HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Cellar Dweller/Catacombs
HTS Overall Score:62
WARNING: THE SCORES ABOVE ARE A COMBINED SCORE FROM BOTH FILMS, THE INDIVIDUAL SCORES ARE CONTAINED BELOW IN THE INDIVIDUAL SECTIONS OF THE REVIEW
Last time we visited Scream Factory it was for a pair of monster flicks from the 60s and 70s, but this time we’re back with one of my personal favorite horror sub genres. Cheesy 80’s horror movies. These are the best kind of bad, with awful acting, 80’s effects, bad hair, bad attitudes, lots of gore and just plain stupid fun! “Cellar Dweller” is basically a comic book gone horribly wrong (think kind of like “Wishmaster” and genies), and “Catacombs” is a bland and rather boring little religious exorcism type of movie that just can’t seem to get enough steam together to really stand out. Both are worth a watch, but I find that “Cellar Dweller” is the movie that I’ll be rewatching over and over again with a big bag of popcorn.
Cellar Dweller :3.5stars:
Where do I begin with “Cellar Dweller”? Well, for one this is one of the cheapest horror movies in existence, as it was shot in about 2 weeks from start to finish and I think that everyone got paid with a 12 pack of beer instead of actual money (slight exaggeration, but probably not too far from the mark). It’s goofy, geeky, just plain gory fur from start to finish. One dark and stormy night in the 1950’s, a comic book artist (Jeffrey Combs) is hard at work with his latest drawing, when the monster from hell chasing the innocent young woman in the drawing actually pops to life and starts mauling her in front of him. Realizing that fire destroys the beast, the artist lights his papers on fire and consumes the monster, as well as himself in the blaze. Ruled as a suicide, no one knows the dark secret buried in the rubble. Oh, by the way. Did I mention that the comic artist was taking inspirations from a giant leather bound book with a pentagram on it? Something tells me that this guy did NOT watch many horror movies as this could have easily been avoided by not using a demonic book that carries some nasty power within.
Fast forward 30 years to the 80s and we introduce Whitney Taylor (Debrah Farentino), who is also a comic book writer, and one who idolizes the comics (called Cellar Dweller) of the long dead artist we spoke of earlier. The burned down house has been rebuilt over the rubble, and it is not an art institute run by the snobby Mrs. Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo). While Mrs. Briggs is a bit snobby, the rest of the students are rather friendly, with the exception of Amanda, who was a nemesis of Whitney’s in the past. Ticked that she has to deal with Amanda’s snarky ways, Whitney heads down to the basement where she finds the leather bound book of evil, and just like her predecessor, starts using it as base for her newest drawing. One which involves the monster killing Amanda. Soon enough, the beastie pops off the page and kills Amanda (intimating that Whitney can control the monster, something that the film proves wrong after the first kill). Soon enough the evil demon starts crunching and munching on the rest of the student body, leaving Whitney in a pickle trying to figure out HOW she can stop the evil creature in time.
I have to say that I really enjoy “Cellar Dweller”. It’s in no way a good movie, but it’s got that 80s badness to it that is just so plain awesome. The characters themselves are paper thing, but who really cares, because the only reason you’re there is to watch the monster tear apart his victims in gory ecstasy and listen to them scream in terror. The movie almost has a tongue in cheek vibe to it, taking advantage of its comic book like plot and uses many of the kills in the movie in very comic book type ways. Even the way that Whitney defeats the monster is very comic booky (even though the REAL ending is much more bleak and fun than you would expect from that description). It’s never a great movie, but it’s certainly a great time with a bag of popcorn and horror hound friends.
While “Cellar Dweller” is a cheesy blast, “Catacombs” is on the opposite end of the spectrum of bad horror flicks, and is just plain …..bad. It’s boring and convoluted with a plot that meanders around for the first hour until it finally takes off during the last act. Back in the 1500’s the inquisition failed to do an exorcism on a demon possessed man in their dungeon, instead having to lock him up under their abbey with a mystical seal in order to keep the evil contained. Fast forward about 400 years and we have this very same abbey going about its daily business. The monks are peaceful and serene, living out their lives just as you or I would expect Catholic monks to in modern times. Things change a bit (ever so slightly at least) when Elizabeth (Laura Schaefer), a catholic school teacher comes to the Abbey to visit and take in the life of the monks. Several of the monks really don’t take to her, while others see here as a sweet girl, thus causing a bit of a schism amongst their ranks.
Stupidly, the first hour of the film doesn’t have much to do with the main plot of the supposed inquisition victim hidden under their very feet. Elisabeth interacts with the monks. We have a young monk in a cardigan sweater who’s basically the young doubting Thomas of the group. There’s an old aging leader of the order, and the heavily traditional second in command. Really they just interact with each other until the last act of the movie when the evil underneath finally is set free to wreak havoc on the Abbey. From there it’s basically a guitar and a snake short of an Alice Cooper concert as the fog machines and crazy makeup goes full throttle for an epic (I use that term tongue in cheek) battle between good and evil.
I’m really not sure what to make of “Catacombs”. On one hand, it’s a decent enough movie for the first hour, but it just doesn’t have much to do with the exposition and ending of the film. The only real constant is the young Monk who doubts and Elizabeth. They’re kind of the “heroes” of the final battle, and I guess their journey is the goal. I just can’t really get over the fact that the first 2/3rds just seems to be there as filler. I wanted to like it, since 80’s horror is a big weakness for me, but this is just nowhere near “Cellar Dweller’s” level of goofy fun. It takes itself way to seriously, which means the audience just can’t take it seriously.
Cellar Dweller :3stars:
“Cellar Dweller’s” main title screen pops up with a warning that this transfer was taken from the last remaining print available from MGM’s vault and as such it’s really the best that can be done considering that the source is a secondary print rather than the actual negative. There are some blemishes and definitely a desaturation of colors from beginning to end, giving the skin tones a rather whitish and bland appearance. Detail is a bit mushy as blacks and facial details kind of blend together, along with some speckles and print damage that is a side effect of the print available to them. The image is in no way an awful transfer, but it’s got some limitations from the source which doesn’t lend itself towards a fantastic looking transfer. I really didn’t notice any compression artifacts except some mild blocking and that boosted contrast (which I can’t tell if it’s a Scream issue, or a source issue).
Despite being the weaker film of the pair, “Catacombs” sports the better transfer of the two and looks a lot more HD than “Cellar Dweller” did considering the low budget. Colors are strong and show good saturation. Detail is pretty high and even some of the cheap low budget effects look quite nice considering the niche status that the film holds in the horror community. Black levels actually looks quite pleasing and I had to say that shadow detail didn’t suffer very much at all. Overall it’s a decidedly good transfer that really is the highlight of the movie, with limited digital tampering and a clean looking image (minus a few flickers and speckles that barely registered on my radar).
Cellar Dweller :3.5stars:
Given a 2.0 DTS-HD MA track, “Cellar Dweller” sounds rather good, with strong vocals and a nice front soundstage with the mains. There is a mild hiss at moderate to loud volume levels in the background, but nothing really distracting as the dialog is nearly complaint free. There’s no real LFE channel, so the little the track does have is baked into the 2.0 track, and does a solid job at adding some weight to the monster attacks. Surrounds aren’t active (kind of a given) and overall I would have to say that it’s a solid lower budget soundtrack.
“Catacombs” is very similar to “Cellar Dweller” in the sense that it’s a decently done audio track from a low budget horror movie. Effects are simple, the soundstage is limited to the 2 main speakers and the rest of the channels lay dormant as a result. LFE is minimal at best, but the channel separation amongst the two mains actually gives us some decent directional queues and panning moments near the end. It’s not going to woo and wow, but it is distortion free and sounds quite pleasing to the listener. B+
• Commentary by Director David Schmoeller
Cheap, schlocky and cheesy as all get out, “Cellar Dweller” and “Catacombs” are another pair of long forgotten about 80’s horror titles to enjoy decades later. Unfortunately we don’t have a pair of equal films, as “Cellar Dweller” is most definitely the superior title, leaving “Catacombs” out in the cold. As much as I love bad horror movies, “Catacombs” was just a bit too bland for its own good. “Cellar Dweller”, on the other hand, is the perfect mix of blood and cheese to be a blast in its own right. Audio and video are pretty standard for a Scream Factory double feature and that is solid enough for me to recommend this to those of you who love cult horror as much as I do.
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Debrah Farentino, Brian Robbins : Timothy Van Patton, Ian Abercrombie, Jeremy West
Directed by: John Carl Buechler : David Schmoeller
Written by: Don Mancini : David Schmoeller, R. Barker Price
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC/1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 (Both Films)
Studio: Scream Factory
Rated: R : R
Runtime: 78 minutes : 88 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: July 14th, 2015
Buy Cellar Dweller/Catacombs Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Fun for a Watch
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