Interview With Brendan Muldowney, Writer/Director Of ‘The Cellar’

Growing up, we did not have a basement. No cellar, crawl space, storm shelter… nothing. So, I find the deep, dark void—the unknown—swallowing the bottom of a set of basement steps truly terrifying. I just don’t like it. Brendan Muldowney’s latest film, The Cellar, plays upon my fears of the vast blackness under the house. To celebrate the film’s release on Shudder, I chatted with writer and director Brendan about developing the film from a short, what draws him to horror, what’s up next, and more!

PopHorror: I know that The Cellar came from a short that you did back in 2004 called The Ten Steps. What inspired the story, and what was it like to expand your short into a feature?

Brendan Muldowney: What inspired it was there was a film, Robert Wise’s The Haunting, and I was really taken with the way it was about atmosphere more than gore or anything like that. And that is probably what started it. I could go into many of the things. There’s a comic I used to read called The 13th Floor, which is about a lift that would take people to an alternate dimension nearly, but that was the genesis, that I wanted to make a short film—a horror film—that was without any gore and totally relying on atmosphere. It was really successful for us. It won Best Short at the Sitges Fantastic Film Festival, which is a real hardcore horror audience, and then in the New York International Film Festival. It’s probably not running anymore but that was in 2005.

We realized it was hitting a really broad audience, and over the years, I’ve seen lots of comments on platforms and people saying, “What happens next?” Even schools and everything, using story blocks and deciding what comes next. So that was really what the genesis of me going, “Well, what does come next?” And that was it.

PopHorror: How did it feel to have the feature film come to fruition so long after you made your mark with the first one?

Brendan Muldowney: Well, like any feature film, it’s miraculous when you get to make anything. I was writing this from 2007, I think, so even three years after, I was going, “Well, this was doing so well for us and won a lot of awards. I could see the broad appeal of it.” So I tried a version in 2007. It was just an extended version of the short, and there wasn’t enough in the short really. And I went back to it over many years, trying different approaches, and it took until recently, because I tried as an extension of the short, I tried it as the short as a prologue, a new family move in, and then finally, I hit upon the idea that a parent—a mother—looking for her daughter is the strongest character hook. I think as soon as I had that and I nailed the mythology—I mean, it’s nonsense mythology—but I nailed that it was going to be mathematics. And I think those two things were where it started to happen very fast. It was great. Covid was the only thing that stopped us from getting it made quicker.

PopHorror: Stupid Covid.

Brendan Muldowney: Yeah!

PopHorror: This is obviously a passion project for you, and it makes me appreciate it even more. I’m a hardcore gore hound, so anything that can keep my attention like this makes me like it even more. So, what is it that draws you to the horror genre?

Brendan Muldowney: I don’t know. You’d have to go back to when I was seven, sneaking behind the sofa when the babysitter was watching the Hammer film, Dracula. I would sneak in and watch it from the door. I don’t know. Hammer used to do a TV series called Hammer House of Horror, and I watched a lot of them. I watched one of them one night called The Two Faces of Evil. A doppelganger story. And me and my brother were terrified, probably for a year after that.

But it’s amazing how if you’re terrified, you think you wouldn’t go back. It’s like a spicy curry or something. I would say all my villains are within a horror… If you want to take horror as a very broad spectrum, if you want to add even Gaspar Noe into horror, maybe because of some of the ultraviolence he uses, I would say my villains are sort of skirting around the genre spectrum. I would say I’ve been dealing with it for a long time.

PopHorror: Thank you for mentioning Gaspar Noe, because he’s my favorite director. I do find him more horror adjacent, and I do usually group him in with horror.

Brendan Muldowney: Sure, so do I. I don’t see much difference between Irreversible and Martyrs

PopHorror: What do you have next for you?

Brendan Muldowney: This was a fun movie for all the family, let’s say. If you’re talking about that scale or spectrum of horror movies, where one end is transgressive darkness and the other is a fairground ride at a theme park, then this was fairground theme park. I was delighted. My 10 year old daughter asks me about my movies all the time, and I can’t even tell her about them. My second film, Love Eternal, is based on a Japanese novel about necrophilia. We’re talking demented stuff. So it was really nice to make a film that she could come and see.

PopHorror: Aww, that’s great!

Brendan Muldowney: I am going back to what I like, and this time I’m going to really blend horror with transgressive stuff. I’ve got a really good idea for… It’s up on my wall here. Already, I’m on the second draft, and the producers are really excited. It’s a folk horror with St. Patrick trying to convert a sect of druids, and it is demented. We’re talking everything is in there.

PopHorror: Folk horror is definitely where it’s at right now. Just one last question for you today. What is your favorite scary movie?

Brendan Muldowney: You know, it’s very hard to tell you my favorite scary movie. Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man, Psycho, Don’t Look Now… Yeah, I’m sure there are other horror films here. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Thank you so much, Brendan, for taking the time to speak to us. You can catch The Cellar in limited theaters and on Shudder, now!

About Tiffany Blem

Horror lover, dog mommy, book worm, EIC of PopHorror.

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