Canada - it’s my home and native land, and it belongs to Cathy’s Curse (1977) as well; although for decades it went from obscurity to discount box set before being rescued and restored. (Our country thanks you, Severin.) Now the film can be seen - after years of mud caked transfers - for what it really is: A truly bizarre attempt at setting The Exorcist/The Omen inside of an artsy marital drama, full of yelling, strange behaviour, and temper tantrums. And that’s just the grownups. In other words, Cathy's Curse is essential viewing for those who need a little Sturm und Drang und Flying Dolls in their lives. You know who you are.
A French co-production, Cathy’s Curse (AKA Cauchemares, and in France Une si gentille petite fille) had regional openings all across Canada in the fall, and opened in France late summer. The critics were nothing more than dismissive with this low budget shocker, and it went through the usual journey: drive-ins, video (I remember the big box!), Mill Creek staple, and finally, a boutique label. A fairy tale story to be sure, and one that earns it. The horror world needs more batshittery like Cathy’s Curse.
We open in Montreal in 1947, as a man in a fancy car pulls up to his manor, gets out, and runs inside for his daughter. “Your mother is a bitch, she’ll pay for what she did to you!” he screams at her, setting a pace for later on. (I’ve no idea what mommy did, but little Laura tells daddy that mommy took wee George with her.) They hop in the fancy car and promptly swerve out of the way of a rabbit, leaving them no choice but to crash said fancy car into a tree, have it burst into flames, and give themselves over to the movie gods.
We move forward 30 years, as George Gimble (Alan Scarfe - Murder by Phone) arrives at the estate with his wife Vivian (Beverly Murray - The Carpenter) and daughter Cathy (Randi Allen) to live, shortly after losing a newborn followed by a big old nervous breakdown courtesy of Viv. (Heady stuff to be sure; and you can be guaranteed that Murray will squeeze out every ounce of angst and despair from Vivian’s every waking moment.) Soon thereafter Cathy finds Laura’s dusty rag doll in the attic, and before you can say “Regan wet the carpet” she embarks on a crusade of terror - neighborhood kids, the maid, the local medium (my favourite kind), the drunken handyman - the likes of which this affluent Canadian suburb has never seen.
Look, we all missed out on Cathy’s Curse the first time around; my original sojourn was that big box, and the leisurely pace mixed with an impenetrable view did not jibe with a 10 year old mind. It seemed to me, even as a burgeoning horror buff, that this was lower tier stuff: Watch once and never think of it again. But for some reason, the older I get, the more I embrace the weird. No, not the intentionally avant-garde, but rather the kind of film that finds its way there through a confluence of odd choices, confusing actions, and performances belonging to three or four different films altogether.
This was French director Eddy Matalon’s first English-speaking feature; he clearly wants to bring a somber grounding to the material - a respectability, and the film’s mild attempts at shock bear out that false equivalency - which is impossible to find in a world populated by drunken Mick Fleetwood lookalike handymen, hysterical/somnambulant mothers, Shakespearian fathers, and vengeful girls from beyond the grave.
Speaking of vengeful girls, you may find yourself pondering a great many things while watching Cathy’s Curse. For instance: Who is Laura pissed off at specifically? Her still living brother? What the hell did he do? And why has she adopted their dad’s misogynistic streak as her very own? With that mouth cancelation is imminent, Laura, and I for one would back that sentiment.
To be fair, no one in Cathy’s Curse behaves in a rational manner. Murray’ Vivian vacillates between ‘luded space case and screaming matriarch; Scarfe’s theatrical take on George is initially distracting - until you realise he’s channeling Gerrit Graham’s smarm (I’m assuming unintentionally); and old sot Paul still helps little Cathy even after she kills poor Mary the maid and his dog.
The screwy, fluid, internal logic gives off an appealing Fulci sheen - sometimes Laura is in the doll, other times in Cathy, take your pick - that accounts for a good deal of the film’s charm; you may think you know where the film will end, but you’ll probably have trouble discerning how it gets there.
Cathy’s Curse isn’t a patch on its obvious comparisons; not with intention nor execution. But those films are just ideals, anyway; I’d much rather watch a film with its own ambitions than a slavish copy. And seeing as it is rightly celebrated now, apparently I’m not alone.
Cathy’s Curse is available on Blu-ray from Severin Films.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: PATRICK STILL LIVES (1980)