Saturday, January 5, 2008


My profuse apologies to the late producer Gregg Hoffman, to whose memory this film is dedicated.

200 years ago Paris ran out of room to bury its dead.
By royal decree the remains of 7 million bodies were relocated to an abandoned limestone mine beneath the city.
Today, the most romantic city in the world sits just one hundred feet above…
… the largest mass grave in history.
The empire of the dead.

This is the woefully dire pronouncement at the head of the film, that quickly follows an eyebrow-raising “Inspired by True Events” claim (I get very dubious when a horror movie tacks that onto itself these days, but that’s a whole other story), as if these little bits weren’t actually mentioned in characters’ dialogue later on in Catacombs.
Very briefly, Catacombs follows young and nervous and rather imaginative Victoria (Shannyn Sossamon), who travels to Paris on the behest of her sister Carolyn (Alecia Moore, better known to the free world as Pink), and is swept away from a rave being held in the titular Parisian catacombs, into a not-so-frightening ordeal of the masked psycho stalker variety.

Now, please pardon the very Neanderthal piggy comment, but I’ve always thought Shannyn Sossamon was hot.
The thing is, the only film I’ve seen her in that I’ve actually enjoyed was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, while most of her other film work aren’t the sort of movies I go out of my way to watch. I did see The Sin Eater, but that was lamentably lame, and I saw bits of A Knight’s Tale on cable, but that didn’t look so great either.
So I was hoping I could add Catacombs to that list of one, but alas, I shall have to wait and hope the One Missed Call remake is the contender I’ve been waiting for.

One of the problems Catacombs has (and it has quite a number) is that the initial set-up and the eventual predicament Victoria finds herself in is played out in a rather daft manner, so much so that the climactic turn the plot takes is something that I was convinced was going on the entire time.
The apparent threat and suspense never really sets in as concrete reality, largely since Victoria never quite comes across as an actual person. There’s no identification here at all. She’s saddled with a nervous, introverted personality (with the prescribed medication to match)—her “issues,” as sister Carolyn so compassionately puts it—without any back story at all to explain why this is the case. She’s just a Nervous (and rather annoying) Nelly.
There’s only one moment in the entire film—sadly enough, when Victoria actually commits a ruthless and selfish act—that Sossamon comes across as a real person, capable of the most cruel action in the interests of self-preservation.
Every other instance is her being ragged on by Carolyn and Carolyn’s friends, or shrieking her fool head off as she’s stalked by the goat head-masked psycho.

But the fact of the matter is, the exact sequence of events that bring her to the catacombs and the terrible poopy mess she steps in, is so boneheaded, one can’t help but discover a complete lack of sympathy for the character and the predicament she finds herself in.
When she goes off to wander the labyrinth on her own, to the shouted warning from Carolyn of, “Don’t be a retard,” one can’t help but get all MST3K on Catacombs and go, “Everyone in this damned movie is a retard.”
And the whole “One must surround himself with reminders of death to fully appreciate life” jazz comes off as juvenile bubble gum pop psychology, when presented to us by Carolyn and the intellectual giant, Jean Michele (Mihai Stanescu), who also regales us with the ludicrous tale of the Cult of the Black Virgin and the goat head-masked psycho (apparently a low rent attempt to breed the AntiChrist), an account which comes complete with bizarre stutter-strobe images, presumably courtesy of Victoria’s overactive imagination.
At least, it sounded ludicrous when told to us like this.

I mean, with all that talk of “Oh, oui, people wind up missing all the time down here,” then the pervasive question of “Why the hell are we raving our heads off down here again?” glares in our faces like an irritating strobe light, a rudely inescapable reality.
It’s the 21st century “Inspired by True Events” horror movie equivalent of building a house on ancient Indian burial ground: this is simply a place you shouldn’t be in at all. Period.
If you insist on staying past the first lame “Boo,” then you deserve everything that’s coming to you. (And in Catacombs’ case, that’s certainly true of Carolyn.)

There is nothing here at all that I can commend, and even certain editing choices come off as bargain basement attempts to emulate Kevin Greutert‘s excellent work on Saw.
There’s even the climactic montage of Significant Moments and Telling Lines that, here in Catacombs, feels hideously unnecessary, as if it was there in the vain hope that it would elicit a “Well, don’t I feel like a dunce, I didn’t see that one coming at all” reaction from the less-attentive members of the audience.
In fact, a lot of Catacombs feels like underlining and overemphasis, leaving you with the urge to shout, rather irrationally, at the screen, “Yes, I got it!”
But, like some communicable disease, or an invite to a party that turns out to be a horrid stinker, or a postcard asking you to come to bloody Paris, you’ll only wish you hadn’t.

Parting shot: I don’t relish writing bad reviews. I know any movie, no matter how bad, had hundreds of people who worked on it, and many of them would probably have nothing at all to do with the flaws of the movie in the first place.
So, not only did I feel bad because Gregg Hoffman gave the horror world Saw, and he’s credited as one of the producers on Catacombs, but also because the film was co-written and co-directed by Tomm Coker, whose early comic book art I rather enjoyed.
And what’s worse, being co-writer and -director would mean he had at least half to do with why Catacombs was as awful as it was.
Apologies to you too, Tomm. I really do like your art, but Catacombs was terrible.

(Catacombs DVD cover art courtesy of

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