Don Mancini

Wicked Wednesday: Cellar Dweller (1988)

Some films have “pedigrees”. Certain names and histories attached to productions mean certain things. And film fans love to look for them. We see something is being produced by A24, and we know the film will be of a certain caliber. Is it by Mike Flanagan? Chef’s kiss. There are certain films made just to be “Oscar bait”.

Horror fans love looking for this sort of thing. Who was the director? Who was the writer? Well, they worked on Ghost Menace Pt 8: The Reckoning, but did you know they were production assistant on Don’t Ever Do Anything… Alone!?

Cellar Dweller is one of those movies that ticks a lot of fun fact boxes. It was written by Don Mancini. Directed by John Carl Buechler, who literally had a hand in almost every horror franchies ever at some point. Yvonne De Carlo plays a bitchy headmistress. And it has early scenes with Jeffrey Combs, and was distributed by Empire Pictures (of Re-Animator and Ghoulies fame).

Weirdly, Cellar Dweller isn’t quite the powerhouse you’d expect it to be with all those names attached to it. But it is still a charming, fun film.

Thirty years in the past, a comic book artist Colin Childress accidentally brings a monster to life using a Satanic book. In order to stop the beast, he sets the pages of his comic on fire. Only, he is set on fire himself.

Years later, his home has been turned into an art school where young Whitney arrives. She’s an aspiring comic book artist and a devoted fan of the late Childress. Though when she turns up at the school, she’s given a cold welcome by Mrs Briggs, who runs the school.

The school is quirky. Full of eccentric artists from all different mediums. But Whitney is a sort-of outcast due to her art.

The girl is immediately taken under the wing of Philip, another student. She begins to fill him in on Childress’s story: that he apparently killed a woman with an ax before setting himself on fire.

Though warned away from the cellar, it doesn’t take long before she breaks in. Upon entering with Philip, she opens a locked box and discovers The Book. She later begs Mrs Briggs to allow her to uses the space as her own. The older woman readily agrees, you know, as Whitney isn’t a real artist.

She begins her work in the cellar, all the while being filmed by her nemesis, Amanda. Whitney catches the other girl in the cellar and threatens her. Unbeknownst to Whitney, Amanda is trying to frame the girl as a plagiarist. But as Whitney draws Amanda being attacked, the attack occurs in the real world – and on camera.

Having freed the beast once again due to her drawings, Whitney’s classmates are attacked in the following days. The pages of the comic begin to appear by themselves as the monster gains its own initiative.

When Whitney and Philip discover the created pages, they try to save one of their classmates from her demise. But upon seeing the beast, they run away in fear.

Whitney realises she must set the pages on fire. But before she can even sit them alight, Philip is dragged into its panels.

Mrs Briggs seemingly comes to the rescue, only for Whitney to discover that Mrs Briggs is the monster. While fending off the monster, she accidentally throws a bottle of white out over a panel, only to discover that it changes the story. She writes her own happy ending and reintroduces her classmates back into the world. And all is well…seemingly.

Cellar Dweller has a certain charm. Though is someways, it doesn’t feel very much like a horror movie. There are elements of fantasy blended in that remind me more of shows like Twilight Zone (there even is a grand sense of moral written in).

This was the first film the great Don Mancini wrote. Later in the same year, Child’s Play would be unleashed on the world. It’s easy to see why Cellar Dweller is often overlooked. This attempt feels like a very straight-forward story. In some ways, it’s old fashioned (not in a bad way). You don’t really get movies written like Cellar Dweller anymore – an embodiment of the “careful what you wish for” idiom.

That being said, I really like Cellar Dweller‘s charm. I think some might find this hokey and dated, but there’s still plenty of fun within this short running time.