Of all the horror comics out there, the most inspirational is obviously Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear, three "terror-ific" comics made especially for the "boils and ghouls" of the '50s, by E.C. (Entertaining Comics). The comic was discontinued in 1955 after a five year run due to parental complaints that they were "too violent." But a mob of senile housemothers weren't enough to keep this series down! There's been reproductions of the comics, movies, two TV shows, kids' books, action figures, and more. The series was also responble for some great throwbacks to these tales, like Creepshow or any other anthology horror film. Another one of these throwbacks is Cellar Dweller, which is legendary make-up FX artist John Carl Buechler's second time in the director's chair after 1986's Troll. But the question at hand is, "Does this do the E.C. comics justice?" Let's find out...
Cellar Dweller 1988 Review
Now, this being an Empire picture (Charles Band's company before he started Full Moon), we have to squeeze a cameo by Jeffrey Combs in here someplace. In this case, he's in the prologue in which he plays Colin Childress, a comic book artist who is responble for an E.C. (their logo can be found on the top-left corner of the comic books he draws) publication called Cellar Dweller, which, I guess, is like a veron of Tales from the Crypt. Childress finds a Satanic book in his basement studio and reads an incantation from it. He starts drawing a horrific monster attacking a woman, and soon, the monster takes form behind him, and it is attacking a woman. He runs upstairs, grabs an ax, and heads back to do battle with his monstrous foe. While in the basement, he sets fire to the drawing he was working on, which causes the monster to catch on fire. Unfortunately, the fire consumes the basement and Childress is burned alive.
Thirty years later, a young woman named Whitney (Debrah Farentino) arrives at a boarding house for budding young artists, run by the snobbish Ms. Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo). Childress was Whitney's idol, and the particular boarding house she chose to improve on her horror comic career (and her goal of continuing Childress's work) happens to be the place where Colin Childress was burned alive in the cellar. While there, she meets Phillip (Brian Robbins), Lisa (Miranda Wilson), and Norman (Vince Edwards), as well as her enemy from college, Amanda (Pamela Bellwood). While exploring the "forbidden" cellar, she finds the Satanic book and reads the same incantation her late idol did. Soon, the monstrous cellar dweller is back, and is he hungry! Unfortunately for the redents of the boarding house, its plan is a hearty meal, and they're the main course!
What a disappointment. I'm not one to set my expectations high or anything, but going into Cellar Dweller, my expectation level was about the same as it was going into Iced or any other film I've ever watched. S going into it with those standards it had to meet, I did not like it, save for a few scenes. I saw a clip of this on YouTube that I was wildly entertained by, so for this movie, I was expecting a cheesy, lly good time. I did not get that. I got a misguided, poorly written exercise that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. At the start, I was all set for a great story that I would find in the old E.C. comics. Well, I got that...sort of. The death scenes were amazing fun, but the end just gets way too jumbled and confused, and the film is only 74-minutes!
Well, I might as well talk about the good parts about Cellar Dweller. Like I said, the parts where the cellar dweller was killing people was wicked fun, especially Amanda's death. The reason it shines in these areas is because it shows what the film could have been: Light-hearted and campy greatness. The FX by Buechler himself were amazing as always, and I have to hand it to him, no one can pull off a decapitation-by-hand-swipe like Mr. Buechler. Another part I found immensely cool is that the creature is said to be, "Part-vampire, part-ghost, part-zombie, and part-werewolf." How cool is that??? If only they had taken advantage of it... Bedes the deaths, posbly the most entertaining aspect of the film is the character of Norman. Norman pretends he's like a '30s private-eye, and I was amused to no end when he started writing on his typewriter about the disappearances at the house, while wearing a white shirt, leather suspenders, in a dimly lit room, with a cigar stuck in his mouth, and trumpet muc playing in the background, while we get to hear what he's typing on the page. Ah, those gumshoes.
As for the bad parts, I guess I should bring up the writing. While it was a steadily entertaining film for the first thirty/forty minutes or something, after that, the film gets lost. It feels like the writer stayed up really late writing the concluon, and while he was on the verge of falling asleep, he finished it. it doesn't know how to end, so we get this crappy concluon that left me very unsatisfied. Some of the acting was really poor, but some of it was also pretty good, so it balanced out.I still can't get over how annoying the character of Phillip is, though. He's Whiteny's love interest, but I found him to be really, really annoying. But what can you do?
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Given this is from the guy who brought us friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, one would think this would be better. Directed by John Carl Buechler, make-up and creature FX by John Carl Buechler, written by Don Mancini (Child's Play), and featuring Jeffrey Combs and Yvonne De Carlo? How can this not be great? But it isn't. It's only decent enough to get by. Yes, there's good gore, some boobage for the males in the audience, and all the aspects of a Tales from the Crypt story. My advice for the filmmakers would have been to have more of the creature, less Phillip, and an insane twist ending like those E.C. comics had!
The Verdict: It's alright; worth one viewing and one viewing alone, just for certain scenes. However, if you want to wtach the best scene in the whole movie, check it out:
Don't trust my judgment? Here's four other opinions:
Bad Movie Planet
Camp Movie Camp
The Spinning Image