-MONTHLY FILM & TV REVIEW-
The Cellar Door|
cast: James DuMont, Michelle Tomlinson, Franklin Peterson, and Skye Borgman
director: Matt Zettel
85 minutes (15) 2008
Revolver DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Mark West
I felt good about this - my first 'official' VideoVista screener, I slid it
into the machine and settled back and was duly disappointed...
The opening/ titles sequence has a woman screaming and escaping from chains - at least, I think that's what she's doing because it's shot
in extreme close-up (that even Michael Bay would object to) and trendy wobble-cam. The woman escapes from a residential house in the middle
of the day, climbs down into a river run-off (that's wide and visible from at least two roads), runs up the other side and is knocked over
by the man she was escaping from. Who proceeds to strangle her with a bit of chain, before taking her home and carrying her into the house
- still in broad daylight, on a residential street. He binds the body in plastic (in his garden), takes her to the woods and buries her
(still in broad daylight) in the sparsest copse of trees in the whole world (in fact, it might be an ornamental garden).
Herman (James DuMont), our gardening chum, is a nutter. He lives alone, in a nice little house and 'collects' women, though it's not
entirely clear what he intends to do with them though he does have a thing for wedding dresses. He goes on the prowl and finds what we,
the viewer, assume are a lesbian couple (apart from a minor comment later on, about finding the right boy to marry, this is never mentioned
again). Deciding they're for him, he steals some bills (handily still in their envelopes, in an opened black bag in their wheelie bin) and
chooses one of the couple, Rudy (Michelle Tomlinson). Later, he kidnaps her (though quite how he knows which is which, we don't know) and
takes her back to his house, to imprison her in his cellar. He's built a weird kind of cage for her, half pallet, half chicken wire that
must be the worst self-designed cell in serial-killer/pervert history (it's very small for the prisoner unless Herman is trying to poke
her with something, in which case it shares the dimensions of the Tardis).
Occasionally, we go back to the other half of the couple, Christa (Heather Sconyers), who is trying to find her friend (which elicited
an involuntary chuckle from me, when she put up posters saying 'have you seen me' and sticks one to a tree that Herman just happens to
be standing beside), but most of the time we follow Herman and Rudy as they bond, bicker and do everything you wouldn't expect in a relationship
such as this (unless 'Stockholm syndrome' kicked in really quickly).
There's also a girl in the supermarket - 'cashier Wendy' (Annie Coffey), as the credits list her - who is a bit intrusive at first, though
friendly, but with each subsequent visit, she becomes more aggressive, culminating in a bit of name-calling that results in one of the worst
attack set-pieces I've ever seen. In it's frenzy and quick cutting, I assume it was some kind of homage to Psycho but it doesn't work (we
can't see anything and what we can looks plastic and fake) and at this point I realised that, no matter how much I wanted it to, this film
just wasn't going to get any better.
Since Rudy won't put out for him (we assume), Herman goes and kidnaps Christa; he blocks a residential street with his jeep, strides into
the house, wallops the girl and carries her out before taking off. Once again, we have to accept this happens in broad daylight and nobody
notices. Once Christa is back at his house, some missionaries (that's what the credits list them as) come knocking and, since they are both
bad actors, Herman offs them quickly.
This is low-budget film-making at its worst. Now I don't have anything against low-budget productions (I was involved in several ultra-low-budget
video films through the 1990s, and it's hard work, I know), so long as they are done with a bit of passion and a bit of skill, but this has
neither and you don't get the sense that any of them are eager to try anything new. And that's at least part of the problem. Films of this
subgenre can and do work, mostly because we are shown into the world of the oppressor or repressed, wherein we can try to understand the politics
of the situation and see how it reflects on us or the world at large. But nobody did that here (it almost feels like a second draft, to be honest),
it seems to have nothing original to say and it's as if nobody bothered to put themes or subtexts in place. All we have in the end is a misogynistic
fantasy (man kidnaps woman, imprisons her, tries to dominate her), where even though the baddie gets it in the end, the director and viewer have
had enough lingering shots of female body parts (though no nudity) to last them to the final shot.
Another problem is that the editing lacks bite. Everything seems to take forever to happen, sometimes there are flash-cuts which make no sense
and occasionally we get freeze-frames that just had me thinking the disc was playing up. The cinematography (as the credits list the role) veers
from often nicely composed static shots with jarring, hand-held ones as if everyone is improvising and the cameraman has no idea where he should
be pointing his lens. Unfortunately, most of this happens when Rudy is incarcerated, so we often see more of the pallets than her.
The acting isn't bad - Herman and Rudy (the latter, to be fair, has the hardest job of all) try their best but are still stilted and unconvincing
and by the midpoint you desperately want Herman to kill Rudy or vice versa, just to put everyone out of their misery. Christa seems to be sneaking
glimpses of the camera, the missionaries must be the director's friends and only the shop-girl seems to know what she's doing, but she's quickly
killed off. Rudy also has the problem with how her captivity affects her - we have to assume she's in there for at least a week but her lipstick
never wears off, she remains relatively clean and even the on-set of her period doesn't phase her (and, once we've seen Herman go to buy her
tampons, it's never mentioned again). And whilst I liked the final image of her, striding away into a presumably fraught future, the iconography
looks good but doesn't really suit what's come before.
The special effects are a real treat - prominently credited at the front, they consist of a very bright, runny fluid that looks like it came
out of a tube marked Crayola, stools that look like Milky Way bars and appear to have the same consistency and a bizarre fractured skull effect
on Herman, towards the end, which looks positively fatal but doesn't slow him down one bit. In fact, for all of Herman's frenzied attacks (and
they are frenzied, as if the director had told him that each actress had poisoned his dog), his victims appear to end up with two or three
puncture wounds, bloody eyes (?) and a liberal spray of the Crayola juice. But the piece de resistance comes when Rudy dreams (who knew she was
psychic?) of the girl from the beginning - except that now she's a maggot ridden corpse who looks heavier than the original actress was. And hey,
aren't those maggots actually meal worms, cavorting on a layer of latex that is badly blended to the skin of the actress.
I could go on but I think I've conveyed the absurdity of the situation now. The film lasts barely 83 minutes and the credits plump it out to 85.
Ah, the credits. The make-up artist has four credits that I noticed, the screenwriter is also the on-set photographer and co-executive producer
(as my wife pointed out, he'd have been better suited to continuity) and it seems as if the film-makers felt they needed to list grips and best
boys and swing gangs without properly understanding their roles - I mean, if a film is clearly made in someone's house, what exactly would a swing
It doesn't amaze me that this film was made - as I said, it's difficult to make a film at the best of times and you have to hope they had a good
time doing it - but it does amaze me that a distribution company is selling it like this - if nothing else, this needs a much tighter edit. And
that's my biggest problem with the film - if you're selling something as a professional project, then it should at least attempt to be professional.
If the film-makers and distributors don't spend the time and effort making their product the best it can be, then I don't see why the viewer should
be expected to spend their time and effort watching it.