Catacombs
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Catacombs

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One thing that can always help a horror thriller flick is preventing the hapless victims from escaping the evil monster. Your basic horror creature is a bit on the lazy side and appears to prefer to have its victims close by. A little running is good, it gets the appetite up nicely but these creatures like the ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ scenario. For the perennial favorite, the haunted house it is difficult for the writers to come up with a semi-believable reason why after the first dead body or two someone just doesn’t open a door and leave. One perfect plot device in such a film is the catacomb. It is suitably dark and dank, great atmosphere for some mayhem and it affords ample running room while still keeping the tasty morsel of a human being trapped. When you think about this as a setting it is amazing more horror writers don’t use it. One that did is the team of Tomm Coker and David Elliot who also directed the movie aptly named ‘Catacombs’. The film does have the necessary ingredients as mandated by the genre namely a blood thirsty creature, a few beautiful young women and a foreboding set. Unfortunately, there is a lot missing which results in the film failing to reach its potential.

This is a freshman effort for Coker both as writer and director. Elliot has a little more experience in both areas but not that much. They demonstrate talent here that just needs some time to fully develop. This is evident with a strong first act, a reasonably good second but things unravel rapidly towards the end of the film. The film is fundamentally in the ‘tag you’re dead’ variety of the genre. They throw a few psychological elements in such as a raging case of sibling rivalry and the much over used teenage rave but this tends to distract more than enhance the final result. On the plus side these aspects do keep the blood and gore down which considering the over use in films like the Saw sage and Hostel is a relief. It tries to do more psychologically but the key points are spread too thin and founded in unbelievable situations. Looking back at the best horror films in movie history most do not show all that much gore. The executives at FEARNet tried an international release which didn’t work out too well and then moved on to cable showings and now there is the DVD release through Lion’s Gate. It is not that this is a bad movie, it has its moments. Lately too many flicks especially from this genre are falling short of what they could have achieved. This fact is highlighted by excellent production and a great cast.

The film opens with a few words to set the stage. The first statement is this film was inspired by real events. Basically there are actual catacombs under the streets in Paris. The possibility that a flesh eating creature resides there is on par with the alligators in the New York City sewers. Next there is a little history lesson. Two hundred years ago Paris ran out of room to bury their dead so by royal decrees they tossed seven million into an abandoned limestone mine under the city. Okay, we get it. If you are a tourist don’t go down there its spooky. Now they have to establish the target audience, teens. This is done with a rave featuring blaring music and strobe lights. The party is obviously in the upper portion of the caverns since we see a lot of skulls piled up, nice mood for a dance. I can only wonder what the people who threw this rave choose for their prom theme. Many of the young people dancing have their faces painted like skulls. A young woman is seen running for her life through some dark passageways. Some bloody thing comes towards and she screams.

Victoria (Shannyn Sossamon) receives a post card from her sister Carolyn (Alecia "Pink" Moore) telling her to come for a visit in Paris. As we see Victoria making her way through the Paris airport her voice over tells us that 48 hours after that Carolyn and everyone she meets there will be dead. Sure, ruin the suspense. She meets up with Carolyn and they take a cab back to her place. The two sisters are polar opposites. Victoria is overly nervous, on several medications and has never traveled anywhere. Carolyn, on the other hand, is bolder, assertive and open to new experiences. Carolyn has several male friends hanging out in the flat who immediately scare Victoria with a cheap rubber monster mask. In short they are juvenile idiots. The sisters hop in Carolyn’s moped and take a tour of the city and shop. During a little break Carolyn tells Victoria about a rave that will go on that night in the catacombs. Eventually they go to the rave hosted by a friend of Carolyn, Jean-Michel (Mihai Stanescu). Victoria feels dizzy at the rave and needs her medication. She is taken to a private room with Carolyn, Jean-Michel and some of the other members of the ‘in crowd’. There Jean-Michel tells Victoria about the legend of a boy raised by a satanic cult who lives in the catacombs and eats people. They all drink some absinth just to show how really cool they are. The group decides to go skinny dipping but Victoria declines and goes back to the main rave. Some of the girls in the subterranean pool are wearing bathing suites; these losers can’t even skinny dip right. Victoria gets lost; Carolyn finds her and belittles her for running off. Carolyn is grabbed by something and dragged off into the darkness. Victoria runs deeper into the darkness and the chase is on.

The major drawback in this film is the darkness. About three quarters of the film is shot in such low lighting that you can’t make out any details. True, this is natural for the chosen setting but watching a black screen and listening to screams can get tedious. The setting is otherwise perfect. It is a fantastic idea for an old fashion Goth style creep fest. Perhaps devising some way to light a torch or two instead on having a little flashlight as the light source would have helped. The film is paced well. It builds rapidly and lays the ground work for what is coming far better than most flicks of this ilk. This is a good idea that just ran into some production problems. I look forward to what Coker and Elliot has next.

The two leading ladies sell the film. Shannyn Sossamon is carving out a niche for herself in quirky roles even appearing as a vampire in television’s ‘Moonlight’. She has the beautiful scared young woman part down to a tee. She manages to connect with the audience allowing them to care about what happens next. This is the first main role for Alecia Moore. Like many singers crossing over to acting she has decided to leave her nom de voyage, in this case ‘Pink’, in the recording studio. For a first timer she does incredibly well. Teenaged boys everywhere will be disappointed that the scene where she goes skinny dipping is so poorly lit. What matters here is she can act and hopefully she will get parts with more of an opportunity to hone her new craft.

The great thing about Lion’s Gate is their willingness to give little films like this a chance. This does mean that some of their DVD releases hit and some don’t but it is understandable, even acceptable. Take this film for example. There is some excellent talent just about ready to make a quantum leap forward. Sure the film has some technical flaws and a problem towards the end but without releases of film makers early in their careers like this one how does anyone expect them to progress in their art? The cast and crew put it out there for the world to see and I am certain that they will use this movie as a platform for much greater things. Give this film a chance and enjoy, the best from these people is yet to come.

Posted 01/22/08

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