The Cellar Door's front cover art heralds the three awards it won at Shriekfest. I don't know how much value should be placed on this fact, honestly, but as yet another low budget entry in the dubiously christened "torture porn" genre, it has some surprisingly effective moments.
Whether you'll like The Cellar Door or not will depend upon where you sit in the cultural debate over the grisly sadism that prevails in flicks like the Saw, Hostel, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises. If you're into Jigsaw and Leatherface's antics, The Cellar Door is worth checking out, if only because it's one of the better direct-to-video knock-offs I've seen in this genre. If you find this kind of film disturbing, well, take a hint from the DVD's cover art and avoid it.
The Cellar Door opens with an intense sequence where a young girl manages to escape a crudely constructed cell in a cellar and worm out of a decidedly ordinary-looking home seeking freedom. She's clearly suffered a lot, and her captor, Herman (the villain of the movie played by James DuMont), is hot on her trail. I'm not a big fan of the jerky, hand-held method of making films - but it works effectively here to create a tense atmosphere. There's also a well-composed shot when Herman manages to get his prey before she can alert someone for help. He dumps her body in the back of his vehicle, parked beside a road sign which reads END in bold black letters. The dread in that shot is palpable and very memorable.
After the opening credits roll, Herman is on the lookout for a new victim for his cellar. He quickly finds one in Rudy (played by Michelle Tomlinson), a young woman he stalks and then kidnaps. Much of the rest of the film involves upping the creep factor in Herman's character while Rudy tries to figure out how to escape the cell beneath Herman's kitchen. It's all been done before, so there's little that novel in the film. But, it is done competently: both the acting and the cinematography remain interesting throughout. That's no small feat considering the obvious budget constraints on the film. The make-up and blood effects are inconsistent, but the movie opts to favor character until the closing minutes so it's not a major concern.
The film's conclusion seems to borrow quite a bit from the controversial rape revenge shocker I Spit On Your Grave. While it's gruesome and over the top, the closing image of the heroine - like the closing image of the heroine in I Spit On Your Grave - is memorable in its ambiguity.
In sum, The Cellar Door is worth checking out - but, again, only if you're into this genre of horror film.
The Cellar Door offers a 16x9 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The image, on a whole, is very good - with the visual highlight being the opening sequence, which is clearly shot in a different manner than the rest of the movie.
Two audio options are available through an Audio Set-Up link in the menu: Stereo and 5.1 Surround. I opted for the Stereo track only because it seemed to be the default setting. The track was effective and well-mixed.
When the disc is played, trailers automatically begin for Steel Toes, Honor, and Karla. The three trailers are also available via a Other Great DVDs link on the menu, as is the trailer for The Cellar Door.
A Behind the Door option has two featurettes about The Cellar Door's production. Interview With Actors has main stars James DuMont and Michelle Tomlinson discussing the 15 day shoot. It's oddly disorienting - after watching the events of the film - to see the actors sitting together upbeat and laughing about the project. It's a nice featurette, though, and DuMont and Tomlinson's enthusiasm seems genuine. Interview With Director of Photography & Editor has film editor Franklin Peterson and cinematographer Skye Borgman talking about the film's production. Watch for the typo on the word "involved" in the featurette's first title. Both of these featurettes run under 10 minutes.
Also under the Behind the Door menu option is a rather silly extra called Horror on the Silver Screen which has random trivia about horror films set to the film's score. The Cellar Door is a horror film - I guess that's the connection.
While not a classic, The Cellar Door remains tense and keeps the viewer's attention throughout. That's more than can be said for a lot of low budget horror films. Recommended for the Saw and Hostel crowds out there.