While waiting for a haircut at an odd barber shop, a man begins to read a comic book that includes four stories of extreme violence and erotica. After reading about Satanic rituals on the countryside and dismemberment sex, the man waiting to get his hair cut will soon find himself in an equally bizarre scenario.
I have not been the most positive reviewer to the work of Lorenzo Lepori. His previous movies include "Cinque Cerchi Roventi", "Il Vangelo Secondo Taddeo", "Resurrection in Blood" and "I Love You Like a Twist". While he did evolve as a filmmaker, it wasn't enough for me to give much praise. There is one thing that I always appreciated about the guy though, and that's his love for film and what he does. There's an energy and appreciation of shlock to find here that makes it hard to actually dislike the movies. His new production, "Catacomba", is an anthology of shorts directed by himself and Roberto Albanesi and it's certainly his most noteworthy creation so far.
If you're a fan of anthologies, you're no stranger to the use of comic books ("Creepshow"). In Lepori's sex-and-gore-filled comic, we're treated to four stories that are set to out-do eachother in the bizarre. It's certainly not a classy set of shorts; this is sex, gore and cheesy monsters. While I stand by the fact that this is his most solid outing so far, it's not for its plot.
"Catacomba" begins with a man waiting for a haircut. While he waits he looks through a comic book with a naked lady and zombies on the front. As you can imagine, the stories are of the adult kind.
I'll reserve my opinion of each short story towards the end, because the same thing can be said about the majority of them. Anyway, we're thrown into the first story of the bunch, called "Evil Tree". A man's taking a walk on the countryside to get some peace for his writing, but it's interrupted by two bikers. Coincidentally, these two bikers are women, and the man sees his chance to get some action. What he hopes will lead to animalistic sex, ends up in dismemberment (penis included) and cannibalism for a Satanic ritual. The man later returns to life in the form of a tree monster.
Next up is "Alien Lover", which is the most Lepori-esque of the bunch. Is that a phrase anyone could relate to? Well, when I think of Lorenzo Lepori films, I think of no-budget shlock horror meets Tarantino. Plenty of shootouts, dialogue and corny monsters. "Alien Lover" is that. A woman is in a bad relationship with an abusive asshole. When he finds her naked out in the fields, he's furious with jealousy. A gang is thrown into the mix and it's a whole mess, until the woman's true lover arrives; an alien.
Storywise, the third story ("Una Messa Nera per Paganini") is the most interesting one. In this story, unpublished scores by composer Paganini have been found and are in the possession of a collector. The collector shows these scores to a violinist, who becomes obsessed with them. As he tries to find them later he has to get rid of the collector. He then stumbles upon the dark truth in the basement... And yes, I keep this slightly more vague because its the one story that is somewhat interesting due to its plot, rather than despite of it.
Finally, we have "La Maschera della Morte Rossa". This is most likely saved for last because it's the goriest and most likely the one to appeal to gore fans the most. Personally, it switches into a much more bland idea for this. Aesthetically it seems inspired by mysterious surreal erotica of a bygone era, but it slowly evolves into something more typical of extreme shorts. After killing a woman who attempted suicide, a man is seduced by a mysterious woman on top of the body of the woman (who he has kept in the bed). While this partially dead threesome seems to be in his favor, the mysterious woman soon pulls out a machete and starts to chop him in two. Meanwhile, the dead woman comes back to life, and they start eating the bloody corpse and seduce eachother.
Now we're only left with the bland finishing story in the barbershop, but I'll skip the details. It's not too exciting, not even on par with the previous shorts we've been watching.
Okay, so when I said that I could sum up my opinion for each short, it's because they all come from the same kind of ideas and styles. The best thing about "Catacomba" is that it gets to use Lorenzo Lepori's skills as a comic book artist. The DVD actually comes with a short comic book version of the movie, and it is by far my favorite thing about the movie. Another great thing here is that some effects are pretty great, and part of it is because Sergio Stivaletti worked on this movie.
Unfortunately, there is a lot about "Catacomba" that doesn't work, and much of it is because it is still very amateurish. Everything from acting and script, to cinematography and lighting suffers. It's hard to be pleased by good effects if they're not shot well enough. The best effects in the movie work despite of bad lighting and all that, but those moments are quite few. It's also obvious that the point of "Catacomba" is to bring together sex and gore, but not much else. It's fine because its inspirations include erotic comic books from the '70s, so I get it, but there's more to making a successful extreme film than simply including sex and gore. Look at someone like Jˆrg Buttgereit. As much as they push to be extreme, there's an absurd poetic vibe to it that draws you into his work. Look at the "August Underground" movies, they survive by simply being extreme because they make it extremely real.
I like Lorenzo Lepori because he makes what he wants. You can tell that he knows what he makes, and he does whatever he can to get it made. "Catacomba" is actually the one movie so far that I think people could take notice of simply because of its extreme intentions. As cheesy as it is at times, the interest for movies to be as extreme as they can is possibly at an all time high. If you tell people that you'll see a penis being cut off, or that women have sex while killing a man, you'll get people interested.
Everyone knows that I appreciate a good shock film, but I think even more people know how much I hate a movie that only has that as a goal (and fails). I don't hate "Catacomba", because its goal is probably not just to shock, but to please gorehounds while channelling classic erotica comic books. Still, there isn't a whole lot for me in "Catacomba". It's too cheesy to be legitimately good, too poorly made to be actually disturbing, doesn't have a good enough script to intrigue me, and it is ruined by a rather boring wrap-around story.
Still, if you can find the DVD, you get a pretty cool comic book booklet by a great comic book artist (who happens to be Lorenzo Lepori).