Friday, February 22, 2008

Catacombs (2008)

Catacombs is another direct-to-DVD horror flick from (surprise, surprise) Lionsgate that stars Shannyn Sossamon as American Victoria who visits her sister Carolyn (singer Pink) in Paris. As soon as she gets into the “City of Lights,” Victoria is whisked off by her sister for a round of shopping to get ready for a big party that is going on that night put on by Carolyn’s friends. Despite Victoria’s protests that she is tired and really doesn’t feel much like partying (as her dependence on a little bottle of prescription pills makes evident), her sister Carolyn gets her all gussied up and drags her to the party…which just happens to be underneath Paris, in the famous Catacombs.

The Catacombs are, as Carolyn likes to put it, “Paris’ dark little secret,” where at least 7 million bodies where piled up when churches and cemeteries literally were overflowing with dead bodies. Someone came up with the bright idea to intern the dead beneath the city, and voila! The Catacombs were born. Today, the Catacombs are mostly off limits, though I believe you can still catch a quick glimpse on a short tour. It seems that young people regularly break into the Catacombs to party, as is the case with Carolyn’s friends.
Her friend Jean Michele (Mihai Stanescu) orchestrates these underground raves with great success. The Catacombs have over 300 miles of tunnels, so he never plans a party in the same place, which also helps keep the cops off their tail.

Anywho, despite Victoria’s lamentations about partying in a big ol’ crypt, the party is soon in full swing. Carolyn’s friends begin regaling Victoria with stories about the Catacombs, like the many mysterious disappearances or people who became lost in the many miles of tunnels. They also tell her about a satanic cult that raised the “antichrist” down in the darkness of the Catacombs. The cult purposely turned him into a crazed, killing machine and now he supposedly goes around wearing a skinned goat head and slaughtering people who venture into his domain.

Soon enough, Victoria and her sister run into Mr. Goat Head, and he proceeds to kill Carolyn. Victoria gets away, but only to get back to the party just as the cops arrive to break it up. In the chaos, she knocks her head on a stone wall and is out cold…when she wakes up she finds herself all alone and lost within the Catacombs…but she’s not as alone as she thinks…

Geesh! A satanic serial killer who wears a skinned goat head?? C’mon, you’d think writers/directors Tomm Coker and David Elliot could do better than that…and apparently they thought so too because Mr. Goat Head disappears for the rest of the film (!) in favor of following Victoria and a stinky Frenchman from the party as they wander through the dark catacombs. Ok, watching two people who can’t even communicate (though they still yell at each other in their respective languages – because volume makes things much clearer to understand, oui?) stumble through the unremarkable tunnels (the cool bone monuments the Catacombs are known for are barely shown) isn’t my idea of entertainment, especially since these scenes make up the bulk of the movie. You want tension, suspense or, GASP!, scares with your horror movie?? Look elsewhere because they are all sorely lacking in Catacombs.

To make matters worse, none of the characters where likable or people you could relate with. Victoria is a downer and isn’t even happy to be in Paris!! We are never told why she is so depressed or why she has to keep taking pills, so we are never given a chance to feel sympathetic for her. She just comes off as a whiner and is very poorly written “Final Girl” character. Carolyn is just an uncaring bitch so you’re glad when she is offed early in the film. The rest of the characters don’t matter much and are all pretty much interchangeable.

The actors weren’t given much to work with, so their performances weren’t the best. I absolutely adore Shannyn Sossamon, but her character is unlikable, which makes her performance suffer. The character of Victoria is so weak and poorly written that it is clear the writers have no concept of complex human emotions, personalities or psyches. As mentioned before, the characters are so abysmally one-dimensional that it is hard for the actors to give decent performances. All of the actors come off bland and unremarkable. As for Pink, she plays the bossy, bitchy sister okay, but her and Sossamon have absolutely no chemistry and were not at all believable as sisters.

On the technical side, the film is shot like a music video for the ADD generation. There are lots of quick cuts, lots of strobe lighting effects, blue/red hues and rapid-fire editing. The shots of the rave, with its choppy cuts mixed with the disorienting flashing lights, gets really annoying after the first five seconds. The flashbacks to the satanic cult (complete with goat heads, long fingernails, black robes, a bloody birth, etc.) looked like a low-grade Cradle of Filth video. What works in music videos certainly doesn’t work in film, though. The quick cuts and editing just come off as amateurish and annoying. Amateur hour continues with scenes that go on far too long, like the opening scene with a random girl running down countless tunnels and the scenes of Victoria wandering through the Catacombs.

Speaking of the girl from the opening, no mention of her is ever made again…which seems to happen a lot to characters in this movie. Characters crop up, but then they are discarded or forgotten about, like the main serial killer!! That should give you an idea about the disjointed nature of the film. The story feels like it was written by two 15 year olds and doesn’t take the time to build up characters or establish a solid mythology (but it also lacks the gore and nudity most 15-year-old boys would put in a horror flick…). It’s just a messy, boring mess of a film that happens to have a cool setting. Oh, and let’s not forget about the “twist” ending…(sigh!)

If you are interested in learning more about the Catacombs in Paris, rent a documentary, read a book or watch some videos online…because despite the fact that the only thing going for this movie is the setting, Catacombs does no justice to the real thing. In fact, it does no justice to the horror genre, either.

Available from Amazon!

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