Cellar Dweller

We all know that in horror, it’s best not to go in the basement. But don’t take our word for it, there’s a movie called Don’t Go in the Basement (it’s also got the more descriptive title, The Forgotten, which it’s largely been). Cellar Dweller hopes we heed the basement advice as well.

For the horror rhyming enthusiast in your life, it’d be good to recommend Cellar Dweller after they’re finished with Jack’s Back, The Driller Killer, and Fright Night.

A straight-to-video obscurity from the late 80s, Cellar Dweller is a film that invests a bunch in its practical effects, at the expense of everything else.

Set in an arts retreat (dubbed “a colony” by its matriarch, Mrs Briggs) Cellar Dweller focuses on the doin’s of a bunch of artist-types, each with their own specialty: Whitney the budding illustrator, Amanda the visual/new media artist, Norman and Lisa the method-actors, and Brian, the abstract expressionist who’s abstractions aren’t too expressive (he has a sparse-looking bovine watercolor that he’s dubbed “Angst.”)

They’ve each been instructed not to go in the basement. But we all know that that won’t happen, right?

In the film’s prologue, graphic artist Colin Childress (played with nerd-verve by everyone’s favorite 80s gore-geek Jeffrey Combs) is illustrating a beastly creature in his subterranean studio. His art springs off the page, and literally comes to life, attacking him.

Fast forward 30 years and Childress’ lore lives on, even when the artist does not.

So what lurketh beneath in that basement?

In a very spare 77 minutes, you’ll find out.

Directed by John Carl Buechler, who most of you will know from Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (first appearance by Kane Hodder as the man behind the mask), this one whips by fairly quickly and falls into the category of solid time-waster.

**3/4 (out of 5)


As champions of Italian horror, we’re eminently familiar with style over substance. In Beetlejuice, this is similarly true, a sumptuous visual feast (hell, this one also features a dilapidated house, a book of incantations, and a Dario Argento color palette, so perhaps it’s a kindred spirit).

A couple (the Maitlands) drives off a bridge and drowns, only to find themselves in an underwhelming afterlife, roaming their own home as ghosts, with New York interlopers redesigning their homestead to their own particular design aesthetic.

The now late Barbara and Adam Maitland discover a Handbook of the Recently Deceased, which grants them a caseworker and an associated ID and introduces them to posthumous bureaucracy (the similarities to the Ted Danson venicle, The Good Place, are pretty obvious as the deceased tries to make heads or tails out of their deadness).

Trying to circumvent all that red tape, the couple summons Beetlejuice, a “bio-exorcist”, so that he can scare the bejeezus out of the new tenants and the Maitlands can resume their rightful place at home (interestingly, director Tim Burton once referred to Beetlejuice as a “burlesque version of The Exorcist”).

A restless and ever-creative spirit, Burton was being pitched crap projects that included Hot to Trot, about a talking horse of all things. Perhaps it was detritus like that, which got the creative juices flowing as Beetlejuice is as imaginative a series of set pieces as you’ll ever see.

The star, of course, is Keaton as the title character, a foul-mouthed decaying rapscallion and fast-talking chiseler stuck in a hokey diorama (The bio-exorcist’s qualifications? “I attended Julliard… I’m a graduate of the Harvard business school. I travel quite extensively. I lived through the Black Plague and had a pretty good time during that.”)

His performance is so engaging, so over-the-top and so effortlessly memorable, it threatens to overwhelm the proceedings at times. Luckily, there’s the ever-dependable Catherine O’Hara and Wynona Ryder to keep things in check.

**** (out of 5)