Film Review: Cellar Dweller (1988)

SYNOPSIS:

In spirit of the Tales from The Crypt, Terror Tales and The Beyond vintage comic books Colin Childress engages in some most macabre tales of horror. His most inspired illustrations are conceived within the remote bowels of a desolate rural home, aptly enough in his studio basement. As the artist delves into the occult to liven up his work, the drawings develop a life of their own, delivering their maker unto his ultimate demise.

Some fifty years later the old home has been converted into an art school of sorts. Following in the footsteps of her hero, Amanda (Pamela Bellwood) is thrilled at the opportunity to pen some of her most inspired artistry under the same roof as her idol. Politics soon ensue as director of the institute Mrs. Biggs (Yvonne DeCarlo) makes it abundantly clear she disapproves of Amanda’s presence and is only honoring the vocation as a result of a decision passed on by the board of directors. If it isn’t enough to feel unwelcome in a strange environment Amanda learns she cohabitates the institute with former rival Whitney (Debrah Farentino). As tension rises among the artists Amanda vents her anger and frustration resurrecting one of Childress’s creations onto paper, an unholy demon beast that slaughters her rival caricature’s on the page. The wayward cartoon artist soon gets more than what she had bargained for as demon beast becomes fully animated with insatiable intent to devour one and all.

REVIEW:

Directed By: John Carl Buechler
Starring: Yvonne DeCarlo, Debrah Farentino, Brian Robbins, Pamela Bellwood

“He who has wisdom, wonders not of the beast, for nothing in hell lives without Man’s consent. Woe unto you that gives the beast form. To contemplate evil, is to as evil home.”

Cellar Dweller is indeed one of those eighties flicks you have to watch in the right mindset to fully appreciate its artistic integrity. Developed in an era where you’re almost certain to be served a gluttonous amount of varying cheese it’s important not to take the picture too seriously. There are certainly ingredients to this recipe that are flavorful, even tasty at times. The plot is unique, original and reminds one of Night Gallery or perhaps a lost Twilight Zone episode. All too often in current times we’re infested with remakes, sequels and tiresome parodies. Cellar Dweller has original grit yet somehow fails to bedazzle its audience.

For an artistically themed plot, the visual feel of Cellar Dweller is disappointing. Granted the technology of cameras and visual effects in 1988 simply cannot compare to current times. Much of the live action is grainy, dark and we find ourselves straining to see what’s going on in Amanda’s influential sanctuary. Where visual appeal is flat in the live action, the production redeems itself in many of the animated illustrations shown frame by frame as the demon beast embarks upon its unholy terror. Just as we’re lured into a tasty little episode of disturbance, the editing department was evidently on hiatus as we’re abruptly tossed back into the live action. Witnessing a screaming hapless victim in all its graphic inked glory gets the proverbial pulse racing only to flat-line back to the action seeing the demon beast consume a horribly crafted prosthetic appendage.

The costume and set design are on the believable track. It’s often laughable to see the characters in spandex and leg warmers fully equipped with teased hair which begs the question, what exactly was everyone on in the eighties anyway? The basement studio is decked out well as we’d expect any cartoon illustrator would possess. Memorable sequences that are sure to bring a smile to your face are when Phillip (Brian Robbins) and Amanda (Pamela Bellwood) immersed in full blown montage along with techno beats restoring the dwelling’s décor.

The sound effects are one of the variables that manage to make the film watchable. We can’t help but tense up when hearing the unearthly voices whispered from the beast in midst of transformation from page to present. Gnarly, grisly echoes of bone, marrow and guts being chomped and consumed are enough to turn the stomach which I’m sure is precisely what director Buechler was aiming for.

The idea of the demon beast and its form with shaggy gray tufts of ratty hair, and spotty colorless flesh fully donned with a carving of the pentagram on its chest is unsettling but in the most positive of ways. I can admire the efforts put into make-up and design even if it falls short of its mark rather than a poorly placed computer generation. Artistic integrity with monster suits will win out every time as it possesses a certain sense of diabolical originality rather than a bad computer graphic. Sure we know the demon beast is fake, we know to suggest its existence is plausible is down-right absurd but that’s what makes a good accessible imaginative escape in the Cellar Dweller. We can return to reality any time we choose.

The buckets of blood tossed on the wall look awkward and out of place. But then again any horror flick with Brian Robbins (CHUD 2, Head of The Class) is positively destined with elements of awkward neurosis. The prosthetic limbs are ridiculously fake in appearance but at least executed in unapologetic fashion. Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the final climax. Without disclosing any series spoilers for the morbidly curious the use, (or lack of) special effects in the final scenes provoke the suspicion that perhaps the film’s budget was rapidly approaching an abrupt termination. It’s a shame the scene couldn’t do the same.

Definitely not for everyone but Cellar Dweller is worth a looksee for comic book geeks extraordinaire.

Two out of five tombstones

Cellar Dweller (1988)

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