BR: Cathy’s Curse (1977)

April 28, 2017 | By

Film: Weak

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label: Severin Films

Region: A, B. C

Released: April 11, 2017

Genre:  Horror / Supernatural / CanCon / Canuxploitation

Synopsis: A father’s daughter is periodically possessed by the angry spirit of his sister, who was BBQ’d in a car accident decades earlier.

Special Features: Includes Director’s Cut (91 mins.) + Alternate U.S. Release Cut (82 mins.) / 2 Interviews: “Tricks And Treats: An Interview with Director Eddy Matalon” in French with English subtitles (20:15) +  “Cathy & Mum: Interview with Actress Randi Allen and Costume Designer Joyce Allen” (12:41) / Audio Commentary on U.S. Cut by BirthMoviesDeath critic Brian Collins and Filmmaker Simon Barrett / Introduction to Cinematic Void Screening At American Cinematheque by BirthMoviesDeath Critic Brian Collins (4:27) / Theatrical Trailer.




After a long period of illegal availability and ersatz public domain releases, Eddy Matalon’s riff on The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976) makes its way to Blu-ray in a striking special edition, sporting both the shorter U.S. cut and the original director’s cut, but after years of intriguing descriptions in posts and reviews by the few who sought out and sat down to view this CanCon fromagerie, Cathy’s Curse isn’t for every genre connoisseur.

The actual story isn’t incoherent nor are the characters wafer-thin; it’s the filmic execution that sometimes resembles a film debut by a hack film student. The script co-written by Matalon, one-time scribe Myra Clement, and second unit director Alain Sens-Cazenave’s starts with a 1947 flashback in which a father (barely recognizable Peter MacNeill) drags his daughter away from his unseen “bitch” of a mother, only to die together in a fiery car crash. Decades later, her very adult brother George Gimble (steel-jawed, master thespian Alan Scarfe) returns to the mothballed estate that’s been kept intact by loyal servants Paul (Roy Witham), a drunk, and Mary (Dorothy Davis), a British fussy-foot.

Neither Paul’s wife Vivian (striking Beverly Murray) nor daughter Cathy (Randi Allen) seem to share his nostalgia for the old place, its mass of nick-knacks, nor the ambiance of the stately home, and Cathy’s arrival stirs up the angry, BBQ’d spirit of his sister. Neither a ditsy medium nor anyone else is able to properly communicate nor temper the disturbed spirit who sometimes inhabits Cathy and provides her with special powers – tossing & shattering devices, conjuring hallucinatory experiences, and reappearing in corners like a malevolent ghost – or sometimes inhabits a weird doll whose eyes were sewn shut eons ago. There’s also a portrait of the dead girl in the cluttered attic, whose green glued-on eyes glow when a tantrum is simmering.

Matalon piles on weird for weirdness sake without much cohesion, and you’d think mom’s bath being transformed into a literal blood bath (actual pig’s blood) with leeches would permanently keep her far away from the house, or the sudden death of Mary as she’s thrust outward from a second floor bedroom by a possessed Cathy. Nope, Vivian keeps coming home, even after a brief sojourn at a loony bin we never seen due to budgetary restrictions. We also never see Paul’s work; it isn’t until the very end we’re told he’s in construction, inferred by a shiny hardhat he carries under the arm; and in a short scene in which he’s standing by a phone surrounded by tools, and bombarded by off-screen late night construction racket that should’ve resulted in fines.

The low-fi visual effects are fine, the brief bouts of gore slimy, and trick visuals transcend this otherwise very low budget production, but stilted performances, inept dialogue, schizophrenic characterizations, jumbled scene assembly, and spastic revelations aside (like a Doberman that’s dropped into the story, is initially assumed to belong to George, but is actually Paul’s pooch) are nothing compared to Matalon’s bizarre use of fadeouts. Scenes often dip to black not due to some stylistic or temporal shift, but as a means to end a scene and hope audiences won’t notice sudden leaps in time or scenes that feel like non sequiturs.

George is also an idiot, never suspecting his dead sister might be responsible for the weirdness and sudden deaths in a house he’s better off flipping for a condo. Scarfe is in restrained theatrical mode, Murray is demure, and newcomer Allen is a bit rigid but suits the cold, malicious Cathy when she’s possessed by BBQ girl. The rest of the largely unknown cast seems uncertain about whom they’re playing, and the context of what they’re doing in the handful of erratic scenes.

There are enough oddities to attract genre fans, many of whom will bond with this CanCon classique of sorts, but its qualitative potholes are too many and too deep to make this a full fromage experience. As a classic tax shelter production, the movie was shot in Montreal in chilly winter, and probably helped a few dentists deal with their gross income issues before filing, but it was also a partial French production, with most of the crew emanating from Matalon’s homeland of France, including cinematographer Jean-Jacqies Tarbes, whose prior work includes the classics La Piscine (1969), Borsalino (1970), and Borsalino and Co. (1974).

The tight production probably led to the decision to use fast film stock and real interiors, resulting in scenes where bright spots are hot, blowing out any intended subtle lighting for mood and a chilly ambiance. The colours are also super-saturated, bringing out the prime yellows, oranges, blues, and reds of the era, and adding to the film’s peculiar look that’s neither gritty docu-drama nor low-budget chic.

Severin’s restoration is pretty amazing, and the best supportive extras include an interview with now Paris-based Matalon, reflecting on the film and his time in Canada’s burgeoning film industry, casting, and locations, plus the cameras shipped from Hollywood which couldn’t handle Montreal’s winter climate. Child model-turned brief actress Randi Allen appears in a separate interview with her mother Joyce Allen (who also functioned as Costume Designer), and there’s the far too long trailer that blows every shock in the film.

Also on hand are the film’s uber fans, critic Brian Collins (Birth.Movies.Death. and Horror Movie a Day) and filmmaker Simon Barrett (screenwriter of The Guest and Blair Witch), who appear in a minor intro clip from the films’ 2K screening in the U.S., and in a commentary on the U.S. edit – the version both, if not most fans, are most familiar.

For their first recorded commentary, Barrett and Collins engage in a low-key chat, citing the film’s idiocies, charm, glaring bits of illogic, bootleg releases that look like utter crap, and chief differences between the two versions, but it’s a deeply flawed track that ultimately fails to satisfy. In many ways Severin’s disc represents the serious conundrum that still affects Canadian films shot in the 1970s and 1980s: no one up hear cares to restore and release them, nor engage in any kind of special edition to make sure the likely lone release will contextualize an important period in the country’s challenging film industry.

Nope, not licensed.

It’s more than likely Cathy’s Curse would’ve continued to circulate in terrible releases had Collins and Barrett not spotlighted the film in blogs and Facebook pages, alerting genre fans (and perhaps Severin) of its existence. But without any input from native film historians, the commentary’s a frustrating experience, especially when the sincere tone is offset by limited perspective on Canadian film. Perhaps the conundrum for labels is tracking down suitable CanCon historians and giving them the opportunity to add more value to a release’s special features; they do exist – Rue Morgue colleagues James Burrell and founder Paul Corupe immediately come to mind – but they’re not always evident or engaged by labels.

Wrong chick, right title. Bootleg, perhaps?

Moving on, the U.S. edit isn’t as awful as one might suspect because the distributor excised small moments in the first section for pacing, and more importantly, eliminated most of Matalon’s spastic fadeouts. The original title cards which hastily filled in narrative jumps in the early scenes have been recreated for the U.S. edit, and Didier Vasseur’s part piano, part synth score doesn’t seem to suffer as much from the cuts. It’s still recommended to watch Matalon’s original version, though, and enjoy the What the hell was he thinking? moments that permeate so much of this CanCon oddity.

Matalon and producer Nicole Boisvert collaborated on what’s perhaps their best-known film, Blackout (1978), and T’inquiète pas, ça se soigne (1980). His other CanCon credits include Sweet Killing (1993) and the story for Sidney J. Furie’s Partners in Action (2002).

Prolific stage, film, and TV actor Alan Scarfe also appeared in the CanCon classique Murder by Phone / Bells (1982) and the superlative Joshua Then and Now (1985), whereas Beverly Murray’s filmography is fairly modest. Recalled by Matalon as a rather sensitive actress, her small film roles (Dusan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie, Jerry Schtazberg’s Street Smart, David Wellington’s The Carpenter) were minor, and her TV work was sometimes done under the name Eve Napier, such as Shades of Love: Champagne for Two (1987), by CanCon pioneer and The Mask (1961) director Julian Roffman.



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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