if you just gave him a bath and trim his nails. Get him a nice new collar.
And that, my friends, is the biggest problem with the Cellar Dweller. He’s just a little too cuddly to be ever be truly scary. You get the feeling that he might not rip your lungs from your chest if you just rub his belly or scratch him behind the ears.
Even this is a little more intimidating than the Cellar Dweller.
Despite a monster that’s a little too hokey to be a franchise player, and some serious gaps in logic (What happens to all the blood and body parts left over from one of CD’s attacks?), Cellar Dweller aims to be nothing more than bloody, B-grade fun. And in that regard, it succeeds. You could find much worse ways to kill 75 mins. Fans of Buechler’s other work, such as Troll & the Ghoulies series should be pleased as this carries the same darkly comedic tone to it. Only gorier.
Cellar Dweller was pretty much left to VHS obscurity, with the only copies available being tape-to-disc rips of varying quality being sold by convention vendors and online collectors. The film was finally “officially” released to DVD in Oct 2013 by Scream Factory on a 4 movie set that also included The Dungeonmaster, Catacombs, & Contamination .7. Sadly, the print used here is also sourced from a VHS tape as you can see tracking issues early in the film. I’d only recommend purchase if you do not already have a copy of the film or if you are interested in the other films in the set.
Update: Since the original posting of this review, Cellar Dweller has been released to Blu-ray by Scream Factory as part of a Double Feature with the aforementioned Catacombs.