The Cellar was not supposed to be a Kevin S. Tenney movie. In fact, the director didn’t even come on board the project until filming was already underway.
Written by John Woodward and Darryl Wimberley from a story by David Henry Keller M.D., the movie was also meant to be a directorial effort for Woodward and went into production with him behind the camera. But after eight days of shooting, the film had already fallen several days behind schedule, so the producers felt the need to replace Woodward. Kevin S. Tenney got the call.
Feeling experimental, wanting to see how well he could handle the situation, Tenney agreed to take the job. Needing to keep the production on schedule for the rest of the duration, the producers contacted Tenney on a Friday, the same day Woodward was removed from the director’s seat, officially hired him over the weekend, and Tenney was on set and behind the camera in time to start filming Monday’s scenes.
At its foundation, The Cellar is a horror movie that deals with a fear many kids can relate to. It’s a story about the monster that lives in the basement. However, the writers decided to explain their monster in the basement with an overly complicated backstory that stretches back to a different century, when the Comanche tribe deemed a section of desert to be forbidden, cursed land. They were able to keep the evil of the land at bay by sticking a spear in the ground and hanging a charm on it… But time passed, “the white man” ventured too far into this forbidden land, the spear and charm were disturbed, and now the evil has been unleashed.
That evil, represented by a beast that was created to destroy the Comanche tribe’s enemies, a magical hybrid of multiple different types of animals that secretes a corrosive substance, emerges from a cave which opens into the cellar of a home that a family – Mance Cashen, his new wife Emily, their baby April, and Mance’s young son from a previous relationship, Willy – has just moved into.
As strange things start occurring around the Cashen household, locals hype up the danger of the creature with recitations of the legend and stories of past encounters with it, and Willy even has direct confrontations with the hideous monster… Then he goes on with his normal daily life. If I knew for certain as a kid that a giant monster lived in my basement and had been face-to-face with it, I definitely would not handle it as well as Willy does. Nor would I be brave enough to head down into the cellar with a flamethrower like he does.
Although Willy is at the center of the horror activity, since it’s kids who fear having monsters in their basement, so a kid would have to be the main character in a movie about one, the family is warned that baby April is the one in the gravest danger. And this family still doesn’t hit the road.
Mance’s mental state declines, people start dying, and the Cashen family must step up and take it upon themselves to remove this evil from the world once and for all.
The finished film doesn’t show any ill effects from the mid-production director switch… The elements that make it a mediocre movie are primarily script issues. The way characters handle situations, Willy knowing too much too soon, and a sprinkling of ridiculousness. The production falling behind schedule could explain why the climactic sequence feels so rushed, though.
However it turned out, Tenney can’t really be blamed, even though it’s his name on the film as director, since he didn’t make any of the choices when the movie was being put together. He was just handed a script and told to shoot what was on the page in the amount of time that had already been decided upon. The result was a movie that looks fine and cut together coherently, and although Tenney wasn’t able to elevate the material simply by his presence, his experiment should still be counted as a success.
Some interesting casting choices were made before Tenney took the job. In a rare lead role, character actor Patrick Kilpatrick plays Mance Cashen. Kilpatrick tends to play psychopaths and thugs, it’s very strange to see him as a family man, but he pulls it off. It helps that Mance becomes a nutty jerk over the course of the film. Lou Perryman of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 also appears in the movie as Mance’s ill-fated boss, and Perryman is always a joy to see.
If you’re into ’80s horror, The Cellar is a creature feature worth checking out, just don’t expect very much from it.