With horror industry heavy hitters already in place from the 1970s, the 1980s built upon that with the rise of brilliant minds in makeup and effects artists, as well as advances in technology. Artists like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and countless other artists that delivered groundbreaking, mind-blowing practical effects that ushered in the pre-CGI Golden Age of Cinema. Which meant a glorious glut of creatures in horror. More than just a technical marvel, the creatures on display in ‘80s horror meant tangible texture that still holds up decades later. Grotesque slimy skin to brutal transformation sequences, there wasn’t anything the artists couldn’t create. It Came From the ‘80s is a series that will pay homage to the monstrous, deadly, and often slimy creatures that made the ‘80s such a fantastic decade in horror.
Before Full Moon Pictures, Charles Band’s Empire Pictures carved out its own niche in the world of B-movie horror in the ‘80s. Turning out fan favorites Ghoulies, Re-Animator, Rawhead Rex, From Beyond, Troll, and so many more, all with a quick turnaround and low-budget approach, Empire Pictures is responsible for a lot of horror movie memories of the decade. Band’s business model meant reteaming with many of the same crews and directors, so it’s no surprise that a quick cursory glance through Empire’s catalog will see one name pop up again and again: director and special effects makeup artist John Carl Buechler.
Buechler’s output during the ‘80s was incredible, frequently juggling multiple film projects at a time at various stages of production, making it difficult to imagine he ever got any sleep. Cellar Dweller came along at a time where Buechler and his effects shop Mechanical and Makeup Imageries Inc. were already hard at work on Ghoulies II, The Garbage Pail Kids, and The Caller. When most would pass on the extra workload, Buechler picked up duties as director and creature effects designer. His second credit as director for a feature length film, it’s easy to see why Cellar Dweller appealed to Buechler.
Written by Don Mancini (under pseudonym Kit Dubois), Cellar Dweller opens with a cameo by Jeffrey Combs as 1950s comic book creator Colin Childress. Childress looks to a book of magic for inspiration on his latest comic when he accidentally conjures up a demon from his own imagination. He manages to stop the demon at the cost of his own life. Cut to 30 years later, where new comic book artist Whitney (Debrah Farentino) releases the demon once more when she sets up her studio in Childress’ former home. Also look for The Munsters’ Yvonne De Carlo as Mrs. Briggs.
Mancini’s original script was much grander in scale, but scaled back for the Empire model. What it lacked in budget, it more than made up for in camp. Though, that does give it a bit of charm. Cellar Dweller was filmed at Empire’s studio in Rome and came together at warp speed, giving Buechler and his crew a very small shooting schedule to work with. The director and his crew were clearly well versed in working under pressure. Buechler embraced the camp, incorporated the comic book format into the film for scenes, and delivered on gore and fun creature effects.
It’s irreverent and schlocky, and pure ‘80s creature feature entertainment. A balance of effects and humor. Buechler would follow up this directorial effort with the far more popular Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, and deliver memorable special makeup effects on A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. All of which were released in 1988, along with Celler Dweller, just to paint a picture of how full his dance card was at any given time. His list of credits is extensive, and his influence on the genre (especially in the ‘80s) invaluable. With sad news of his battle with cancer, it seems only fitting to shed a little more light on the man behind so many great movie monsters.
Cellar Dweller isn’t Buechler’s best feature, but it does a great job conveying his style, work ethic, artistic talent, and flair for lightheartedness.