One of the most widely seen tax shelter horror films will get a much needed upgrade when Severin Films unleashes their Blu-ray of CATHY’S CURSE on April 11. A fixture in public domain horror sets, this France/Canada co-production has only been available in faded, scratched and choppy versions–at least until this new release, which will give both fans and detractors reason to revisit the film to see what they’ve been missing out on all these years.
The first Canadian-shot film from French director Eddy Matalon, CATHY’S CURSE is an unabashed rip-off of child possession films like The Exorcist and The Omen, only in this case young Cathy (Randi Allen) is possessed by the spirit of Laura, her father’s sister, who died in a fiery car accident when she was just a girl. Cathy begins carrying around a creepy doll that once belonged to Laura, and talking with a spooky portrait painting with glowing green eyes. Ignoring warnings from a local psychic (Mary Morter), the family is taken aback when vases start exploding, people fall out of windows and Cathy’s poor mother is sent to a mental institution as Laura turns everyone’s life into a living hell.
Shot on the cheap in Montreal in the winter of 1976, the film isn’t quite as accomplished as some of the other Canadian horror films being made at this point during the tax shelter era. Laden with awkward dialogue, a confusing storyline and limited locations, CATHY’S CURSE nevertheless has a few charms which have only really become apparent on this new release. For the first time, you’ll be able to catch the fully uncut 90-minute version (an 82-minute US cut is also here, for completists) and the vibrant new 1.85:1 transfer really opens up the film–shots no longer feel cramped and confined, and the sometimes colourful scenes help perk up the action and restore the film’s much needed visual interest (especially for fans of gaudy ’70s wallpaper). In other words, it finally looks like a real movie, rather than something pirated off of late-night TV. Set largely in and around a snowy estate, with a handful of shots in chilly downtown Montreal, the film also now has a similar atmosphere and feel to other Canadian tax shelter productions like The Uncanny or Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia.
It’s amazing that a proper transfer can have such a profound effect on the viewing experience, and while I still won’t concede that CATHY’S CURSE is a forgotten masterpiece, this release at least tries to make a case for it. Seen with fresh eyes, the film’s minimal but occasionally bloody FX have a simple, DIY charm, and some of the nuances of the performances–especially from Allen–are now apparent. Though a few of the actors seem to have conflicting ideas about what the film’s tone is supposed to be, they still manage to work together and even generate a little sympathy for these characters, who really are a the mercy of the ghost that has taken over their little girl.
Severin’s release is topped off with a nice smattering of extra features. In a 20-minute interview shot in France, Matalon discusses some of his FX work and the challenges of shooting in Quebec during the tax shelter era. Now an adult, Randi Allen also appears in a separate featurette to talk about her experiences working on the film, along with her mother, who was the film’s costume designer. Together they share some nice memories and part of a scrapbook that includes vintage newspaper articles and advertising for the film. Finally, there’s an enthusiastic fan commentary from critic Brian Collins and filmmaker Simon Barrett, and Collins appears again giving an introduction to the film at the American Cinematheque centered on his personal viewing experience. It all rounds out a welcome and eye-opening release worthy of possession.