Cellar Dweller (1988)
Dir John Carl Buechler
Written by Don Mancini (as “Kit Du Bois”)
Starring Deborah Farentino (as Deborah Mullowney), Brian Robbins, Yvonne De Carlo, Jeffrey Combs
|Obviously the Germans didn't get how delightful the almost-rhyme of CELLAR DWELLER is, but I think they came up with a pretty good alternate title.|
Well, we seem to be developing something of a “mystery-killer locked in basement” theme this year, what with THE UNSEEN, BEAST IN THE CELLAR, and, one would assume from the title, the irresistible almost-rhyming CELLAR DWELLER. Oddly, though, there’s no weird inbred mutant cannibal locked in a basement here; Cellar Dweller is just the name of the in-movie 1950’s horror comic (obviously in the vein of EC Comics’ Tales From The Crypt or The Haunt of Fear) drawn by Colin Childress (Jeffrey Combs, RE-ANIMATOR, NECRONOMICON, and apparently more Star Trek guest characters than any other actor?). That sounds worrisome, but fear not! Unlike BEAST IN THE CELLAR, CELLAR DWELLER actually delivers what you would want from a movie called CELLAR DWELLER, namely a weird-looking monster that gradually kills a bunch of sometimes-topless girls in an isolated boarding school. He does sometimes hang out in the cellar, but does not dwell there, specifically. But that’s neither here nor there.
Our story begins with a beautiful cartoonist (Deborah Mullowney née Farentino, SON OF THE PINK PANTHER, Eureka) arriving at some sort of arts academy (though there are no classes and no teachers and only five students as near as I can tell; not sure exactly what she’s paying for here) which happens to be in the former home of her idol, the very Colin Childress we were just discussing. Childress, it seems, died 30 years earlier (the film opens with a flashback and the title “30 years earlier” and then flashes to the present with the title “30 years later,” which gets confusing because it’s unclear where we should start adding) in what police sort of haphazardly guess must have been a murder-suicide. Of course, we were privy to this event, so we know that --apparently in doing more research than one would assume would be necessary for his dumb comic about a jacked up wolfman eating semi-nude women-- he read in a mystical occult book that, “Nothing in hell lives without man’s consent. Woe unto you that gives the beast form; to contemplate evil is to ask evil home.” This abstruse admonishment turns out to be super relevant almost immediately, because suddenly the werewolf-monster-star of his Cellar Dwellar books appears and starts acting out the murder scene Combs just finished inking, prompting him to douse himself (and the monster) with gasoline and burn the whole thing down. Exactly the sort of thing you just can’t really get insured for. 30 years later (or maybe 60, depending on where we’re supposed to start counting), guess who finds his old stuff in the cellar and inadvertently brings back the beast, to start bumping off her irritating classmates?
Since the victims are all residents of this so-called Arts Academy, it’s a good opportunity for the cast (including Yvonne De Carlo, The Munsters, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS) to go broad and have fun playing ridiculous caricatures of moony artsy types. This they do with gusto, in particular this total douchecanoe Phillip (Brian Robbins, who wisely gave up being a terrible actor shortly thereafter and subsequently graduated to being the terrible director of stuff like NORBIT and GOOD BURGER*) who fuckin’ has something he feels is cheeky and irreverent to say about every single fucking situation he becomes aware of (even his own miraculous return from beyond the grave). I guess he’s supposed to be the romantic lead or something, but he’s such an outrageously annoying douchebag that the actress treats the very idea that she’s supposed to be attracted to him as a charming joke. At the end, when he literally comes back to life in a big triumphant reappearance, his first request is for a kiss. “I’m not tawlkin’ about some quick peck awhn the cheek heyah, I’m talkin’ bout a real kiss!” he says, confidently. I’m 99% sure the script called for his request to be fulfilled, but watch as our heroine grabs his face, pulls him in... and then decides she can’t go through with it and settles for a hug. Which is still much more than he deserves.
The oddest thing about the movie (and keep in mind, this is a movie about a jacked-up werewolf who came from a 50’s horror comic) is its weird anti-imagination subtext. If that passage from the occult book Combs is reading at the start is correct, “to contemplate evil is to ask evil home,” which is the only explanation we ever get for what the fuck is happening here. The suggestion seems to be that by virtue of imagining this evil and depicting it on the page, the artist has “invited” it into the world. Kind of reminds me of THE DARK HALF. At the end, she burns all her drawings to destroy the evil one, but of course, A) she didn’t even imagine this evil, she copied someone else’s trademark monster, and B) wait, by this logic isn’t this horror movie also inviting evil to exist? And also C) she didn’t even draw the comics which end up becoming reality; they just appear, so how does this even work? Weird. I guess I’m not complaining because at least it’s something of a novel way to provide us with a weird monster, but I’m not sure writer Don Mancini (all the CHILD’S PLAY movies, in his sole non-Chucky screenplay) really thought this subtext through. I don’t see any way of avoiding a weirdly judgemental moral about how artists shouldn’t depict anything that they wouldn’t want to see in the real world. Or at least when it comes to musclebound wolfmen menacing scantily clad women. “Wherever there is imagination… I shall Dwell,” says the Dweller. Which, aside from being a bizarre idea in general is particularly so coming from a horror movie.
But anyway, parsing Charles Band productions for a clear moral is not especially germane to the task of enjoying them. This is exactly the kind of moronic concept I go for, especially since the creature is a big, meaty-looking werewolf kinda puppet thing with an almost comically expressive face, who spends a lot of his time cannibalizing the remains of his victims with a thoughtful look in his eyes. Director John Carl Buechler helmed a handful of film, including DUNGEONMASTER, TROLL, and FRIDAY THE 13th PART VII, but was primarily known as a special effects guy, so he makes sure you get a good look at his handiwork here, even on a very limited Charles Band budget. Obviously this isn’t going to be the kind of thing which terrifies and disturbs you on a profound, psychological level, so no reason to be stingy about delivering the good stuff. It’s a slight and silly movie, but it delivers a hint of Jeffrey Combs, some light nudity, some moderate gore, and a whole lot of big monster puppet, which is pretty much exactly what you’d want in a movie like this. At the very least, the movie looks to be a lot better than the Cellar Dweller comic, which, at least from what we see, is entirely composed of cartoony scenarios where, for no apparent reason, the Cellar Dweller appears in front of some nude lady, chases her for two panels, eats her, and then says something like “I’ll be back.” Pretty lame. It seems a little unfair to hold artists responsible for the murderous rampages of their fictional creations, but if that’s the level of effort they’re putting in, it’s hard to have much sympathy for ‘em.
*Although to be fair, Robbins also directed VARSITY BLUES and the underrated Keanu Reeves BAD NEWS BEARS riff HARDBALL. But that doesn’t forgive NORBIT.
CHAINSAWNUKAH 2016 CHECKLIST!
Good Kill Hunting
It Will Eat You Out Of The House (don’t know what that means) and The Shape of Nightmares To Come (equally baffling).
While a cellar does feature prominently, the monster doesn’t exactly dwell there, but rather in our imagination. However, the comic series Jeffrey Combs created is titled Cellar Dweller, so there is a logical explanation. I still feel the title could have done more to convey the actual content of the movie, but it’s not exactly wrong.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Monster movie/ Creature Feature
It was towards the end of her carrer, but it’s still kinda amazing they could get Yvonne De Carlo from THE TEN COMMANDMENTS in here. She seems to be having fun.
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
Jeffrey Combs, although mostly a cameo role.
Yes, some of it before the friggin’ opening credit.
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
There’s some kind of, I dunno, dream or vision or something where Jeffrey Combs returns as a zombie and plants an ax in someone. I don’t know what that means, but obviously I’m for it.
I’m not exactly sure how it works, but the stuck-up headmistress seems to get possessed and transformed into the demon.
Yeah inexplicably the headmistress turns into demon.
Yes, a rival student secretly films our hero through a window
MORAL OF THE STORY
Don’t create art or you’re basically a murderer.