Review: Cellar Dweller (1988)

Cellar Dweller feels like an episode of Tales From The Crypt that's been blown up to feature length...and that's both a good and a bad thing. it's good because the premise hails from the 1980s golden age of the horror anthology that gave us Tales from the Darkside, Creepshow, Amazing Stories and the aforementioned Tales from the Crypt. It's bad because this is not an anthology film and the premise isn't strong enough (or written well enough) to flesh out a feature film. We start with a cool idea: in 1955, a comic book creator (played by Re-Animator's Jeffrey Combs) draws an occult monster attacking a scantily-clad woman, which he then accidentally brings to life when he reads an incantation from a dark tome (as all comics creators do, presumably). 30 years later, the house where this dark deed occurred is now a haven for artists and outcasts. Enter a new prodigy (Debrah Farentino) who loves comics and wants to tap into the energy of the spot where her hero once worked. A quirky bunch of characters inhabit the location, including a no-nonsense headmistress played by the legendary Yvonne De Carlo.

On the plus side, the things we want from this movie are here in spades. The monster itself is wonderfully achieved via a rubber suit on steroids and animatronics to bring the face to life. The cool "forbidden horror comics" vibe runs throughout the entire film, owing much to the original EC Comics of the 1950s that were made infamous by the decency police and pearl-clutching conservatives of the era. Nevertheless, the impression of those comics on the Baby Boomer generation who would make films in the 1980s cannot be overstated.

However, the movie simply doesn't make any sense. It doesn't follow any rules, which means that it's harder to invest in the story and care about anything we're seeing. Just like certain slasher characters keep coming back over and over again, the titular beast seems to fill whatever role is needed for any particular scene. Also, the residents of the house itself aren't nearly as interesting as they could have been, meaning we feel nothing when they start getting hacked to pieces by a supernatural monster. Frequently, the movie feels like it's filling time. That's a problem, considering it's only 77 minutes. Again, this is a premise that would have worked better in an anthology film or as a half-hour story for television, since it doesn't quite fill the requirements for a feature film. All that said, though, I still have a lot of affection for this movie which blends an old-school horror comics aesthetic with the best monster effects of the 1980s.

More Empire Pictures Reviews:

The Dungeonmaster (1984)

Dolls (1987)

Arena (1989)

Robot Jox (1989)


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