CELLAR DWELLER (1988)
Directed by John Carl Buechler
When cartoonist Colin Childess’ demonic, beastly comic creation comes to life, as illustrated in his latest horror comic series Cellar Dweller, the artist confronts the demon monster as they battle.
Thirty years later, Childress’ house is the site of an art colony, where numerous young artists of all different styles live and create their work. A new addition to the art school, Whitney Taylor, seeks to continue the work of Childress by creating a modern version of Cellar Dweller, the comic she loved so much as a kid. Little does she know that the creature her imagination conjures in pen will rise from the page and become reality, creating a story of its own.
A monster movie at heart, CELLAR DWELLER is everything you expect from a cult horror title from the 80’s. A solid, imaginative story of how comic creations come to life is a great plot to open a fantasy horror with, especially when the opening star is Re-Animator‘s Jeffrey Combs. The shot of a satanic beast chasing a young woman, clothes ripped from her body, in the basement of the comic book artist is enough to grab any viewers attention. Fast-forward to the future, and the viewer is eagerly awaiting the chain of events to start again, this time with glorious close-up shots of the beastie, terrifying students and munching on severed feet.
Actress Debrah Mullowney stars as lead character Whitney, who’s love of the Cellar Dweller comic book inspired her to take up drawing. With a particularly skill for the comic book style, her hopes and aspirations are to continue the fine work of Childress and what better place then in the home and room where the good artist once occupied. Not everyone in the art academy shares her enthusiasm, with Mrs Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo aka Lily Munster!), the academy’s overseer, particularly aggravated by Whitney’s presence, particularly when a ‘real artist’ could have taken her spot at the colony. To make matters worse for Whitney, her high school nemesis Amanda is also a student at the academy and seems to set out to make Whitney’s presence at the art school a short-lived one. Whitney does, however, find kindred spirits in the form of Phillip (Brian Robbins), an optimistic, fun-loving abstract artist who loves to finger paint, and Lisa (Miranda Wilson), a performing arts student. Whitney is a fantastic character to lead the viewer into the world of Cellar Dweller, with her passion for the comic book unrivelled, even in the face of her critics. She’s a strong character, but still has her natural weaknesses, which allows the viewer to sympathise with her character. When Whitney decides to draw some Childress-inspired artwork, it inspires the viewer to get involved in her world and imagination. With bullying to contend with, something that many of us have dealt with in our lives, Whitney wants payback and we see the glorious results, until it eventually gets out of hand and unstoppable.
The practical FX of Cellar Dweller is one of the main draws of the film and I’m glad to say the results are fantastic. The satanic beast, with his sharp fangs, is scary yet somehow cute and amusing at the same time, though I wouldn’t like to be on the receiving end of its bloodthirsty claws. It appears some of the shots of the beast are reused over the duration of the film, but this is fine, as the creature is so well crafted up close, and looks pretty intimidating when seen at a distance, towering over its victims.
For lovers of 80’s cinema and cult titles, CELLAR DWELLER is a must-have part of the collection. Much like Dolls, this is horror that charms and has some surprises and gruesome scenes to boot.