Severin Films give the red carpet Blu-ray treatment to the obscure, oddball French-Canadian EXORCIST rip-off CATHY'S CURSE.
In 1947, Robert Gimble (Peter MacNeill, WHISPERS) comes home to discover that his wife has run off with their young son George, leaving behind him and daughter Laura (Linda Koot). An enraged Gimble takes Laura with him as he tries to catch up with is wife and son but runs the car off the road, killing him and leaving his daughter to burn alive hating her mother. Thirty years later, George (Alan Scarfe, BABYLON 5) returns to the family home with his wife Vivian (Beverly Murray, SWEET MOVIE) – who has just suffered a nervous breakdown after losing their baby – and eight-year-old daughter Cathy (Randi Allen) who quickly discovers a rag doll with covered eyes in the attic and becomes possessed by embittered Laura. With George away at an all-consuming construction job, Vivian starts to lose her fragile hold on reality as Cathy's behavior changes ("All women are bitches") and suspects that she is behind the seemingly accidental death of the housekeeper (Dorothy Davis, THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE) and more strange accidents to come.
A North American rip-off of THE EXORCIST (with a side of CARRIE) shot in Montreal, CATHY'S CURSE is simultaneously amateurish and striking. The half-baked plot throws in various elements like a police investigation, a medium (Mary Morter, WICKER PARK) who receives impressions from inanimate objects but who seems more nosy than concerned, and a drunken gardener (Roy Witham) who the film cannot decide during his substantial screen time is a possible perverse substitute for Cathy's absence father or a victim she is toying with for an extended period while not really addressing why Cathy's issues with her parents or why Laura develops an all-consuming hatred from beyond the grave because her father says "Your mother's a bitch." The chilly, snowbound setting and main Victorian house location are suitably atmospheric, the photography generally accomplished, and the piano/synthesizer score offbeat if not altogether memorable while the DIY special effects are at least well-executed if not particularly ambitious. The performances, on the other hand, are quite uneven, with Scarfe going all "Shakespearean actor" on even the most throwaway dialogue, Murray sounding more stilted than shell-shocked, and Witham entertainingly off-the-rails. Presumably, the inconsistency of tone was partially the result of the language barrier between the mostly Toronto-based cast and the French filmmaker and Quebecois crew, and the independent film attitude of the period that a genre product is a safe bet for funding and half-way decent distribution prospects.
Not released stateside until 1980 in the United States by the pre-Menahem Golan 21st Century Film Corporation – which might explain the title cards exclusive to the US version that situate the present day part of the story in 1979 rather than thirty-years later in 1977 – CATHY'S CURSE went to tape via Continental Video (who released other 21st Century properties like CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD and THE RETURN OF THE ALIENS: THE DEADLY SPAWN), and that tape has been the source of many a putrid-looking DVD bootleg including a doubly-compressed Mill Creek fifty-movie set edition. A widescreen DVD with scenes from the longer French Canadian cut reinserted was available briefly from Retrosploitation but Severin's Blu-ray features the longer cut (90:44) entirely in English along with a digital recreation of the US version (81:49) in 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen. The image is clean and colorful apart from the rare speck or scratch. White's bloom in some shots without blowing out but this appears to be the result of lens flare or diffusion since the rest of the image seems otherwise stable. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track (on both versions) is clean and crisp, drawing attention to the piano and early synthesizer score of Didier Vasseur (BLACKOUT). Optional English SDH subtitles are provided for both versions as well.
The US version is accompanied by an uneven audio commentary BirthMoviesDeath critic Brian Collins and filmmaker Simon Barrett (YOU'RE NEXT). Barrett discusses the ways in which the film's deficits, like its overly expository dialogue and incoherent editing (details flit by during the first half while the second half draws things out), make the film a favorite of his while Collins – who first came across the film while doing his horror-movie-a-day-for-a-year reviewing – points out how the footage removed from the US version often obfuscates plot points in spite of the text screens added to this version. Lost in the US version is the introduction of Mary and Paul (whose expository exchange reveals the Gimbles' loss of their second child), the introduction of neighbor Margaret (Renée Girard, THE UNCANNY) and her children (one of whom was child actress Allen's brother Bryce), as well the first half of a breakfast scene in which Cathy's repeated recitation of "Jack and Jill" causes Vivian to snap at her.
In "Tricks and Treats" (20:15), director Eddy Matalon (SWEET KILLING) reveals that the film should be considered a French production, and that it was mounted in the winter because of the tax shelter program that required films to be finished before December 31st to qualify (with people often waiting until the last minute to see how much money they could invest and not pay taxes on). He also discusses the low budget special effects (telekinesis by fishing line, an expert marksman rather than pyrotechnics to blow up furnishings), the cast, and child actress Allen during the lake scene and having to wear latex make-up for the climax. Collins pops up again in video from the introduction to Cinematic Void screening of the film at American Cinematheque (4:22). In "Cathy & Mum" (12:42), Allen reveals that she had done a few commercials before she and her mother were approached by Matalon for the film, being naïve about horror films in general and the specifics of the script, and her fond memories of the production as well as the more trying moments like the lake scene and the foul language in the script. Her mother Joyce Allen was put in charge of the wardrobe to keep an eye on her daughter on the set and provides her scrapbook from the film for perusal. The film's theatrical trailer (2:36) has also been recreated in widescreen with cuts back to a 1.33:1 and compressed-looking title card. In this point in the physical media era where most companies are reissuing nevertheless welcome improved editions of films already available, it is gratifying to see Severin take a chance on a more obscure genre effort. (Eric Cotenas)
BACK TO REVIEWS