In 1958, comic book artist Colin Childress (a cameo from Jeffrey Combs) reads aloud from a mystic tome and inadvertently brings his drawing of a hideous beast (Michael Deak) and its screaming victim to life! Burning his artwork, Childress kills the monster, but also dies in the fire.
Thirty years later, cartoonist Whitney Taylor (Deborah Farentino) arrives at the same woodland retreat. Now a commune for artists, avant-garde painter Philip Lemley (Brian Robbins), bubbly performance artist Lisa (Miranda Wilson), private detective-turned-Raymond Chandler wannabe Norman Meshelski (Vince Edwards), and bitchy video artist Amanda (Pamela Bellwood) hone their skills under the watchful eye of tetchy Mrs. Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo - Lily Munster herself!), who doesn’t care for Whitney’s ambition to revive Childress’ horror comic “Cellar Dweller.” Setting up her studio in the cellar where the artist met his death, Whitney discovers the same magic book and, sure enough, accidentally draws the hairy, slobbering beastie into the real world.
At the dawn of the 1980s, advances in special effects led to host of scarily inventive and smartly scripted horror movies, but towards the decade’s end became too dominant even in mid-budget quickies like Cellar Dweller, which was produced by Charles Band’s Empire Films. Along with an emphasis on humour came a dishearteningly conservative streak, that here manifests via the mystic tome’s inscription: “To contemplate evil is to ask evil home.” Which suggests only sick people are preoccupied with horror. Hardly the message we want to hear from a goofy slice of schlock horror.
Scripted by Don Mancini, creator of Child’s Play (1988), under the pseudonym Kit Du Bois, the film gets off to a lively start and has a likeable heroine in Deborah Farentino (whose love of creepy comics leads her to daydream about axe-wielding zombies and a virgin sacrifice), but clearly has no idea what to do with its premise. When the first victim is someone who wronged Whitney years ago, it looks like the id-monster will be her instrument of revenge, but then friends and foes are despatched arbitrarily. Special effects artist-turned-director John Carl Buechler reveals his animatronics monster early on, ditching any pretence at suspense for haphazard gore.
The movie has a perhaps appropriately silly, comic book tone with a monster who guffaws whilst chewing entrails or ripping heads off, sub-Evil Dead roving camerawork, cartoon sound effects and a naked victim’s dismemberment shown in comic form. Aside from Whitney, characters exist solely to vamp it up and spoof avant-garde art trends (lookout for Lisa’s skit on death, which involves burst balloons and dismembered dolls), with none of the satirical bite Roger Corman brought to A Bucket of Blood (1959). The one funny twist involving Mrs. Briggs is clumsily done and doesn’t make much sense if you think about it. Although Farentino’s gutsy turn holds the interest, the ending is particularly grating given that - spoiler warning! - it basically replays the prologue and worse, is capped by the stinger “where there is imagination I will dwell.” So using your imagination spawns untold evil? Give me a freaking break.