Kevin Tenney’s ‘The Cellar’ (1989): Vinegar Syndrome 2K Restoration Blu-ray Review

We’re back with another Vinegar Syndrome release review! Today, we’re talking about Kevin Tenney’s 1989 film, The Cellar, which was blessed with a 2K restoration from the film preservation and distribution company.

Synopsis:

A young boy finds an ancient Comanche monster spirit in the basement of his home. His parents don’t believe him, so he must kill the monster alone.

From Vinegar Syndrome’s The Cellar page:

This special limited edition embossed slipcover (designed by Richard Hilliard) is limited to 4,000 units and is only available here at VinegarSyndrome.com!

The Cashen family has just relocated from the city to a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere in Texas. Upon arrival at their new home, Willy, their young son, explores the area, befriending a Native American shaman who warns him of the powerful forces and apparent curse on their land. Meanwhile, at home, Willy senses that there’s something unusual about the cellar of their home; specifically that something strange might be living down there…and unfortunately for the Cashens, it’s very hungry…

An unfortunately troubled production, with director Kevin Tenney (Night of the Demons, Witchtrap) called in early on to take over directing duties, The Cellar is a stylish monster film playing into the folk horror of the American southwest. Starring Patrick Kilpatrick (Minority Report), Academy Award nominee, Chris Miller (Puss In Boots), Suzanne Savoy (The Upside), and veteran character actor Don Collier (Tombstone), Vinegar Syndrome presents The Cellar newly restored in 2K and on Blu-ray for the first time, offered in both its commonly seen theatrical cut as well as its never before seen, and vastly superior, original director’s cut.

Directed by: Kevin Tenney

Starring: Patrick Kilpatrick, Chris Miller, Don Collier, Suzanne Savoy

1986 / 86 min / 1.85:1 / English Stereo

Additional info:
• Region Free Blu-ray
• Newly scanned & restored in 2k from its 35mm original camera negative & the director’s personal 35mm lab print
• Includes two versions of the film: the theatrical cut and the unseen director’s cut
• Group commentary on both versions with: Kevin Tenney (director), Suzanne Savoy (actress), and Patrick Kilpatrick (actor)
• Introduction by the director
• “From Chicken Shit to Chicken Salad, Unearthing the Lost Cellar” – a brand new extended making-of documentary featuring interviews with the cast and crew
• Reversible cover artwork
• English SDH subtitles

Suzanne Savoy, Patrick Kilpatrick, The Cellar
Patrick Kilpatrick and Suzanne Savoy in The Cellar

There are a few interesting tidbits about The Cellar. The film is based on a short story by David H. Keller, a medical doctor and author with a love for sci-fi and horror. He had dozens of tales printed in Amazing Stories and Weird Tales magazines back in the ’30s and ’40s.

Screenwriter John Woodward had been initially tagged to direct the film, but for reasons I can’t seem to find, he left after only 8 days. Director Kevin Tenney (Night of the Demons 1988, Witchboard 1986, Witchtrap 1989 – read our review here) took over and finished the film.

The Cellar 1989
The first attempt on the monster’s life in ‘The Cellar’

Speaking of the finished film, Tenney was not satisfied with the producer’s cut, turning a good monster movie into something much less palatable. Forturnately for Vinegar Syndrome fans, both the Producer’s Cut and the Director’s Cut are available on this release, and both have commentary from the director and actors Patrick Kilpatrick and Suzanne Savoy.

One of the strangest things I noticed was about the actor Chris Miller, who played young Will Cashen. According to his IMDb page, Miller was born in 1968. The Cellar was released in 1989. So that would make Miller 21-years-old when this film came out. Let me just say that he does not look or act like he’s 21 in this film. Check out the picture below to see for yourself. This Chris Miller has also done no other live action acting since this film, keeping to animated voicework. Is it possible that the wrong Chris Miller was tagged? There certainly are a ton of other people on IMDb named Chris Miller…

Chris Miller, The Cellar
Chris Miller as Willy Cashen in ‘The Cellar.’ Does he look 21 to you?

The Cellar also stars Patrick Kilpatrick (Parasomnia 2008 – read our review here) and Suzanne Savoy as Willy’s dad, Mance, and stepmom, Emily, and the late Ford Rainey (Halloween II 1981) plays TC, a man ready to show the world that he’s not crazy for thinking a monster lives on his old property. The creature was designed by the talented hands of Elaine Alexander (An American Werewolf In London 1981) and Kevin Brennan (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl 2003).

Chris Miller, The Cellar
Chris Miller swings for his life in ‘The Cellar’

What Works

I love that Scriptwriter John Woodward uses that beloved ’80s trope of the kid having to fight the monster by himself because his parents don’t believe him. He does have one friend in Old Man TC, however, who knows for a fact that there really is a monster… although he steers away from actually telling Willy that it’s real. Having the creature made out of random animal parts and created by an old Indian shaman is pretty ingenious for the time, especially since the original tale was written in 1932. Of course, The Cellar came out before the world went PC, so hearing the father call his son a wussy—one part wimp and one part… I’ll tell you when you’re older—is pretty funny in an awkward kind of way. I like that the dad doesn’t always know what to do, and that he makes terrible yet satisfying decisions like setting off a box of TNT as his asshole boss was driving by the hot spot, sending black oil and sludge into the air and all over the guy (and getting himself fired in the process, but you can’t win them all). It’s also interesting that Willy has a positive stepmother figure that he doesn’t hate. Stepparents were generally controlling or outright abusive in films in the ’80s, so seeing this kind of interaction between Emily and Willy is refreshing.

The restoration of The Cellar is beautiful. The final product is so much brighter and is filled with defined, eye-catching colors. The film is so bright, in fact, that you can see every bit and bauble on the monster’s hide, showing that the thing looks like a cross between a smoked pig, a gorilla and Zuul the Gatekeeper of Gozer. He is so cool! The sound is also great. Every squawk of that raven had me jumping in my seat.

Monster creature, The Cellar 1989
Are you the Keymaster?

What Doesn’t Work

Despite Vinegar Syndrome’s awesome 2k restoration of The Cellar, some of the scenes are still quite dark, especially the ones that took place in the cellar itself. The acting all around is pretty subpar, but we’re not watching this for the acting, are we? And I know it moved the story forward, but having the dad, his son’s self-proclaimed buddy, turn on him and make him feel crazy was a pretty crappy thing to do. Dad knows the kid is right, so why does he gaslight him for the second half of the film?

Michael Wren, The Cellar
Michael Wren as Chief Sam John blessing the area to keep the monster away

Final Thoughts

The Cellar is a fun creature feature with an interesting story, a cool looking monster (I love the way it drags itself around) and great chemistry between the cast members. The restoration is gorgeous and gives you a great look at that ill-conceived devil. Be sure to pick yourself up a copy from Vinegar Syndrome before they run out. You know you want to be able to compare the Director’s Cut to the Producer’s Cut!

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror.com, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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