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John’s Horror Corner: Cellar Dweller (1988), a surprisingly good B-movie creature feature in the spirit of Tales from the Crypt.

February 28, 2019

MY CALL: If you randomly pick out this movie, you’re in for better than you expected. Sure, it’s a B-movie. But more of a B+ movie boasting some cool scenes, catchy concepts, neat monster effects and even a dash of guilt-free in-context nudity (if ever there was such a thing). MOVIES LIKE Cellar Dweller: This movie’s somewhat mean yet fun-spiritedness in tone and execution reminds me of Creepshow (1982) and Tales from the Crypt (1989-1996).

From its very outset, this movie is trying really hard and I actually think it deserves some credit for its efforts. Certainly more credit than it’s been given over the decades, at least. After all, this is one of those films whose VHS cover art you might vaguely recognize from your 80s-90s video store era days—but you probably never rented it, right? But no one ever talks about it. Not even when this film opens with Jeffrey Combs (Would You Rather, Lurking Fear) illustrating strikingly detailed comic book panels which magically bring life in his art studio to a werebat/werewolf hulking menace terrorizing a young woman clad in little more than torn rags. Folks, this first scene is bonkers. It is actually really well executed, the monster looked great, and I never thought I’d say this, but the gratuitous nudity felt cheekily not at all out of place or forced since it was, well, exactly what he had illustrated. Finally, some guilt-free boobage!

For an 80s movie I never heard of, the special effects are pretty decent. The monster has articulation of the face and ears, it’s highly detailed (we see a LOT of it) and constantly drooling, and it’s a big full-body suit. You might be reminded of the giant ghoulie in Ghoulies II (1988), only this actually looks better.

Fast forward 30 years to present day and we meet comic book artist Whitney Taylor (Debrah Farentino; Earth 2), a fan of the late artist whose very illustrated creation caused his death decades prior. Whitney joins an artists’ colony and the film swiftly degenerates into the most typical 80s horror tropes—shallow characters, shaky story, critical discoveries made in old dusty basements, a shamefully gratuitous shower scene, and so on.

When Whitney wanders into the deceased artist’s cellar and recreates his monstrous artwork, she resurrects the fantastic demon who kills those she pens.

The gore is effective and quite ambitious for its budget. But this movie’s victory is in the creature costume and latex work. I love seeing its face with its blinking eyes and twitching ears as it eats a victim’s severed foot, tearing the flesh from the bone and the decapitation scene packs a gleeful momentary goriness. Meanwhile, the interplay between the comic strip panels and their murderous realization on-screen was more fun than I’d imagined.

Director John Carl Buechler (Friday the 13th Part VII, Ghoulies Go to College, Troll) and writer Don Mancini (Child’s Play 1-7, Channel Zero) team up to deliver this surprisingly fun yet schlocky B+ movie madness that borrows a bit from Sam Raimi with its shaky rushing-forward camerawork and an evil book called “Curses of the Ancient Dead.” The whole thing feels like a stretched-out episode of Tales from the Crypt, which is also the very twisted spirit in how it ends. This was such a pleasant surprise. Really!

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