Column
September 17, 2014

A descent into madness

By Dom Cioffi

Several years ago I took a solo trip to Paris (a major checkmark on my personal bucket list).

I had been there with a small group a decade prior, but due to the short timeframe and the distraction of appeasing multiple personalities, I always felt that I didn’t get to really appreciate the art and culture of the city.

So I made up my mind I would venture forth alone one day and then fully immerse myself in what I considered to be the city’s greatest highlights.

When I arrived, I spent two days in the Louvre (widely considered the world’s greatest museum), a day at the Musée d’Orsay (another epic housing of fine art and sculpture), a day of wandering through the artist’s district of Montmartre (where some of the greatest expressionistic painters worked and lived), and another on an excursion out to the Palace of Versailles (one of the most opulent housing estates ever created).

In between those stops, I also made my way to other popular tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tour, the Luxembourg Gardens and the Arch de Triumph. In all, I traversed countless miles in and around the city.

I had scheduled my final day to be stress free, opting for a late afternoon flight back to the States. That way I wouldn’t have to rush out in early morning traffic and risk missing my flight. Of course I made these plans without realizing how efficient the subway systems are in Europe and so I ended up having plenty of time to do one last thing on my final morning in France.

I scanned brochures and the Internet trying to determine what attraction or highlight would be worth visiting. In the end, I opted for the catacombs, which were a short train ride form my hotel.

The catacombs of Paris (a maze of underground ossuaries estimated to be nearly 200 miles in length and the final resting place of 6 to 7 million former Parisians), are one of the world’s great curiosities. The genesis of this massive subterranean cemetery is an interesting lesson in how societies populate.

Quarry tunnels have existed on the outskirts of Paris since Roman times. The limestone in these quarries built the city infrastructure of Paris as we know it today. Over time, however, the city eventually expanded to the point where the quarries were directly underneath the busy metropolis.

By the late 18th century, cemeteries around the city were becoming increasingly over-populated. Some were so stuffed with human remains that unearthed corpses and open burials were becoming the norm. As such, residents in these areas began getting sick with infectious diseases due to the unhealthy conditions.

Eventually the authorities developed a plan to discreetly relocate all the remains into the underground quarries. This was a massive undertaking that took place over the course of several decades.

Soon after, access was granted to people willing to negotiate the precarious journey into the earth.

I made my way to the catacombs entrance early on my final morning and found myself first in line for the day. When the gate was opened, I made my way to the stairwell and began my descent into the underground.

Now, I’m normally fine with cramped spaces, but there was a moment or two during the final climb down where a bit of claustrophobia crept in. This was partly due to the tight space I was occupying and the realization of how far I had traveled straight down (trust me, it’s much deeper than you might think).

Things opened up once I reached the catacomb floor and the claustrophobic sensations dissipated, but then I was faced with one of the most eerie sights of my life.

As I began my walk, which varied from long hallways to open caverns, I bore witness to a massive, seemingly unending collection of human bones.

At times I stood in awe, staring awkwardly into the empty eye sockets of stacks upon stacks of human skulls. I marveled at how painstaking it must have been to collect and categorize each particular bone. On one side would be an 8-foot tall by 15-foot wide pile of femurs (leg bones); on another side would be the same area, except occupied with thousands of humerus (arm bones).

Because I was the first one in that day, I basically traversed the entire length of the catacombs alone, which added a whole extra level of ghostly intrigue to the experience.

In this week’s feature, “As Above/So Below,” a team of explorers descend into these same Parisian catacombs, but during their journey they mistakenly unlock a psychological nightmare.

It’s hard to believe that someone could screw up a horror movie set in the catacombs, but the producers of this farce did exactly that. This picture wanted to be scary but it only succeeded in being ridiculous. Any conscious moviegoer will be insulted by the idiocy of this film, leaving it for teenagers not yet accustomed to quality horror.

Avoid this one unless you have a penchant for dark underground spaces and foolish psychic premises.

A dank and musty “D” for “As Above/So Below.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net. 

 

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