The film that puts the “uh??” back in Canuxploitation. Much like the titular character in Cathy’s Curse, the home that begot the film put its very soul at risk. The Canadian government, aiming to jumpstart the country’s fledgling cinema scene in the 1970s, instituted an enormous tax credit for any production of a feature film in the country. While this paved the way for the likes of David Cronenberg, Ivan Reitman, and Bob Clark, it also opened the floodgates to the seediest of American producers and Hollywood outcasts looking to abuse the tax haven. According to writer Paul Corupe, this period “is generally considered a shameful episode of [Canada’s] history, during which the film industry sold its soul to a crassly commercial and deviously philistine Mephistopheles.”
Hundreds of low-budget oddities aping the Roger Corman fast n’ cheap exploitation model were made during this time period, which is now lovingly referred to as the Canuxploitation cycle. Though these films hit all the requisite marks of exploitation filmmaking, they were still distinctly Canadian. Similar themes and elements pervaded the scene, such as geographic isolation, blue collar characterizations, community, the indifference of the natural world, and body horror. And despite the sheer glut of sleazy commercialism, bona fide classics emerged—films like William Fruet’s Death Weekend, Cronenberg’s The Brood, Peter Carter’s Rituals, and Bob Clark’s Black Christmas. Yet, for every My Bloody Valentine, there was also a Humongous, The Pit, and…Cathy’s Curse.
Having forever languished in public domain obscurity and on disreputable DVD multi-packs, Cathy’s Curse is now ready to be seen in all its glory, thanks to Severin’s Blu-ray release last year. As for that loud rumbling noise you hear? It must be your stomach, because it sure wasn’t the world clamoring for a pristine 2K restoration of this 1977 Exorcist rip-off. However, Severin being Severin, no expense is spared, and thus, we can finally see Cathy’s Curse much more clearly for what it is: considerably more ambitious than a run-of-the-mill Exorcist rip-off film. For instance, it’s also an Omen, Don’t Look Now, Carrie, and Audrey Rose rip-off film.
Directed by Eddy Matalon, who doesn’t even have a hyperlink on Wikipedia, the movie is impossible to spoil—primarily because you won’t be able to discern from the film itself what I’m summarizing here. The movie opens in 1947 with a father returning home to discover his wife has left him, presumably for calling her a “bitch” every five seconds in front of their children. She has absconded with their son, George, so the angry misogynist gathers the not-so-lucky daughter, Laura, into his car and heads out into the snowy night in search of his wayward wife. And in perhaps the most under-utilized plot device ever, a bunny rabbit crosses the road in front of the car, sending father and daughter careening into the ditch, where the car explodes faster than a milk truck in The Simpsons.
Cut to present day 1977. Grown-up George (Alan Scarfe) and wife (Beverly Murray) move into his childhood home abandoned since that fateful night thirty years ago. Their preteen daughter Cathy (played surprisingly well by Randi Allen) finds a doll in the attic possessed by the pissed-off spirit of George’s dead sister, Laura. As evil souls are wont to do, it jumps from doll to girl, and the narrative locomotion that is Cathy’s Curse begins.
Locomotion in the technical sense, as the story does indeed move forward, albeit inch by painful inch. That’s not too much of a deal-breaker, though, because we are forced to live almost cinéma vérité in this wacky world that somehow took three writers and three editors (!) to conceive. Bizarre things begin happening around the house, such as a maid falling to her death from a second story window (cough— The Omen —cough, cough) and Cathy taking up a healthy appreciation for curse words. George works long hours at his construction job and doesn’t believe his wife, Vivian, who insists that something is truly wrong with the house and their daughter, because as he puts it, her mind is “fragile” (obviously, misogyny genes are inheritable). We do learn from some truly witty dialogue that Vivian has suffered from past mental instabilities: “You know and I know I had a nervous breakdown.”
The film then descends into next-level-even-Fulci-makes-sense-in-comparison levels of nonsense. A police detective is introduced early on to investigate the death of the maid, and one gets the impression his arc will be a major thoroughfare to the heart of the ongoing mystery—but after his one scene, we never seen him again. George and Vivian hire an old drunk to look after Cathy in their absence. There’s a convenient neighborhood medium who does battle with Cathy.
Speaking of which, Cathy’s powers are never fully explained or given any kind of consistency. She can teleport, make food rot and unrot, give people hallucinations, and above all, she becomes the best open book thesaurus for profanity and misogynistic lingo this side of a Reddit thread. At one point, she screams “all women are bitches!” as she’s trying to poke another little girl’s eye out with a stick. Rawwwwrrrrr…
Cathy’s Curse is nowhere in the ballpark of being a good film, but there is a lot to chew on for fans of this sort of thing. Despite the odds, the cold, wintry atmosphere lends the film a nice gothic edge it can’t seem to conjure with the script. The acting is more than passable; one can see these are trained actors reading horrendous lines that were destined to fall flat due to the half French/half English production. Randi Allen is no Linda Blair, but it’s also a slightly different type of role than that of Regan. Where Regan was mostly confined to a bed and covered in makeup, Cathy is walking around the house, yelling at people, and causing general mischief, and Allen nails the affect and look that’s required of a sinister kid movie. Taken together, the film isn’t necessary viewing from the Canuxploitation cycle, but it will garner a certain cachet with the midnight-viewing crowd.