Cathy’s Curse Blu-ray Review (originally published 2017)
In 1947, a young girl is roasted alive in a car accident. Thirty years later, her grown brother returns to their childhood home with his mentally unstable wife and sweet daughter Cathy. But when the dead aunt’s vengeful spirit possesses the child, it will unleash an unnerving nightmare of creepy mediums, demonic dolls, and foul-mouthed moppet mayhem. (From Severin’s official synopsis)
Eddy Matalon’s Cathy’s Curse (1977) was born into obscurity, first by a lack of availability in theaters, then by bad distribution on home video. It is the victim of a lifetime of budget label DVD releases, where it festered without hype or a cult following. It doesn’t help that it is easy to confuse with two other similarly odd evil kid movies from the ‘70s – Nicholas Gessner’s The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976, which, like Cathy’s Curse, was produced in Canada) and Robert Voskanian’s The Child (1977). But Cathy’s Curse is a special brand of ‘bad’ movie; one that reminds us of other movies – namely William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976), and Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) – yet entertains us with its unique inability to recreate the successes of those movies. I suppose the obvious comparison would be other B, C, and D-list Exorcist and Carrie rip-offs, but, no matter how recognizable its faux-pas are, Cathy’s Curse still has a uniquely cringe-worthy quality. Based on the cultural components of most exploitation movies, I can only assume this uniqueness is the by-product of its French and French-Canadian roots. By that measure, it is probably the essential French-Canadian Exorcist rip-off, just as Joan Bosch’s Exorcismo (1975) is the essential Spanish Exorcist rip-off, Ovidio G. Assonitis’ Beyond the Door (Italian: Chi sei?, 1974) is the essential Italian Exorcist rip-off, and William Girdler’s Abby (1974) is the essential blaxploitation Exorcist rip-off.
It apparently took three people – Matalon himself, Myra Clément, and Alain Sens-Cazenave – to develop this admittedly ambitious, but outrageously awkward screenplay. The busy writing room sort of makes sense, considering the unequivocally muddled and random results. Perfectly competent actors struggle to portray emotionally inconsistent characters, spit out stilted expositional dialogue (I don’t think English was any of the writers’ first language), and sometimes literally narrate what they’re doing at that moment. This pleasantly amateurish and oddball screenplay is only as good as its presentation and, in this case, the real core of Cathy’s Curse’s weirdness is found in Matalon’s baffling directing choices. Sometimes, he appears capable of setting an eerie mood and gets a lot of scare mileage out of neatly-constructed quick-cut montages, but then, whenever he tries to move the plot forward, he and his editing team (that’s right – editing team – it took at least three editors to make this thing too!) either fade out/cut away before an actor has had a chance to finish their dialogue or let the footage run inordinately wrong between scenes (at one point, the camera slow-zooms into the bottom of a door for no discernible reason whatsoever). The strangest thing of all is that as the movie enters its final act, all of this nonsense, including Cathy’s arbitrarily defined powers and motives, begins to seem logical in the same way extended scenes of graphic violence seem logical in a Lucio Fulci movie and characters quietly staring at each other seems logical in a Nicolas Winding Refn movie.
Due to the aforementioned copyright issues, Cathy’s Curse has been cursed by garbage VHS-quality transfers and squeezed onto multi-film budget DVDs. Fans also had the option to suffer through a widescreen bootleg of a longer cut (probably not the complete director’s cut, though) that was reportedly ripped from a French Canadian television broadcast – meaning there was no English language option. As in the case of their same year Drive-In Massacre release, Severin had a really low bar to surmount for this Blu-ray debut, and stuff like a fresh HD transfer and multiple cuts – the director’s cut (90:44) and U.S. theatrical edit (81:49) – are merely frosting on the cake. The transfer was struck from a 2K scan of the original film materials and is presented in 1.85:1, 1080p HD. Matalon and cinematographer Jean-Jacques Tarbès utilize that oh-so-’70s soft focus technique that defines a number of low-budget thrillers/horror movies, which doesn’t lend itself to clarity and tight textures. However, the foggy effect and occasional white blow-out (an effect of the snowy exteriors) appears natural to me. Grain levels are a bit chunky, though, again, this as much a side effect of the photography choices as it is a problem with the condition of the film negatives. There are occasional signs of print damage (black dots, green blobs, brief water damage) and some of the noise has the shaky quality of telecine effects, but the overall appearance is impressive.
Cathy’s Curse is presented in its original mono sound, in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The quality of the original material is clearly rough, but the condition seems fine and Severin has done a fine job preserving and cleaning up what they had to work with. Though it was a French-Canadian production, Cathy’s Curse was obviously shot in English. The dialogue sounds as if it was recorded live (as evident from the slightly buzzy sound floor) and the lip-sync matches the words. Dialogue is consistent throughout and rarely overwhelmed by sound effects or music. The effects work is mostly incidental, but the ‘scary’ moments are imbued with some relatively aggressive and neatly-layered supernatural noises. Didier Vasseur’s DIY piano and synth score is a little off-kilter in terms of its production (I assume Mr. Vasseur was recording all of the instruments himself and keeping rhythm was a bit hard), but the quality of the melodies is actually pretty fantastic. The memorable cues and jarring discord are the loudest and cleanest components of the track.
Commentary with Brian Collins and filmmaker Simon Barrett (US cut only) – This fact-filled track features BirthMoviesDeath critic and author of Horror Movie a Day: The Book Collins and You’re Next (2011) and The Guest (2014) writer/producer Barrett waxing nostalgic about their affection for this impossibly strange film. Collins, who also had a hand in fixing up the US cut, acts as as a sort of information expert, but emphasis is put on enjoying the film, poking fun at its shortcomings, and celebrating its oddball creative choices.
Tricks and Treats (20:15, HD) – Director Eddy Matalon discusses the making of Cathy’s Curse (mostly in French), from early production, to DIY special effects techniques, car stunts, working with children, and Quebec’s harsh winter conditions.
Cathy & Mum (12:42) – Actress Randi Allen digs through a photo album/scrapbook while recalling her childhood experiences on the film with her mother (and the film’s costume designer), Joyce Allen.
Introduction to Cinematic Void screening with American Cinematheque’s Grant Moninger and James Branscome, and Collins (4:22)
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