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Catacombs   C

Extreme Entertainment

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Todd Sheets
Writers: Todd Sheets, Roger Williams
Cast: Abe Dyer, Ari Bavel, Rico Love, Jen Davis, Antwoine Steel, Rachel Matthews, Phil Wymore, Chris Lerbecky, Jessika Pratt, Ruth Dyer, Tim Atkinson, Mike Gordon.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

This is one sick movie. But it's a Todd Sheets film, so that's no surprise. After all, here's a filmmaker who killed off a barely teenage girl by having a sicko hick shoot her between the legs (witness the carnage of Zombie Bloodbath 2). Todd Sheets doesn't pull any punches. He would probably laugh if you referred to I Know What You Did Last Summer as a horror film. I respect his attitude. He's not trying to make movies that will win Oscars -- he's a horror fan trying to make movies that he and other like-minded horror fans will have fun watching. And while Catacombs has its moments, it never quite achieves that level of nasty fun it aspires to.

In the movie, a handful of easily disposable characters are brought together at a haunted house attraction in Kansas City, Missouri called Catacombs. A university professor (Ari Bavel) is doing a study in fear and has rounded up a group of young locals for a weekend lock-in to discover what really arouses fear and perhaps find ways to help people deal with phobias. Whatever. The setup is just an excuse to get 10 characters locked inside this place so a psycho-killer in a white mask can knock them off one by one.

And believe me, it gets nasty really quick.

There's plenty of sickening disembowelments, a death by electrocution, and a demon-penis episode (uh, don't ask) that might bring you close to losing your lunch. The killer (Mike Gordon) even vomits on one of his victims -- for a long time, it just keeps gushing out -- and that's the scene that turned my stomach the most. There's just something about watching someone vomit that makes me more sick than the goriest disemboweling ever could. That said, Todd Sheets is having a lot of fun slinging all this gore around. If you've seen any of his movies, you're probably familiar with the loving closeups in which he captures all this carnage.

All of this might have been more enjoyable if there had been any reason to care about the characters. But these characters are barely even cardboard cutouts. Well, there was one character that I didn't want see bite the dust, if only because he was entertaining me more than any of the others. Abe Dyer, as the white-but-wanna-be-black Kevin, is an absolute riot, just as he was in Todd Sheets's Zombie Bloodbath 3. Though it's possible that some people might find Dyer's overacting a little annoying, I really dig that guy. He's a goofball, but he's funny. The rest of the characters include a horny webmistress, a scream queen, a couple of ass-kicking horror actors, and a hyperactive kid who's had way too much caffeine (dude, we know Waxwork "fucking kicked ass," calm down).

I must admit, though, there is at least one sequence in Catacombs that's kinda nerve jangling in a fun way. After the kids break up into groups (but of course) to explore the place, a blonde girl (Jen Davis, very good here) is separated from the two guys she was with. She starts getting scared, calling out for them while wandering through the dark, creepy corridors, until she winds up being silently stalked by the killer. That sequence alone has more queasy tension packed into it than all of the gore scenes combined.

If only the rest of the movie had relied more on building tension and atmosphere, this might have been something more than a run-of-the-mill shot-on-video gore fest. Sure, it has its share of cheesy horror movie pleasures, but it gets tiresome after awhile. Todd Sheets has been down this road before and it seems like he's just going through the motions.

But what's this? It seems that Todd Sheets has recently completed production on a comedy called Say It Again, described as a cross between John Hughes and Kevin Smith. A Todd Sheets movie with no gore? This I gotta see.

Review published 05.21.2001.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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