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Film Review: Cathy’s Curse (1977)

SYNOPSIS:

Eight-year-old Cathy and her family return to their ancestral family home where she falls under the spell of a vengeful ghost. Once possessed by the evil spirit, Cathy starts cursing like a David Mamet play and killing anyone who challenges her power.

REVIEW:

CATHY’S CURSE is one of the legions of low budget films that rode the coat tails of The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976). These imitations had a tawdry charm, particularly the Italian retreads like 1974’s Beyond the Door. Cathy’s Curse is a rare Canadian foray into the demonic child realm. Though it lacks the sleazy exuberance of its Italian cousins it’s still worth a look. But be warned, you have to pick through a lot of chaff to get to the wheat.

Cathy’s Curse opens with a flashback to 1947, where an angry father, who’s long 1970’s era hair would have earned him a 1940’s era beat down, returns home to discover his wife has run off. For reasons never explained, she’s taken along his son, Alan but left behind his daughter Laura. Thankfully there’s a title card that clarifies all this stuff because it’s kind of murky. Dad grabs his daughter, hops in the car and races off to track down his runaway wife. Unfortunately, the car runs off the road, lands in a ditch and bursts into flames. Daddy and daughter burn to death, but because of the lackluster direction, you wind up thinking, wow, it’s so sad that they burned that nice old car.

Thirty years later, the now-grown son Alan (Alan Scarfe) returns to the ancestral home with his histrionic wife Vivian (Beverly Murray) and their eight-year-old daughter Cathy (Randi Allen). An elderly couple (Roy Witham and Dorothy Davis) have been acting as caretakers, so the place is still immaculate. We don’t know why Alan’s suddenly returning home, or who’s been paying for the house’s upkeep or any other details. That may seem like petty criticism, but that inattention to detail is what threatens to sabotage the film.

Young Cathy wanders into the attic where she discovers a doll once owned by the long dead Laura. This creepy old doll is vitally important to the story, despite never getting a close up in the prologue or anywhere else in the movie. Did I mention inattention to detail? Faster than you can say “The sow is mine!” Cathy’s possessed and starts doing precocious things like blowing up statues, speaking in another voice and threatening children with bodily harm. Mom and dad, being classic 1970’s parents, barely notice that their little darling tries to gouge other children’s eyes out; she’s just going through a phase.

The evil spirit doesn’t seem to have any master plan for revenge— it just wants to be bad. At one point, I thought we were heading for a supernatural Oedipus complex, but that turned out to be wishful thinking. And, just so you know, the elderly caretakers aren’t hiding a dark family secret, there’s no lost artifact on the property the ghost wants uncovered and there’s no hidden secret uncovered by the psychic shedding new light on Laura’s tragic death— so just get those crazy ideas out of your head. Once again, a little bit of flourish from the screenwriter could have lifted Cathy’s Curse from blandness into something kind of cool. But don’t worry; the film still has a secret weapon that redeems it.

What rescues Cathy’s Curse is Randi Allen’s knockout performance as the title character. Despite this being her first (and only) screen appearance, she effortlessly carries the film on her youthful back. Her evil glare and unrestrained delight at spewing insults like “Fat bitch,” just warms your heart. This sweet-faced potty-mouthed moppet delivers the goods every time she steps on screen. I loved the scene where she threatens the psychic by calling her, “A dried up old whore!” In another scene she goads her elderly babysitter into getting stinking drunk (he doesn’t need much encouragement) then makes snakes, rats and spiders appear before his booze sodden eyes; it’s cinematic gold.

As for the rest of the cast… They’re terrible. The only exception is Roy Whitham as the drunken caretaker/babysitter who has genuine chemistry with Randi Allen. I’m not sure if his utter delight in Cathy’s verbal assault on the psychic was scripted, but it’s great. By the way, if you let this guy babysit your child, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in family therapy.

Some of the film’s shortcomings may be rooted in its Canadian origin. There were some terrific seventies Canadian genre films like Black Christmas (1974) and the pioneering works of David Cronenberg. But at that time, Canuck filmmakers had a tendency to dismiss horror films, deeming the genre beneath them. I think that’s why the script for Cathy’s Curse never bothered to add the creative nuances that border on common sense screenwriting— they just wanted to make a quick buck and get back to shooting documentaries about the historical significance of snowshoes and the migratory patterns of moose. I’m Canadian, so I’m allowed to say these things.

But despite the lackluster script and direction, Cathy’s Curse is ninety minutes of Poutine drenched fun, mostly because of the tour de force performance by that tiny dynamo Randi Allen.

Unfortunately, like many low-budget pictures, Cathy’s Curse somehow fell into the public domain, sentencing it to the purgatory of fifty movie Mill Creek style DVD sets. These were all mastered from ancient VHS transfers and look like they’re printed on rye toast. But in 2016, Severin Films lovingly restored Cathy’s Curse to full Blu-Ray splendor— and it turns out the movie actually wasn’t shot in gravy speckled beige! The transfer looks great and best of all you get an interview with the now grown up Randi Allen.

So open a couple bottles of Labatt’s and checkout Cathy’s Curse, if only for the sheer joy of watching a sweet-faced child doing horrible things to terrible actors.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Director’s Cut
  • Alternate U.S. Release Cut
  • Tricks And Treats: An Interview with Director Eddy Matalon
  • Cathy & Mum: Interview with Actress Randi Allen and Costume Designer Joyce Allen
  • Audio Commentary on U.S. Cut by BirthMoviesDeath critic Brian Collins and Filmmaker Simon Barrett
  • Introduction to Cinematic Void Screening At American Cinematheque by BirthMoviesDeath Critic Brian Collins
  • Theatrical Trailer

Cathy’s Curse (1977) is now available on bluray per Severin Films

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