Oh, Canada. The relatively low production costs coupled with extremely film-friendly government tax incentives see many horror films heading north of the border to the land of hockey, mounted police and Bryan Adams to shoot. Sometimes, these films end up as classics of the genre, as is the case with Prom Night and Terror Train. Other times, they end up like 1977’s Cathy’s Curse.
Cathy’s Curse begins in 1947 with a puzzling sequence showing George Gimble’s father (A History of Violence’s Peter MacNeil) rushing home to find George’s sister, Laura (Linda Koot in her only role) sitting on her bed with her doll. Laura explains to her father that her mother has left them, and has taken baby George with her. Mr. Gimble furiously packs Laura into the car and drives recklessly off until he predictably wrecks the car and both he and Laura are killed. Years later, Adult George (Alan Scarfe from “Kingdom Hospital”) returns to his father’s house and moves in with his mentally unstable wife, Vivian (East End Hustle’s Beverly Murray) and his young daughter, Cathy (Randi Allen, also her only role). While George tries to get his family adjusted to their new home, Cathy wanders up to the attic and finds a creepy doll and a creepier portrait of a young girl. The portrait is of Laura, the dead little girl who is George’s sister and, therefore, Cathy’s aunt. After adopting the doll, Cathy begins to see Laura’s image everywhere she goes. Pretty soon, she’s exhibiting strange powers of teleportation and telekinesis. As Cathy becomes more and more possessed by the spirit of Laura, she gets more and more violent. Her parents have to find a way to break the spell or risk losing Cathy forever.
Cathy’s Curse was written and directed by Eddy Matalon (Blackout) in what looks to have been a big hurry. The movie not only screams low budget, but also has rush job written all over it. The dialogue in the script is redundant and on-the-nose (featuring gems like “you and I both know I had a nervous breakdown”). The acting is one-take bad, looking like the cast is searching more for their next line instead of their motivation. Some of the characters are flat-out ridiculous (Mary Morter’s Agatha, the medium comes to mind). There are numerous plot holes and what-the-hell moments peppered throughout the film. In short, Cathy’s Curse has all the elements that make a bad movie swing back around to being awesome again.
There are some genuinely creepy moments in Cathy’s Curse. Aside from the spooky picture of Laura and the scary doll, there are a number of scenes that take the film from amusing to disturbing. In one scene, Cathy is playing with some neighborhood kids when she suggests that they play a game called “crash.” She then proceeds to direct the other children through a re-enactment of the car accident that killed Laura and her father. In another scene, Cathy takes advantage of her mother’s fragile mental state to convince her that she is going crazy again. As silly as the movie as a whole is, parts of Cathy’s Curse are chilling.
In many ways, Cathy’s Curse seems like a conglomeration of several other films. Because of the possession angle, it draws obvious influence from The Exorcist. Cathy’s Curse also is comparable to the reincarnation plotline of Audrey Rose and the demon-child motif of The Omen, even though it was in production at about the same time as those two higher profile films. Once Cathy’s possession is in full swing, the house itself exhibits haunted behavior that precedes The Amityville Horror by two years. Finally, going way back, the evil little girl theme is reminiscent of The Bad Seed. Cathy’s Curse feels familiar, yet still manages to stand on its own as an original film.
The visual effects in Cathy’s Curse are laughably primitive, to the point of being retro-cool. When Cathy sees Laura’s ghostly form, the spirit fades in and out through double exposure. During scenes where Cathy teleports around, the camera is turned off and on again to make her change places in the blink of an eye. In one seemingly pointless scene, the camera is time lapsed onto a plate of food while it is consumed by worms and bugs. The camera effects are pre-film school caliber, yet they are used frequently enough to look as though the filmmakers are proud of them. The simplicity gives the production a classic, British-television feel that is right at home in a movie like Cathy’s Curse.
The score for Cathy’s Curse, by Didier Vassuer (Face the Music, is one of the elements that tries to keep the film from being completely silly. Vassuer’s music goes from soft piano music in the vein of Halloween to eerie choral arrangements a la The Amityville Horror effortlessly, stopping off in the middle for some The Shining-style moog synthesizer vamps. Didier Vassuer’s versatile score is one of the difference makers in Cathy’s Curse.
Cathy’s Curse will never be remembered as one of Canada’s great cinematic exports. However, if it’s ever found included on one of those 20 for 5 dollar budget DVD sets, don’t skip it; it’s well worth the quarter that it costs.
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