Dark Places (Cellar Dweller, 1988)
1988’s Cellar Dweller is a direct to video horror flick that remain pretty largely forgotten. I actually remember seeing it on video store shelves, but never got around to renting it. And when DVD exploded, among the many films that made the transition, this was not one.
It tells the tale of a young art student, Whitney Taylor (Debrah Farentino), who is attending an art institute that is located in the former home of her favorite comic book artist. 30 years prior, Colin Childress (Jeffrey Combs) realized his imagination was coming to life…as he drew horror comics, this could be bad news. He set fire to cellar to destroy what his mind brought forth.
Whitney discovers his work in the cellar and begs the woman running the institute, Mrs Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo) to set up shop in the seller. Briggs seems to not care for Whitney and sends her rival Amanda (an aspiring journalist) to spy on her.
As people start to die at the hands of the monster in Whitney’s and Childress’ art, Whitney confronts Mrs. Briggs, certain that she has it out for her (and rightly so). But soon, the demon in the comics seems to take over, beyond the control of Whitney’s imagination.
The film relies heavily on comic art, which frankly is not that impressive. Also, watching Jeffrey Combs in the beginning inking already fully inked art makes it pretty obvious he was not an artist…he moves his hands like someone pretending to conduct music. The jumps between Whitney drawing and the monster killing victims is awkward, because there is no way she would pencil and ink at the pace of the monster’s killing.
There is also an odd choice to use cartoonish sound effects during scenes where the monster is killing people. It detracts from the moment.
The monster is pretty decent looking considering when the film was made. This is not to surprising, as director John Carl Buechler started as an effects guy, and a pretty solid one. The monster actually was recognizable as a Buechler creation (and looks not unlike something from his films Ghoulies 3: Choulies Go to College or Troll).
The films biggest downfall is in the story. It is an interesting concept that gets downright confusing in the end. Did she create her fellow students? Is she killing them? Is it the monster feeding off her imagination? With a better script (the film is written by Chucky creator Don Mancini) that put the concept to stronger use this might not have been a film that fell between the cracks of horror history.
Shout! Factory has released the film on Blu-Ray and DVD as part of a double feature set. There are no bonus features for the film. The HD transfer came from a single remaining print from a private collection, so the picture is not perfect, but it still looks quite good.