Cellar Dweller/Catacombs - Double Feature [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (30th August 2015).
The Film

Scream Factory’s endless assault of high quality releases continues with yet another double bill, this time featuring one creature feature, “Cellar Dweller” (1988), and one dreary Satanic snoozer, “Catacombs” (1988). The two films do share something in common: a producer, Charles Band, whose Empire Pictures produced both features. Band was responsible for at least a dozen cult classics made in the mid-80's (many of which Scream Factory have released) before folding Empire and moving on to Full Moon, his home for the last few decades. His best-known titles from that period include “From Beyond” (1986), “Dolls” (1987) and one of horror’s elite, “Re-Animator” (1985). The two titles here, “Cellar Dweller” and “Catacombs”, may be unknown to fans of his more popular works, but both features have the same production aesthetic emblematic of Band’s work.

Thematically, “Cellar Dweller” is similar to another recent Scream Factory release, “I, Madman” (1989), as both films feature literary creations sprung to life from the pages of their tales. In the case of “Cellar Dweller”, a hulking monster featured in cartoonist Colin Childress’ (Jeffrey Combs) comic of the same name suddenly enters the real world. In a bit of quick thinking, Childress burns the pages of his comic and the monster disappears… for now. Cut to 30 years later and Childress’ home is now a private art college, hidden deep in the forest. Whitney (Debrah Farentino), a devotee of Childress, has gained admission to the tiny elite campus. The headmistress, Mrs. Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo), however, is none too pleased because she thinks cartoons are not art. Others there agree, and Whitney finds herself with few friends. Looking for inspiration, she decides to move down into the basement, where Childress once had his office. Apparently the place remained in livable condition despite the raging inferno which claimed Childress’ life in the opening. Whitney is inspired all right – inspired to draw the same monstrous creature that nearly killed Childress all those years ago. And now it’s back, and it’s killing off the few attendees at the art school.

Director John Carl Buechler isn’t usually known for his direction but, rather, his innovative special FX. Although to be fair he did direct “Troll” (1986) and “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” (1988), which is a ridiculously fun movie that was hacked to pieces by the MPAA. The design of the beastly monster here is pretty awesome, although its appearance on screen is a little less than thrilling. The cellar dweller is usually shot from a low angle, with medium framing, and just about every kill ends the same way – with the beast eating part of the person. The fact that these scenes look like a hairy Boglin chewing on a drumstick aside, it’s clear Buechler shot a reel of the creature eating and then spliced in parts of it after each kill. This results in predictable shots that feel tacked on. It isn’t like it’s terrible having to watch more of the robotic creature FX, just that it’s a bit stale after the third or fourth time.

Keen-eyed viewers, keep an eye out for a few of Band’s other Empire Pictures productions making cameos as posters adorning Whitney’s walls. Those who aren’t keen-eyed, well, you’ll probably notice them too since they’re far from hidden. “Cellar Dweller” might not be quite up to the level some of Empire’s celebrated cult classics have attained, but with equivocal production design and a few familiar faces – not to mention great FX work – it’s another unique picture worth watching.

Then there’s “Catacombs”, directed by David Schmoeller, who did the unsettlingly creepy “Tourist Trap” (1979). This tale concerns a monastery, where 400 years before present day a group of monks imprisoned a very evil guy who looks like an albino Malcolm McDowell with a serious herpes outbreak. Evil Guy, of course, vows to return, exact revenge, all that good stuff. Cut to present day and the monastery is being overseen by Brother Orsini (Ian “Strange one!” Abercrombie) - the Brother Superior - and he has invited schoolteacher Elizabeth (Laura Schaefer) to stay and do some research. Upon arrival, Elizabeth finds that some of the monks don’t take kindly to her presence, especially the stern and joyless Brother Marinus (Jeremy West). She does manage to make fast friends with Father John Durham (Timothy Van Patten), a visiting priest who is attending to a dying old monk. Unbeknownst to the monks, that ages-old evil is still down in the catacombs and it’s ready to reawaken.

Almost nothing of substance occurs in this film until very late in the game. The events which precede the final showdown are mostly dull, with only a few moments of horrific action thrown in to remind viewers they are still watching a horror movie. Schmoeller at least makes his leaden picture stylish, using inventive camera movements and ensuring the production design is on point. Those catacombs look very old and very creepy.

Once the picture does finally get to the big good-versus-evil showdown, it feels very anticlimactic. The villain has been essentially shelved since the opening, leaving little reason to find him all that scary. Plus the ending is just weak as can be, too. If you think little happens in this movie because they were saving budgeted dollars for a grand finale, think again. It really doesn’t help that the only protagonist in the film viewers have to root for is Timothy Van Patten’s character because, while the guy is a solid actor he is so incredibly out of place in this movie you’d think he wandered over from another set nearby and Schmoeller decided to throw a frock on him and give him some lines.

As an odd bit of trivia, the release date for “Catacombs” was pushed back a few years due to Empire Pictures’ bankruptcy. When it finally did get a release on home video in 1993, it was re-labeled “Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice” despite the fact that both “Curse II: The Bite” (1989) and “Curse III: Blood Sacrifice” (1991) were shot and released first.

Whatever shortcomings can be found in “Catacombs” are mostly made up for thanks to the inclusion of “Cellar Dweller”, the superior film of the two. Scream Factory has now released two films each from the two four-film collections they’re put out on DVD. Hopefully this means that the remaining titles - “The Dungeonmaster” (1984) and “Contamination .7” (1991) - get their own Blu-ray release in the future.

“Cellar Dweller” film rating: C+
“Catacombs” film rating: D+

Video

According to a text card at the beginning of “Cellar Dweller”, the transfer was taken from the only surviving print of the film, so any anomalies in the video or audio should be taken lightly. Having watched the 1.78:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded picture, I can report there is very little wrong with the image. Definition is relatively good, with a fine layer of film grain and good color saturation. There are some minor specks & dirt on the print, the occasional streak here and there, but nothing that would qualify as outright bad.

The same thing goes for “Catacombs”, which features a 1.78:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded picture, too. In fact, all of the comments posted for “Cellar Dweller” can be applied here. Perhaps the image for “Catacombs” is a bit more stable and lush, though not by much.

Audio

Both films get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track, featuring a reasonably good balance of dialogue & sound effects. Separation amongst sounds is done well, spacing out the front-end enough that it doesn’t sound cramped. “Catacombs” was scored by Pino Donaggio, and his work here is certainly a highlight. Subtitles are available in English on both films.

Extras

There’s just a single extra feature between both films –

“Catacombs” features an audio commentary with director David Schmoeller. He’s talkative and informative, making this track an easy listen.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

Overall

One winner, one loser. “Cellar Dweller” is a hoot for the creature feature crowd, while “Catacombs” hits the snooze button one too many times before letting out an audible groan and getting to an expected climax.

The Film: C Video: B- Audio: B- Extras: D+ Overall: C

 


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