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"Catacombs" stands out in the catalogue of Charles Bands' Empire Pictures; it's actually pretty good, with a refreshing lack of cheese and camp. Yes, it's possible that it may bore viewers hoping for more action and a high body count, but it has a serious, somber quality and atmosphere that makes it quite effective. Filmed at Empires' Italian studios, it's earnestly acted by a sound cast, deliberately paced, hauntingly scored (by the ever reliable Pino Donaggio), and uses the classic theme of good vs. evil to good effect. Granted, the finale is somewhat underwhelming, but until then the movie works well.
Directed by David Schmoeller, who co-wrote under a pseudonym, it stars "Class of 1984" villain Timothy Van Patten as Father John Durham, who lives in a monastery but isn't part of the brotherhood of monks residing there. The place is visited by a schoolteacher named Elizabeth Magrino (Laura Schaefer, "Ghost Town"), and this seems to serve as a catalyst for supernatural phenomena to occur. John, Elizabeth, and the others realize then that there is an evil presence on hand.
"Catacombs" is bolstered by its engaging performances; Van Patten is low key but likable, as is the lovely Schaefer. Ian Abercrombie ("Army of Darkness") and Vernon Dobtcheff ("Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade") each have a warm presence as the monks who give Elizabeth a nice welcome, while Jeremy West is very good as Brother Marinus, a humourless stiff who distrusts her presence. Feodor Chaliapin Jr. is touching as the terminally ill Brother Terrel. And viewers are certain to remember cast member Brett Porter as the creepy possessed albino.
Production design (by Giovanni Natalucci) and cinematography (by Sergio Salvati) are first rate, and special effects are good but kept to a minimum.
Fans of 1980s horror who love discovering the more obscure offerings may find this to be very respectable and interesting.
Eight out of 10.
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