• The Cellar (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: April 27th, 2021.
    Director: Kevin Tenney
    Cast: Patrick Kikpatrick, Chris Miller, Suzanne Savoy, Ford Rainey, Danny Mora
    Year: 1989
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    The Cellar – Movie Review:

    When John Woodward completed the script for his adaptation of David Henry Keller's short story The Cellar and was called on to direct the film, he was let go after falling so far behind on the first day of the shoot that the producers decided to replace him. Kevin Tenney was brought on board, having no familiarity with the cast or crew, and once Tenney finished his cut of the film, it was taken out of his hands by those same producers and completely reworked before being officially released. As you’d imagine, the production history here is a mess, but Vinegar Syndrome has done right by fans of this video store staple and brought it to Blu-ray with both Tenney’s director’s cut (seen here for the first time) and the goofy producer’s cut that fans will all remember from the VHS days.

    The story is set in Texas where Mance (Patrick Kilpatrick) and Emily (Suzanne Savoy) have arrived in hopes of laying down some roots and starting a normal life together. They’ve recently had a baby girl and, along with Mance’s son Willy (Chris Miller), take up residence in a country home that they’ve bought from a local man named T.C. (Ford Rainey).

    At first, all is well. They like the space and begin to make it their own. Willy finds some odd Native American artifacts around the place and develops a keen interest in their history and origins. In doing so, the boy unwittingly releases a slimy monster of sorts that evolves from a pool of sludge into a much more dangerous form and takes up residence under the home in… yeah, the cellar. Of course it’s in the cellar. It turns out that this creature has ties to the natives that once called this land home and that it was used to run off the encroaching settlers that were moving into the area, and apparently, it’s still none too keen on those not from its tribe living on this land.

    The Cellar, in either version, is a passably entertaining horror film but not much more than that. Tenney’s cut is the better version, it’s a leaner and more concise film with stronger direction and a focus on the relationships that exist between Mance and Emily and, more importantly, Mance and Willy. It sets up the story effectively and plays its cards close to its chest. The director’s cut adds a whole lot of stock footage to completely change the openiing scene as well as an unnecessary subplot with Willy and a native chief named Sam John (Michael Wren) that was clearly shot later on and spliced into the movie. It looks decent enough on a visual level but it feels at odds with much of the picture. The relationship scenes that were important in Tenney’s cut are also trimmed down here, and while this version plays faster and like more of a typical creature feature, it isn’t as interesting.

    As to the cast, Kilpatrick is pretty good here, handling the dramatic aspects of the story just as well as the action and horror elements. He has a believable on screen chemistry with Chris Miller (who would later direct Shrek The Third!!) that goes a long way towards making the family aspect of the story work properly. Suzanne Savoy also does fine work here, she’s very believable.

    Production values are okay. The movie was made on a pretty modest budget but the effects team clearly knew what they were doing as the monster, when it’s on screen, looks good. The score is good and the cinematography quite strong. You can kind of figure out where it’s all headed pretty easily but if the movie isn’t the most original genre picture ever made, it’s a decent time killer.

    The Cellar – Blu-ray Review:

    Both versions of The Cellar arrive on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfers framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. The director's cut takes up 22.1GBs and was taken from sequences taken from a 2k scan of the original negative and from a 35mm lab print. The producer's cut uses 23.4GBs of space and is taken entirely from the aforementioned 2k scan of the negative. Understandably, the producer’s cut is the better looking of the two versions, it’s pretty much pristine with great color reproduction and really solid black levels. The director’s cut does show a bit more damage and heavier grain in certain scenes, and detail isn’t quite as strong. Still, both versions are pretty strong, looking nice and filmic throughout and showing no issues with any noise reduction or edge enhancement problems.

    Both cuts get 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 English language audio with optional English subtitles. There isn’t a big difference in sound quality between the two versions, they both sound quite good and offer clean, clear dialogue and properly balanced levels without any hiss or distortion related issues.

    The director’s cut includes a commentary with director Kevin Tenney and actors Suzanne Savoy and Patrick Kilpatrick. This track covers how quickly Tenney was hired and put on set, how thankful he was to work with a good cast and crew that he didn't hire or know, how Tenney's director's cut was screened once never to be seen again, using real scorpions and a real dog and how this was handled safely, Kilpatrick really bonding with the dog, what it was like on set, how much of what was shot before Tenney came onboard was shot in chronological order, how the character actors in the film actually have real character, having to flip shots from the original footage in order to get enough coverage, the locations that were used, some of the effects work featured in the picture, their thought on the creature effects in particular, when to imply violence rather than show it graphically and lots more. The director’s cut also includes a quick minute-and-a-half intro from Tenney.

    The producer's cut also features a commentary with Tenney, Savoy and Patrick Kilpatrick. This is a seperate track that goes over the history of the film, how the producers took the film from Tenney and 'butchered it.' They point out the differnces in the two cuts, including the use of stock footage in the beginning scene, how various crew members wanted their names taken off of it, how various scenes that Tenney didn't shoot wound up in the movie and how he remains very bitter over all of this, the narration used in the movie, the film's connections to Spellbinder, how Tenney's brother wrote the original score, changes that were made to individual scenes, scenes that Tenney did and didn't direct, Kilpatrick's thoughts on the Academy, what it was like auditioning for their respective parts, expectations that were put upon the cast members at times and how the way that this movie turned out really was a case of there being too many cooks in the ktichen. Both tracks are good but this one is the more interesting of the two simply because it really does go into a lot of depth about the film’s scattershot history.

    Aside from the commentary tracks, the disc also includes a forty-six-minute featurette entitled From Chicken Shit To Chicken Salad: Unearthing The Lost Cellar which is primarily comprised of interviews with Tenney, Savoy and Kilpatrick as well as producer Steve Berman, SFX man Kevin Brennan and composer Dennis Tenney. It's a great look back at the history of the film, covering where the different participants were in their respective careers at the time the project was started, how Tenney came to direct the picture after running into some trouble getting Witchtrap made the way he wanted it made, having to essentially redo large chunks of the screenplay to make up for lost time after replacing the film's original director after only one day on set, creating the creature used in the film, what it was like on set, budgetary restraints, how the two different cuts of the movie contained on this disc came to be and the film's popularity during the VHS boom years.

    Menus and chapter selection are also provided and this release comes with some nice double-sided cover sleeve art.

    The Cellar – The Final Word:

    While neither version of The Cellar is an unsung masterpiece, the director’s cut is definitely the better version of the film and results in a much more satisfying viewing experience. Still, Vinegar Syndrome does fans of the film right by including both versions of the movie in very nice presentations and with two commentary tracks and a great featurette as well. Those who enjoy the film will be very pleased with how this release has turned out.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Cellar Blu-ray screen caps!