Thursday, 4 September 2014

Catacombs (1965)

         A low budget black and white British B-picture from the period that gave us the classic BLIND CORNER, CATACOMBS isn't quite as good as that Lance Comfort picture, but it's still an entertaining romp of a thriller. It's going to be of the greatest interest to those like myself, who love British horror and had never heard of it before Network dusted it off and gave it this decent DVD release. Its technical and acting credits also happen to boast several individuals who made significant contributions to the British horror film after they made this, which just makes it all the more interesting.

There are no actual catacombs in this film, by the way. There's a picture of one that we get to see briefly and at an angle, but if you're expecting a tramp through some dark and grim burial chambers of the dead, you're going to be disappointed by this one. If, on the other hand, you fancy a movie in the mould of Hammer's psycho thrillers of the 1960s like SCREAM OF FEAR or MANIAC then you could do worse than spend some time watching this. 

        Gary Merrill is the unhappily married toyboy (or more realistically toy ageing actor) of rich, independent, manipulative Georgina Cookson. When Cookson's niece Jane Merrorw turns up for a visit, she becomes almost inexplicably attracted to the rather weak and whiny Mr Merrill, and the scene is set for him to put into action the plan he's been harbouring for ages to do away with his wife. An actress is employed to impersonate her (Cookson again, trying hard to do a different accent) and the overly complex plot involves the real wife being drowned in a sink and the fake wife being taken to a back-projected version of the Italian countryside and pushed off a cliff. Of course, no sooner are both of them dead than strange things start to happen that suggest one or both of them may still be alive.

CATACOMBS isn't at all bad for a zero-budget programmer of this period - in fact some of the Hammer productions in this subgenre aren't as entertaining as this one. Fans of BritHorror will delight in seeing Jane Merrow (HANDS OF THE RIPPER, NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT), and Neil McCallum (DR TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORROR, MOON ZERO TWO), and the credits reveal this to be an early directorial job for Gordon Hessler (SCREAM & SCREAM AGAIN, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE). There's little of the fractured style he demonstrated in his best works, but we all have to start somewhere.
        Music is by Carlo Martelli (Hammer's CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB and Goldstar's IT!) and Philip Martell is the musical supervisor. Daniel Mainwaring, who wrote the screenplay, is probably best known for writing Don Siegel's INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS. Producer Jack Parsons also worked on Robert Lippert projects WITCHCRAFT and CURSE OF THE FLY and the movie does have the low-rent-but-atmospheric-look of those two pictures. The only real mis-step here is the casting of Merrill, whose character is just a bit too old and a lot too useless to make us believe Jane Merrow would be quite so mad about him.
        Network's DVD presents CATACOMBS in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. It's a nice clean print. There are no extras apart from a gallery that includes poster art with the film's alternate title THE WOMAN WHO WOULDN'T DIE. A decent and most welcome  presentation of a neglected slice of 1960s British suspense.

Network released Gordon Hessler's CATACOMBS on Region 2 DVD on 25th August 2014

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