The 13th Floor

The Creepy Story Behind the Infamous “Lost in the Catacombs” Video

Long before it gained worldwide viral notoriety, the footage you’re about to see was part of a documentary which aired in slightly different versions on multiple TV networks in the early 2000s — most notably a Halloween special on ABC Family (now Freeform) and SCARIEST PLACES ON EARTH on the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy).

The original film, directed by Francis Freedland, included segments of camcorder footage shot in the vast and ancient Catacombs of Paris in the early 1990s by an unidentified man, whose camera was allegedly discovered many years later by an anonymous group of illicit tomb explorers (known as “cataphiles”). Those who found the camera — caked with dust and mold, but still intact — claimed the contents of the tape inside were both terrifying and tragic.

Image Credit: Francis Freedland
Image Credit: Francis Freedland/YouTube

Freedland’s film reveals how the unnamed explorer is becoming increasingly disoriented as he moves through the passageways of crumbling stone and human bones, illuminated only by the camera’s light. With each new turn of the subterranean labyrinth, it’s soon apparent the man has no idea where he is… or how he’s going to get back to the surface.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the history and hazards of the Paris Catacombs, here’s the short version…

Image Credit: iStock/kjschoen
Image Credit: iStock/kjschoen

Dating back to the late 18th century, the underground passageways were created in part to deal with a lack of available cemetery space and the increasing problem of mass graves. Over the course of the next century, a network of former mining tunnels was steadily re-purposed into tombs, and human remains were ceremonially transferred to their new underground resting place. Today, the Catacombs are a vast, city-spanning maze sprawling nearly 200 miles, most of it more than 100 feet below street level… and historians estimate these tunnels contain the bones of more than six million dead.

Image Credit: iStock/Dirk94025
Image Credit: iStock/Dirk94025

Now for the really scary part: over the course of more than three centuries, countless numbers of people have ventured into the so-called “Empire of the Dead” — which has been a popular tourist attraction since the late 1800s. But several adventurers who either slipped in through the main entrance (Barrière d’Enfer, or “Gate of Hell”), or one of several secret “unofficial” entry points — said to connect to certain metro tunnels or city sewers — were never seen or heard from again.

That brings us back to our unknown explorer, whose disturbing video has been the source of speculation, controversy and more than a few nightmares for more than a decade and a half. Since Freedland’s documentary first aired, the footage has been discussed and analyzed on dozens of paranormal websites, and was recently featured on Zak Bagans’ TV series GHOST ADVENTURES. The footage may also have inspired the found-footage film AS ABOVE SO BELOW — some of which was filmed in or near the same tunnels where the explorer’s lost camera was discovered.

Image Credit: Francis Freedland
Image Credit: Francis Freedland/YouTube

While the true origins of the footage have yet to be confirmed, skeptics have dismissed the video as a fake, likely staged by the creators of the TV special, or possibly by Freedland himself. But others claim certain mysterious sounds can be heard on the tape after digital enhancement, and cryptic markings found later by Freedland on the tunnel walls (shown above), suggest that the man stumbled upon something he wasn’t meant to see… or something that no human has seen and survived.

Curiously, although the camera operator’s name is never given in the documentary, he is described as an experienced cataphile himself, with extensive knowledge of the tunnels derived from historical maps and many prior expeditions. This raises the most pressing question in ongoing discussions about the footage: why would such a seasoned explorer suddenly panic, drop his only apparent light source, and run frantically into complete darkness, ensuring he would likely never be found alive again?

Image Credit: Francis Freedland
Image Credit: Francis Freedland/YouTube

Today that question remains unanswered — and at this point, it seems unlikely the mystery will be solved to anyone’s satisfaction. That is, of course, unless the man who actually dropped that camera either comes forward with the full story… or his body is found, somewhere deep within a hellish maze of stone and bone.

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