For me the main attraction of this double feature is Cellar Dweller (1988) and as you can tell director/FX artist John Carl Buechler’s monster was cover boy of Fangoria #71 (Feb ’88). I no longer have this issue and I can see it was a good one too. Not only did it cover Buechler’s movie but also Brain Damage (1988) and Deep Space (1988).
There were a slew of movies around this time (late 80s to early/mid-90s) showing up on cable late night that I would set the timer and record and then when I woke late the following morning retrieve and watch in my room all before getting up and facing the day. I find it odd that I used to watch horror movies in the morning right after waking. I remember back in junior high and high school I couldn’t even stomach a horror movie in the morning. Mornings were for toons and I vividly remember while flipping through the channels passing by a horror movie and thinking, ‘no, I can’t stomach this now. It’s too early.’
The other memory I have of the Dweller is summer ’91. It was a weekend and I was over my then girlfriend’s apartment, we were bored and Cellar Dweller was just about to air on the USA channel. I remember commenting, “Oh, this is a good one.” She wasn’t into horror movies when I first met her. Her forte was Disney flicks, but she got used to them after she met me. Her mother even came into the living room, and watched it with us.
Thirty years prior to the events of the movie (1958 I estimate, no exact date is given) horror icon, Jeffery Combs, is seen playing infamous comic book artist, Colin Childress, the creator of an EC Comics inspired comic book series called, Cellar Dweller. His appearance is very Herbert West. It’s all there, except the smock he’s wearing his gray instead of white. During this particular session the beast he’s creating is getting some additional “help” via a Necronomicon-ish tome Childress puts right next to him on the drawing board and before you know it this beast he’s just drawn comes to life, even bringing the nubile, half naked female he drew into it’s clutches with it.
He quickly attempts to burn it back into his mind by scorching the panels but in the process accidentally ignites the room and he and the beast go up in a screaming ball of flame.
Cut to thirty-years later and his home has now become a writer’s colony headed by Lilly Munster herself, Yvonne De Carlo. Mrs.Briggs they call her. The new recruit is Whitney Taylor, played by Debrah Mullowney (maiden name). I kept looking at this woman wondering why she looked so familiar, but not recognizing her name. This was before she married James Farentino. Ah-ha! It’s Debrah Farentino! She’s been in a ton of movies and TV shows. The last I saw her was on SyFy’s Eureka as the villainous Beverly Barlowe.
She and De Carlo aren’t the only famous faces. There are two more I recognized. Brian Robbins, from Head Of The Class (’86-‘91), and Pamela Bellwood from Dynasty (’81-86). Both actors play Phillip and Amanda respectively, artists of very different kinds. Rounding out the cast is Cheryl Ann Wilson (aka Miranda Wilson) as Lisa, and the late Vince Edward as Noir crime writer, Norman Meshelski. It’s a small cast, and a short movie. Clocks in around 1-hour 14-minutes minus the end credits.
Whitney is a big fan of Childress and his Cellar Dweller comic series and she has a contentious history with Amanda. She and Briggs are the human villains of the movie. They never liked her and plan to frame her for plagiarism. While they hatch their plans to get her kicked out of the colony, she sets up shop in the basement where Childress worked and died, and along the way she stumbles upon the ancient tome he was using to bring his latest Dweller to life. As expected Virginia falls into the same trap Childress did and begins reading, and consulting and caressing the book while she draws, but what she draws ends up being the same creature Childress brought to life, a thing that’s part vampire, werewolf, demon and ghost. Wow, that’s a hell of a brew, everything but the kitchen sink seems to be in it’s DNA, which means it can be just about anywhere it wants to be in the blink of an eye. A convenient plot point to get it to appear at will anywhere in the house.
Once it’s been set loose, anything she draws the beast into becomes reality and eventually the beast gets strong enough to materialize it’s own pages showing Virginia how it’ll dispatch everyone in the house. It eats them all, mind you.
The ending to this one is blatantly downbeat, with no one getting out alive and the Childress’ monster alive to menace another day. Too bad a sequel was never made.
A nice touch, whose ever idea it was, writer Dan Mancini, producer Charles Band or director Buechler’s, to adorn the walls of several select scenes with various posters of other Empire films. The first being in the initial room Virginia crashes in. Depending on the angle of the camera you can see posters for Ghost Town (1988; review coming soon), Dolls (1987) and Re-Animator (1985) behind her. When she moves to the basement she takes the Dolls and Ghost Town ones with her
When it comes to Catacombs (1988) I had to hit up the Fangoria index to remind me of its lineage. I’ve never seen it but I do recall the alternate title it went under when it was first coming out—Curse IV. According to the index it was never officially covered, but it was reviewed under it’s original Catacombs title in issue #92. This Note was added after the review: ‘At presstime, Catacombs’ video release was delayed, and the movie may come out on a different label.’ I guess this is when it was about to be added to The Curse line of movies, which have nothing at all to do with one another except for their modified titles: The Curse (1987), Curse II: The Bite (1989), Curse III: Blood Sacrifice (1991) and Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice (1993). The original titles of all three “sequels” are The Bite, Panga, and Catacombs. I’m a fan of The Curse and The Bite (still hoping one day Shout! Factory decides to blu these two), but have never seen Panga or Catacombs. After tonight it’ll be Panga I’ll need to seek out for it’s got the late great Christopher Lee in it.
In 1506 the clergy of this local abbey are in the midst of confronting this demon-possessed man. Since they realize he’s too strong to get exorcized they decide to wall him up in this room and bar it with a magical seal. Cut to present day, 1988, and the arrival of this woman Elizabeth Magrino (Laura Schaefer), a school teacher, who’s been invited by one of the monks, a Brother Orsini (Ian Abercrombie), who’s in charge. While there she meets a Father John (Timothy Van Patten) who’s having some “belief issues.” Her timing couldn’t be worse. Deep down in the catacombs the demon is escaping. His host body has long since died and decayed but he gets out and creates deathly havoc ending in the possession of Magrino. John comes to the rescue and saves the day. The End.
I didn’t hate this movie, but I didn’t totally love it either. I did like the shooting locations and the lighting and while it’s not a monster movie or even a gory movie of any sort it, there was something about it’s deliberate pace and Exorcist-type horror that kept me interested and away from the fast forward button. Let’s put it this way if given the choice this movie or any of the Exorcist sequels, I’d pick this movie in a heartbeat.
Both movies have been previously released before, by Scream Factory (Shout! Factory’s horror/scifi sub-label), in a 4-movie collection titled All Night Horror Marathon, Vol. 2. This past July 14th Scream decided to upgrade them and release them in blu-ray form.
Video/Audio/Subtitles (Cellar Dweller & Catacombs): 1080p 1.78:1 high definition widescreen—2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio—English SDH subtitles
There’s a disclaimer in the beginning of Cellar Dweller that states: “This new HD transfer was made from the only surviving film element, a film print, direct from MGM’s vault. Some video and audio anomalies may be present.” Yes, this is true, there are some “video anomlies,” I didn’t detect any audio ones, but nevertheless this is the best presentation Cellar Dweller has ever gotten. It even trumps UK’s 101 Films full frame version. I love Buechler’s creation (Micheal Deak played the monster) and here you get to see it clear and in detail. The Catacombs print looked really good too, and there were no video or audio anomalies present for that one.
- Cellar Dweller: None
- Catacombs: Commentary by Director David Schmoeller (ported over from the previous 4-film DVD set)