US Rating: Unrated
Film Length: 90 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 1:85.1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, Stereo Surround Sound
Subtitles: Optional English SDH, English and Spanish
The Film - out of
I love films that come to the table with a fresh way to tell a familiar premise. Anyone worth their salt as a horror film fan should be able to name more movies that take place in dark and labyrinthine setting than they have fingers on their hands – but finding a film that has some new way to package and present that idea is where the fun really lies. Catacombs tries hard to be that movie; a film who switches up the tried and true claustrophobic setting and does something a little new. It doesn’t really manage to work.
The set up is simple. A young woman, Victoria, receives a postcard from her Sister who is studying in Paris. The postcard is an invitation to visit her and have some fun. When Victoria arrives in Paris, she meets up with her Sister (Pink) and some of her friends – they do a little shopping and when the sun goes down, they head for the party hotspot. Victoria is a little jumpy, part of her personality, and has barely slept a wink since leaving the US. The party they are headed to is an illicit nighttime event, underneath the city among the over 200 miles of labyrinthine catacombs. During the bouncing rave, Victoria, her sister Caroline and a few friends sneak away from the party for some skinny dipping in an underground pool. In what is the equivalent of the scary story told around the campfire, the group tells her of a madman, fabled to be Satan’s child created by the Cult of the Black Virgin, who runs loose among the darkness beneath the city of lights, in the catacombs, killing those unfortunate enough to wander too deeply into what is actually the biggest graveyard in all of Europe. Victoria, however, being the somewhat fragile one isn’t having nearly as much fun as the others. She decides to make her way back to the party by herself and that’s when things take a turn for the worse.
There are elements of this film that grab me; make me sit up and pay more attention in a way that the typical ‘youth demographic focused’ piece of horror entertainment doesn’t usually manage to. But I find that it is the familiar elements of this film, rather than the new spin and twist that gave me a reason to keep the DVD spinning.
Catacombs comes from the writer/director duo of Tomm Coker and David Elliot. The premise is nice and simple; friends in a dark and scary place with the constant threat of an evil explained by the innocent and ignorant underage funsters who may eventually fall prey to its evil deeds. That simplicity gives rise to some effective creepy moments as Victoria wanders, alone and frightened, among the seemingly endless stone and skull laden hallways. The director duo aim for an edgier tone with the rave scenes and the music video feel that it has at times. Throwing in elements of The Blair Witch Project and Friday the 13th, it wants to be a psychological thriller/horror, briskly paced and fluidly shot – but despite having a great setting – the film drifts on and becomes dull.
Performances are almost universally forgettable, with the exception of glimmers of possibility from Alecia Moore (aka Pink) and Shannyn Sossaman as Victoria. Sossaman manages to take the damsel in distress archetype and infuse genuine emotion and depth into it – things that are not present in the script but come, I believe, from the actress herself. In fact, if it were not for her indisputable likeability, beauty and talent ready to breakthrough, Catacombs would be almost entirely avoidable.
At the end of the day, it is the ending itself that winds up being the biggest let down; feeling like the whole project started with the end in mind and the rest was backfilled simply as a means to get there. Filling the story with the inherent creepiness of Paris’s underground graveyard and haunting setting, the ‘Goatman’ killer and the ‘Cult of the Virgin Queen’ pieces do little to elevate the film.
Awful. I don’t know why on God’s green earth that a film released in 2008, more than 10 years into the DVD format and at a time when High Definition media is working hard to pull people into the next generation home video – that a film would be released in non-anamorphic widescreen looking this bad. Presented in its original format, 1.85:1, Catacombs has the look of a film made by some college friends with nothing better to do than goof around with their mid-range camcorder and make a scary flick. There is plenty of distracting pixilation at times, a jumpy, almost bootleg quality to it that, quite frankly, grated my nerves.
Catacombs comes with both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 surround sound. Better than the video but still disappointing. There are some good moments, but generally, there is nothing here to write home about. For a film set deep under the belly of Paris in the dank and darkness of the catacombs, the audio should have been a buffet of drips and echoes (I know, the catacombs don’t carry sound), creating an ambient feel of claustrophobia – but it doesn’t, it provides only the most basic of sound services – pulsing a little during the rave scene but generally giving us little to enjoy.
Inside the Catacombs - Featurette - (6:31) – A brief and shallow featurette with the producer, writer/directors and a few of the stars talking about making the film.
Commentary with Directors/Writers Tomm Coker and David Elliot – This commentary proves to be quite interesting, with some moments of honesty. The writer/director pair discuss the film being made in 2005 and some of the fun they had recreating the skull laden sets in Bucharest, Romania. Also interesting is their mention of redoing some of the sound in certain scenes for this ‘director’s cut’.
The Making of the “Blue Butterfly” with Violet UK - (5:46) – Famous Japanese musician, Yoshiki, wrote a song for the film. This bizarre extra peaks at the production of that song.
Storyboard Gallery with Audio Commentary – This special feature is broken into several segments that cover different storyboards, each with insightful commentary – they include a look at the storyboards for some deleted scenes that would have delved into some supernatural elements and from more thorough and complete sequences in the film. The segments are:
Main Storyboards - 7:59
Deleted Scenes - 1:21
Guest Artists - 2:22
Meet the Goatman - 3:15
Set Design - 5:47
VFX Storyboards - 1:58
Reshoot Storyboards - 5:18
Sneak Peaks: The Eye, Saw IV, Wristcutters: A Love Story, Killer Pad, Born Killers, Boy Eats Girl.
An under the radar horror film with a great setting and some pretty good potential lets the pot boil but doesn’t make the coffee. It sets the table but doesn’t bother to provide the food. Ok, Analogies aside, Catacombs starts out with a bit of promise but ends up walking down well-trodden hallways and totally drops the ball with the closing act. The horrible presentation of the film, with its utterly substandard video quality and non-anamorphic video are the final straw. Rent if you are genuinely intrigued by the concept, but for all others, leave this one on the shelf.