Legend Has It: The Paris Catacombs Tape

          Before we get into things, be sure to watch the video we’ll be discussing. Keep in mind that the only publicly available clip of this footage is from ABC’s Scariest Places On Earth. Which we will get into later on in this post.

The Catacombs

          Context for this video is very important. Some of you may be wondering what the Paris Catacombs are (I doubt it, considering my subject matter, but let’s cover all of our bases before going further), so we’ll go through a brief overview. In the late 17th Century, Paris was faced with a problem – they were running out of space for their dead. Cemeteries were overrun. New bodies lacked a place to rest. So Parisians went underground in a more impressive way – they utilized abandoned quarries to create a sprawling network of tunnels below the city. After an exhaustive effort that spanned 12 years, nearly 7 million bodies were laid to rest in the catacombs, the skeletons lining the tunnels, usually disassembled. It’s creepy, if we’re being honest, but so immensely interesting.
          That is the TL;DR for the catacombs, but they are truly fascinating. If you are interested in learning more, there is a list of sites for further reading at the very end of this post. I’d highly recommend pursuing them if you have some hours to kill and a macabre interest in death. You can also take a digital tour of some of the tunnels here.

The Footage

          Onto what the footage actually contains. It appears to be video from a handheld camcorder. The person holding it navigates through the narrow halls of the catacombs, sometimes stopping to pick up and examine bones. Most of the audio is the sound of footsteps and breathing from the person holding the camera. As the footage goes on, the breathing gets more frantic and panicked, as we see things painted on the walls. The person holding the camera runs past walls painted with arrows, letters, and even what seems to be a figure. And then the camera is dropped in a puddle of water as the person continues running without it.

Real or Fake?

          There is no concrete answer here, no real proof, but I’m leaning towards this footage being falsified or exaggerated. Found footage is always a topic that I am skeptical on. After the release of the Blair Witch Project, interest in the topic boomed. If we’re taking a look at the timeline here, Blair Witch hit theaters in July 1999. The Paris Catacombs footage was aired on Scariest Places On Earth in October 2000. I’m much too cynical to not notice how little time there was between those dates, and I can absolutely see this footage being orchestrated to capitalize on the popularity and frenzy that Blair Witch stirred up the year before. I’m just not buying that the footage was discovered so close to the release of one of the most popular found footage movies of all time. And if the footage was found previous to Blair Witch, why did the person who found it hold onto it for so long? How was the footage recovered from a camera that was left in a puddle? How did ABC really get a hold of it? I have too many questions to truly believe that it’s real.
          On the other hand, I would like to point out that the footage could be real, but the person filming could be alive and well. In the video we see them drop the camera and run, so who’s to say they didn’t find a way out? For all we know, the person filming could be living their life without knowing their recovered footage became an internet urban legend.
          My bottom line is that this doesn’t feel real. It feels like a found footage film- scripted and conveniently found. I don’t know if the footage is the only part of the prank, or if its discovery was orchestrated as well, but I’m leaning heavily towards a prank or an art project, something intentionally meant to creep people out. And I have to say, if that’s the case, it’s done its job quite well – after all, we’re still talking about it today, and its legend lives on. 


Further Reading

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