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The Cellar (1989)



The only thing worse than being isolated in the desert of the Southwestern U.S. without water is being isolated in the desert of the Southwestern U.S. with bad sewage and pesky ravens.

Oh yeah, and a monster created by a very powerful Comanche Indian medicine man from the worst parts of all known creatures--one designed to kill white men, but that prefers baby souls, and which will feed on anything, even Indians, in a pinch.

That's the gist of The Cellar, a 1990 film by director Kevin Tenney, who has brought us such schlock "gems" as Witchboard, Witchtrap, Pinocchio's Revenge and Demolition University. Well, it's mostly directed by Tenney. The closing credits tell us that additional scenes were directed by John Woodward. That's not usually a good sign, but The Cellar isn't that bad.

The story really centers on a habitually unemployed guy who moves to the Southwest when he's offered a job for an oil company. His boss is straight out of Green Acres. He buys the home with the evil sewage from an old man whose dad died because of it. The old man didn't want to sell, since his conscience won't let him under the circumstances, and there are no Roto Rooter guys in the desert, but when the Green Acres oil boss pours booze on his face, he realizes he has no choice--if he doesn't sell his house, we don't have a film. The other main character in the film is the habitually unemployed guy's son.

Actually, it doesn't have to be that complicated, even. At the bottom line, The Cellar is your standard monster-in-the-basement horror flick. It's a mediocre one, but it has as many good points as bad.

Among the bad are that Tenney allows it to be even more complicated. The Cellar is bookended by a voiceover by someone who sounds like Kris Kristofferson at three o’clock in the morning, reading some extremely convoluted Indian mumbo-jumbo voodoo story as the camera flies over terrain that looks like a cross between Monument Valley and Canyonlands National Park (and if that isn't enough to tell us were in the American Southwest, we also see the requisite beasties--cattle skulls, scorpions, etc.). It goes on far too long, but I suppose the positive aspect is that it puts you in the right frame of mind for a cheesefest.

There are also pacing and dialogue problems, but not as bad as you might expect from such a B/almost-a-Z film. However, the effects work approaches typical grade Z fare, as does the soundtrack. The dialogue in one scene that is supposed to be set outside was almost certainly recorded in a small bathroom. Or that was just the engineer's favorite reverb setting.

But that's about it for the negative aspects. Among the positives are that The Cellar is a serviceable, and towards the end, even a gripping monster-in-the-basement film. The combination between the flaky, volatile dad and his son, who is a budding Thomas Edison, plays extremely well, provides 80% of the plot drive, and the performances are good. More subtle aspects, such as the interesting earth tone color scheme that matches the Southwestern landscape, also work very well. Even some unintentionally funny scenes, such as dad shooting a pistol at the ravens, are surprisingly effective instead of cheesy.

The Cellar isn't anything to write home about, but for fans of this type of film, it's an enjoyable way to spend some idle time. And since it clocks in at only about 82 minutes, it's not a big sacrifice if you end up not liking it.