Cellar Dweller / Catacombs Blu-ray Review

Scream Factory’s double-bill has two great monster movies from the 1980s

Shout! Factory sub-label Scream Factory has been putting out a rash of double-features lately. Chief among is this unrelated horror pairing from the 1980s, Cellar Dweller and Catacombs. Licensed from the depths of MGM’s deep library, the films aren’t high art. These were low to mid-budget creature features produced to be disposable movies. Neither include big stars in their casts for the most part, except a cameo role from noted genre actor Jeffrey Combs in Cellar Dweller. Having said all that, both are highly entertaining horror movies in their own way. The unrelated combination makes for a surprisingly effective value to the dedicated horror seeker.

John Carl Buechler directs Cellar Dweller, a 1987 film about a young comic book artist. It’s a concept that would have made for a good episode in the Tales From the Crypt series with its grotesque monster and sly sense of humor. Whitney Taylor (Debrah Farentino) is a talented comic book artist hoping to bring back a horror comic that ended thirty years ago when its creator died in a mysterious fire. The opening scene tells us that the original artist (played by the great Jeffrey Combs) was able to bring his horror drawings to life by accident, which ultimately ends in his fiery death at the hands of a hideous monster he first drew on the page.

Whitney now attends an art institute that happens to be located exactly where the creature first appeared. Her imagination and talent has awakened the beast, now thirsting for blood. The other art students at the institute are its first victims, including Whitney’s hated rival Amanda. Cellar Dweller is relatively brief, clocking in under 78 slim minutes. That works to the story’s advantage in the fairly tight narrative. It quickly introduces the situation and gives us what we want to see in the monster’s rampage.

Cellar Dweller is a well-made creature feature with decent performances from the cast. These kind of movies usually have weak links in their casts but the characters are interesting enough to cover up those concerns. The idea that an artist could have their drawings come to life and control them isn’t entirely new. Cellar Dweller effectively explores that concept with an atypical female protagonist in Whitney. I found it interesting they made the comic book artist a woman with a deep appreciation for horror comics of the classic EC Comics variety.

Catacombs is from director David Schmoeller (Crawlspace). The 1988 film has also been known under Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice. An American schoolteacher (Laura Schaefer) and a monk (Timothy Van Patten) investigate an Italian monastery plagued by demonic forces. For over 400 years, the curse of the Abbey at San Pietro was kept a secret. Buried deep beneath the monastery lies the Beast of the Apocalypse, Satan. He has been chained up below the abbey for several centuries until now.

… the menacing orchestral score immediately recalls Jerry Goldsmith’s chilling theme for The Omen.

This is a pure religious horror film with a heavy Italian flavor. Shot in a real Italian abbey, the menacing orchestral score immediately recalls Jerry Goldsmith’s chilling theme for The Omen. Wonderful character actor Ian Abercrombie provides a great presence as Father Orsini, the senior monk in charge. One of the brothers despises the schoolteacher’s presence at the monastery, thinking women are the root of all sin. He should be more concerned with the fearsome demon below the abbey, originally chained there in 1506 in an impressive opening sequence.

Catacombs meanders along after a great opening until a wild final act in which all hell breaks loose, literally. Schmoeller lays the religious imagery on thick as a young priest battles Satan deep in the catacombs beneath the abbey. The make-up and special effects are quite good for a film that was practically considered lost by its director at one point. This is an enjoyable horror film that is greater than the sum of its parts. The final act is delightfully over the top as Father John clashes directly with Satan.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

No wonder he's angry. He's chained to the wall and CAN'T pop it @ 7:08

Scream Factory has included both features on a single BD-50. Catacombs runs 88 minutes while Cellar Dweller runs 78 minutes. Both are encoded in AVC and presented at 1080P resolution. Catacombs averages a solid 25.79 Mbps for its adequate AVC video encode, which does show hints of noise in a few scenes.

Catacombs receives a rather impressive new transfer from nearly untouched film elements. Aside from some stray compression artifacts, this is an organic presentation of the movie that is highly film-like in quality. The strong color saturation and even contrast has excellent tonality. The crisp clarity and vivid sharpness exhibit decent depth. The new film transfer comes from quality elements and been handled without significant processing, retaining a fine patina of natural-looking grain. The clean print is a real looker in 1080P resolution for any vintage, much less a forgotten 1988 horror film.

Cellar Dweller is the less impressive looking transfer of the two. It does claim to be a new HD transfer, which I believe to be true. There is a scary warning before Cellar Dweller plays from Scream Factory that is somewhat misleading. It says how the only film elements found in MGM’s library for Cellar Dweller were a 35mm film print. That isn’t ideal but understandable in this case. This is a case where a new film scan from inferior elements can produce better results than an old scan from better elements. Cellar Dweller is presented in serviceable condition from a stable print with decent definition.

High-frequency detail is rolled-off some but that is to be expected coming from a secondary film source. The shadow detail is mildly crushed in some scenes and a hint of edge enhancement is noticeable. All things being considered, it looks positively strong at times. The elements are in fine shape with minimal film damage, only a bit of debris is completely evident. The film appears to have been hard-matted to 1.66:1 but protected for 1.85:1 matting. It is presented here at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Both films were recorded in Ultra-Stereo and we get that in 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound. Cellar Dweller’s cheesy soundtrack has its moments but pales in comparison to the striking orchestral score found in Catacombs. Both contain intelligible dialogue in clear fidelity. The stereo mixes are fairly wide and have a dispersed sound field. Catacombs contains the more professional sounding audio with its mixture of stout Foley Effects and effective score.

Both movies include optional English HOH subtitles in a white font.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

The sole extra is a feature-length commentary from director David Schmoeller on Catacombs. The solo commentary is a lucid accounting of his production memories. Apparently he considered Catacombs his lost movie for several years, as the only copy in existence was a film print after it was shown at film festivals. He fondly recalls working with the cast and recounts his relationships with a variety of cast and crew.

The real value is the fact it’s a double-feature with two solid horror films in one set. They aren’t related but horror fans should find something to like about both movies.

Extras ★★★☆☆ 

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

Catacombs:

Cellar Dweller: