Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cellar Dweller (1987)

... aka: Cannibal Monster, The
... aka: Ork
... aka: Underground Werewolf

Directed by:
John Carl Buechler

Comic book artist Colin Childress (Jeffrey Combs), best known for his horrific "Cellar Dweller" series, has been using an ancient Satanic book to fill in his dialogue bubbles. In the process, he manages to resurrect both a big demon monster and a lady in peril, all of whom go up in flames. Thirty years later, horror-loving cartoonist Whitney Taylor (Debrah Mullowney, who'd marry actor James Farentino and go by the professional name Debrah Farentino) arrives via taxi to the secluded Throckmorton Institute for the Arts, an artist's colony which used to be Childress' home. A big fan of the "Cellar Dweller" comics, Whitney decides she wants to do something along those lines with her career. She's given a chilly reception by school administrator Mrs. Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo), who remembers Whitney unfavorably from a convention years earlier and doesn't believe comic art is actually art (calling it "populist tripe'). The cellar where Childress did most of his work, and the same place he and the woman died (Childress was blamed for killing her) is off limits to everyone.

Whitney soon meets a handful of other students, including young abstract painter Phillip Lemley (Brian Robbins, then known as the star of the series Head of the Class and now a successful producer and director), eccentric performance artist Lisa (Cheryl-Ann Wilson) and cigar-chomping pulp writer and Raymond Chandler wannabe Norman Meshelski (Vince Edwards). There's also the bitchy Amanda (Pamela Bellwood, just wrapping up her long stint on the primetime soap Dynasty), who had previously attended another art school with Whitney and made her life a living hell because she was jealous of her success. Since Mrs. Briggs is on Amanda's side, the two women team up to try to get Whitney kicked out of the artist's colony by setting her up as a plagiarist. Meanwhile, Whitney keeps hearing noises coming from the cellar. Upon investigating, she discovers all kinds of remnants from Childress' career, including copies of his comics and the Satanic book ("Curses of the Ancient Dead"). How none of this stuff was damaged or destroyed in the fire, or removed by the police, is anybody's guess.

Whitney convinces Mrs. Briggs to let her set up her work station in the cellar. She starts messing with the evil book, draws the titular creature and then people start dying as the flesh-hungry creature materializes in the 'real world' and gobbles them up. Some interesting things happen; Whitney begins drawing comics that come true, but then the drawings start materializing out of thin air, we learn the creature is fueled by literally consuming creative energy, etc., but they aren't always adequately expanded upon. One nice touch toward the end is that our heroine discovers she can both contain the monster and bring those who have been killed back to life, but that aspect is completely undermined by a poor ending.

Seems the filmmakers were shooting for nothing more than a fun, escapist movie with an appreciation for macabre art and a comic book feel, but they're only partially successful because of the muddled, half-hearted creature mythology (the film runs just 77 minutes and probably could have used at least another 10 to fill in the gaps). Farentino is a likable and appealing lead, De Carlo has a fun supporting role (Combs is pretty much wasted, though) and the design on the big, wolf-like monster is pretty good. There's also an old-of-left-field fantasy sequence featuring an axe-wielding zombie. Director Buechler (best known as a make-up fx man) had already made TROLL (1986) for executive producer Charles Band's Empire Pictures (note the posters for DOLLS and GHOST TOWN on the wall). He'd also go on to also direct FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD (1988), GHOULIES III: GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE (1990), WATCHERS REBORN (1998), MINER'S MASSACRE (2002) and others.

Screenwriter Don Mancini would go on to write CHILD'S PLAY (1988) and all of its subsequent sequels; finally stepping into the director's chair for SEED OF CHUCKY (2008).

It was filmed in Italy and released to VHS several times (through New World, Starmaker and others). Image released a laserdisc, though there's no DVD as of this writing.


1 comment:

CavedogRob said...

Saw this years ago and was intrigued by it's begining with a comic strip and Combs. It was down hill from there...

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