If it can be said that the freshest of the fresh artistic creations bubble up from "underground," then it should come as no surprise that the vast network of tunnels that comprise the coiled entrails of Paris' infamous catacombs has long served as a place where creative Parisians bent on escaping the trappings of society, hemmed in by signs and signifiers girding the city's surface, retreat to the "freedom" of the damp and hard-cut, cramped lawlessness that thrives beneath the streets, expressing themselves with dim-lit abandon. Veteran graffiti artist Psyckoze has spent more than 25 years traversing, tagging, sculpting and mapping the catacombs beneath Paris, a perilous proclivity that makes the documentary Dead Space infinitely watchable.
The Parisian catacombs have always held a certain fascination, whether it be a fear of the dark-generated late night creepshow vibe (must be because of all those skulls 'n' things down in there) or a more sensationalist ghost-hunters of "reality" television programming feel, the mere mention of the mysterious, bone littered underworld beneath the French capitol always stirs the imagination. In following Psyckoze on several adventures throughout the underground maze, documentary film-makers Marielle Quesney and Jean Labourdette nearly destroy their camera (they claim it was held together by duct tape by the end of shooting) and find themselves lost on more than one occasion while Pyschoze, or Psy, encounters graffiti and scrawls of years (sometimes hundreds of years) gone by, often stopping to update his own tags with the fresh designs of his evolved artistic style, and discovers a myriad of threats and claims laid by various catacomb clans, gangs (like the Rats, who were prominent in the eighties) and wanderers who have at one time or another called the catacombs home. There is even a faction of preservationist catacombers who seek to stop taggers like Psy, arguing that the tunnels should be cleaned and restored to their natural sandstone tones (which is not unreasonable, really, when you consider the quarry origins of the catacombs, which were once used to mine and transport building materials as far back as 1000 years).
Shot on a shoestring budget over the course of two years, Dead Space follows Psy as he conducts a surprisingly cohesive tour of the catacombs below Paris (clad in his habitual rubber boots and mining helmet catacomb gear), stopping here and there to highlight several of the more famous subterranean hang-outs like "the Beach" (a large, sandy chamber with a huge painting of a wave --- styled after Hokusai's famous woodblock print --- where parties often rage underground for days) and revealing Psy's personal secret hideaways, including his "castle" --- a sprawling freehand relief sculpture of breasts, faces, battlements and turrets comprising what has to be Psy's ultimate psychedelic masterpiece, laden with personal significance (example: Psy carved a turret in the castle for every year his good friend and fellow catacomber spent locked up in a Thai jail, nine altogether). However, it is clear that most folks who venture down into the catacombs have something other than artistic creation and personal reflection in mind.