(1977) Directed by Eddy Matalon; Written by Myra Clément, Eddy Matalon and Alain Sens-Cazenave; Starring: Alan Scarfe, Beverly Murray, Randi Allen, Dorothy Davis, Mary Morter and Roy Witham; Available on Blu-ray and DVD
“How can a film be a successful film if you have no stars, no production values? It can if it is a genre film. A thriller with car chases is a much too expensive affair. But a suspenseful film is easier to shoot, and it’s a genre I like.” – Eddy Matalon (from the featurette “Tricks and Treats: An Interview with Director Eddy Matalon)
One of the most eagerly anticipated blogathons of the year is the O Canada Blogathon, featuring a wealth of cinematic offerings and talent from my friendly neighbors to the north. Before I delve into this year’s cinematic offering, I’d like to give a hearty thanks to the co-hosts with the most, Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy. For my fourth O Canada Blogathon appearance, I’ve dipped deep into the well to dredge up the Canuxploitation shocker, Cathy’s Curse (not to be confused with the Everly Brothers’ iconic 1960 song, “Cathy’s Clown.”).
Cathy’s Curse (aka: Cauchemares, French for nightmares) is a mostly forgotten relic (re-discovered, thanks to the recent Severin Films Blu-ray/DVD release) from the notorious era of Canadian “tax shelter” films,* which spanned the 1970s and 1980s. During this prolific period, many filmmakers found license to go wild, and thanks to generous government tax breaks, low budget genre films flourished. This French/Canadian co-production was shot in Montreal with a mostly French crew and Canadian actors. The tight six-week schedule was made worse, thanks to the involved parties struggling to understand each other. The end result borrows heavily from such esteemed films as The Exorcist, The Omen and The Bad Seed, but manages to retain a style all its own.
* Learn more about the weird, wild history of Canadian underground cinema and tax shelter films here.
In the film’s opening scene, a father drives off into the night with his daughter, in search of their wayward wife/mother. It proves to be a short drive, as he narrowly avoids a rabbit, but veers off the road. The car bursts into flames, as cars that gently land in a ditch are prone to do, taking father and daughter with it. Several decades later, one of the surviving descendants George Gimble (Alan Scarfe), along with his family, move into the house that belonged to the man from the initial scene. Things start to get loopy as George’s daughter Cathy succumbs to the dark forces that reside in the home. Neighbor kids, the caretakers, the family dog,* and anything that crosses her path is fair game. So, is it a curse on Cathy, or is it a curse that Cathy brings upon the other family members? Well, I suppose it’s a little bit of both.
* Fun footnote: In the film, the characters refer to the dog Sneaker as “she” when it’s obviously a “he.” In the unfortunate tradition of pets and horror movies, you can probably guess the poor canine’s fate. But fear not, pet lovers, as we can see it breathing at the end of the scene.
Okay, let’s not mince words. Most of the acting is bad. How bad? Scarfe, who was apparently accustomed to working on the stage, plays family patriarch George Gimble as if he’s a character in a Shakespearean play. His theatrical gestures and cadenced intonation are all wrong for this sort of movie and setting. In one scene, he recalls a beloved childhood memory of a nude statuette, and in a later scene he handles the piece of artwork a bit too lovingly, to the point where – look, if he weren’t already home, I would have asked him to get a room. Beverly Murray plays his emotionally unstable wife Vivian. I’m not sure what sort of direction she was given, but Murray makes sure she injects histrionics into every scene. The only one who does a halfway decent job is Randi Allen as Cathy, in her first and only film role. She feels the call from a creepy doll in the attic which harbors the spirit of her long-dead aunt Laura (the girl in the opening scene). But the fact that her deceased relative’s spirit inhabits the doll doesn’t exactly provide the motivation for Cathy to go on a murderous rampage or spout hateful dialogue. Judging by the first scene, there was no indication Laura was evil, unless dying in a fiery auto crash somehow transformed her into a malevolent force. In a scene reminiscent of Linda Blair’s demonic tirade in The Exorcist (sans the theological gravitas), Cathy spews a litany of profanity that elicits more laughs than scares.
The filmmakers attempt to enhance the film with some not-so-special effects. In one of the movie’s lo-fi highlights, the evil doll flies across the room, into Cathy’s hands. How was this example of movie magic achieved? According to the director, it was simply some monofilament and a fishing rod. In another scene, there’s a ghostly portrait of Laura with glowing eyes. Instead of an optical effect, we can clearly see it’s been doctored with green lights. When Cathy uses telekinesis to shatter George’s beloved statuette into a million pieces, this was achieved by a marksman and a rifle (Actually, this effect works quite well). When the elderly groundskeeper gets liquored up (with a little help from Cathy – Who else?), Matalon and company simulated the effects of delirium tremens with all manner of creepy crawlies.*
* According to Matalon, “We went to a pet shop and asked for the weird stuff.”
I’m hesitant to employ the overused phrase, “so bad it’s good.” First of all, Cathy’s Curse, by just about any definition, is not a good movie. Is it entertaining? Sure. Also, keep in mind this was made on a shoestring budget, for a fraction of a Hollywood production, and frankly, it’s more fun than most of the stuff that comes out of Tinseltown. Sure, the dialogue and over-the-top scenes are laughable, but this is exactly what makes it such an enjoyable romp. While it might be a stretch to call this movie a lost treasure, you could do a lot worse on a Saturday night.