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The Cellar Door (2007)
21st May 08
We’re back in “The Serial Killer Lives Next Door” territory.
Review The Cellar Door wont win any converts to the post-Hostel sub-genre that the scuzzy tabloid press prefers to label “torture porn”, a dismissive catch-all category that is becoming as redundant and irritatingly over-used as “video nasties”. Far from inviting the audience to get off on the torture contained within, these movies largely devote their time to depicting torture in as repellent and gruelling fashion as possible. If you get an erection during the blowtorch scene in Hostel, for instance, you would benefit from some medical help. Especially if you happen to be a woman. It’s just not normal, madam. The Cellar Door is as pared down an example of the form as can be imagined, and the uneasy aping of its own voyeuristic killer as the camera ogles bare female flesh and open wounds will invite the usual accusations of exploitation.
This tiny-budgeted production largely avoids the more extreme mutilations of the Hostel movies and also manages to be a quantum leap above the higher-profile Captivity, a movie that couldn’t even make something watchable out of the notion of Kim Bauer from 24 being force-fed liquidised eyeballs. This film’s opening stretch is effective : a 15 minute distillation of the essence of this sub-genre into an arresting, frenetic cat-and-mouse set piece. A bloodied, screaming abductee valiantly makes a last-ditch bid to escape her captor only to get captured again and killed.
The killer in question is a solid James Dumont, whose casting follows the lead of serial killer TV shows and movies of the 90’s, notably Millennium. He’s a bald, beer-bellied, innocuous-looking guy with an unthreatening face and an overall appearance that suggests his occupation might be Insurance Salesman rather than General Purpose Sick Fuck. The movie and the actor are proficient at selling the notion of the banality of evil - we’re back in “The Serial Killer Lives Next Door” territory, and it’s far from original, but it’s still a concept that chills.
Although he looks like the kind of Joe Schmoe who would get sand kicked in his face at the beach, Dumont is dangerously unhinged. He’s fond of keeping his chosen victims (chiefly feisty lead Heather Tomlinson) in a self-made cage, occasionally feeding them prime products from Slop ‘R’ Us. Like most of us, he likes to preserve the turds of young women in jars (a guy’s gotta have a hobby, right?) and, when there’s nothing on the TV he beats obnoxious checkout girls to death with baseball bats.
Director Matt Zettell favours extreme close-ups, low angles and an ominous, musique concrete-approach to the soundtrack. Anyone with half a horror-savvy brain knows that this so-called “torture porn” craze is not a new phenomenon, and the lineage of The Cellar Door dates back as far as the 60’s, specifically Lady in A Cage. Some intensity is sustained for the scenes of Tomlinson’s prolonged suffering, though the claustrophobic spell is broken whenever the flick follows her girlfriend’s dull attempts to track her down. The tone is uncertain at times : any excuse to include the violent stabbing of a pair of comically intrusive Jehovah’s Witnesses should be encouraged, but the scene belongs in a different movie. And lets face it, violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses belongs in real life, not just a movie - where’s the fun in that?
Ultimately, Zettell has made a competent entry in this mean-spirited cycle, but nothing more. The Cellar Door culminates with a decent tool-shed denouement (FX by the wonderfully named Lisa Lash) and a spot of novel castration, but it has nothing fresh to bring to the table save for a lesbian heroine.