There’s an interview in David Kerkes’ “Xerox Ferox” (a fantastic book on film zine culture that should be on your bookshelf. Is it not? Go check. If not, order it, then come back.) in which one of film zine’s early pioneers mention that the culture of obsessive research and discussion about a film by one person has moved to DVDs, with special editions serving the needs of detail once carried in print. The addition of commentary tracks, interviews and extended versions that restore films to their original intention could now present not only the movie itself, but extensive histories and commentaries about the work.
It’s a comparison that’s fully justified by Severin’s new Blu-ray release of the 1976 Canuxploitation killer kid pic CATHY’S CURSE, a film that, like their previous release DRIVE-IN MASSACRE, is almost invisible in its omnipresence. Its questionable legal status has resulted in the film showing up on countless cut-rate DVD sets of horror films, not to mention solo releases with misleading cover art. Its ubiquity on low-rent DVDs is especially surprising as the film is barely remembered from the VHS days, appearing in a pair of big-box releases by Continential and Planet Video in the early ‘80s before vanishing completely.
These releases are mentioned twice in the extra materials on Severin’s disc, and the detail devoted to many aspects of the film makes this presentation a virtual interactive movie zine dedicated to the movie itself. And who but the most devoted genre fan would put so much obsessive effort into an otherwise forgotten piece of genre trash? In the ‘80s, it was the likes of Chas. Balun and Bill Landis – now it’s the good folks at Severin.
It’s not that CATHY’S CURSE isn’t an interesting film. Directed by French filmmaker Eddy Matalon and shot in the Montreal area as a way to take advantage of Canada’s lenient tax codes around film production, CATHY’S CURSE arrived in the shadow of such hits as THE EXORCIST, CARRIE, and THE OMEN, one of a huge number of lower-rent supernatural shockers meant to cash in on their big-budget brethren.
But CATHY’S CURSE has some very unique charms, so it’s no wonder why Birth.Movies.Death writer Brian Collins became so enamored with the film, even in its prior editions that shaved ten minutes off of the running time and presented a transfer so washed-out and poorly-framed that it was virtually impossible to appreciate. Thankfully, the efforts of Collins and the Severin team saw the diamond in the rough, restoring the film to its original 91 minute cut with a new 2k transfer that looks fantastic.
There isn’t any particularly noteworthy about the plot of CATHY’S CURSE. After the opening sequence involving the car-related deaths of a father and daughter, we cut to decades later, when the son of the doomed prologue family is moving back in to the family home with his wife Vivian (Beverly Murray) and young daughter, Cathy (Randi Allen). Having recently lost a child during childbirth, Vivian is psychologically fragile, so when Cathy starts acting up in bizarre ways, Vivian’s warnings about her are ignored. Cathy, however, has taken an interest in a doll left at the house and soon becomes possessed by her deceased aunt, a spirit anxious to use her niece’s body to wreak supernatural havoc on the family and anyone else who gets into the house.
At least, that’s a fair assumption as to what’s happening. What gives CATHY’S CURSE an insular charm is how vague and nonsensical many of these events are, even in the original cut that provides some context to scenes that are otherwise inexplicable. (Vivian’s losing a child, for example, is completely excised from the shorter version, as are the introductions of several characters.) Some characters barely react to the mysterious goings on, and others react in ways that make little sense – Vivian doesn’t even bat an eye when her daughter begins teleporting all over the house. Even Cathy’s possession is vague and unexplained – what’s the end goal? Did the aunt inhabit the doll? What happened to the mother in the first place? Was there some sort of back story to any of this that explains what the hell is happening at any given point?
There may have been, but any sort of explanation was gone by the editing phase, rendering CATHY’S CURSE into a compellingly delirious “killer kid” pic with the feel of a regional American film like THE CHILD or FRIDAY THE 13th: THE ORPHAN, only with slightly less coherence. Even the performances don’t feel like they’re part of the same movie, with Alan Scarfe’s Dad sporting a classic Hollywood accent and Roy Witham’s handyman Paul coming off as though he just wandered in from the set of a Florida nudie film about moonshiners. Add in the inexplicable appearance (and equally inexplicable disappearance) of a “medium” that vaguely resembles William Finley in drag, and you’ve got a recipe for an evening of absurd entertainment. Sure, CATHY’S CURSE is never actually scary – you’re too busy being puzzled to get actual shivers – but it’s never dull.
There is no aspect about CATHY’S CURSE that’s not at least partially covered by Severin’s spectacular presentation, and the VHS-grade FBI warning that opens the disc serves as a nifty reminder of the film’s less pretty upbringings. The brand new transfer and the complete version of the film, along with a presentation of the shorter, American release that populated the prior DVD releases, speaks to the devotion to preservation that should sate any fan whose tastes run along more of the “Video Watchdog” (R.I.P.) line.
Meanwhile, the gleefully obsessive fanboy angle is well-represented by footage of an introduction for the film at American Cinematheque by Cinematheque programmer Grant Moninger, Cinematic Void host James Brascome and Brian Collins, whose enthusiasm for the film is a primary reason it’s received such a lavish release. A commentary track with Collins and writer Simon Barrett (YOU’RE NEXT, THE GUEST) adds to the zine-line tone, and while the pair doesn’t really provide any new information about the film, it’s akin to hanging out with some friends that really, really love the thing they’re watching and want you to be just as excited. Like the zines that were influenced by the exuberance of “Famous Monsters,” the CATHY’S CURSE special features are infectious love letters to their subject.
Finally, there’s what I think of as the “Psychotronic” line of zinedom, less focused on the quality of the print or the excitement of the film as it is how it all came together. For that component, there are two fine interview segments on with director Matalon and a second with Cathy herself, Randi Allen, joined by her mother Joyce, who worked on the costumes for the film. Matalon’s interview is fascinating, as he discusses the hurried nature of the production (for tax reasons, it needed to be finished by the end of the year) and mentions the misleading cover art on DVD releases that seem to suggest that “Cathy” is a dominatrix. The interview with the Allens is just as entertaining, with them both astonished that the film has a cult following and Randi, who was 10, 11 or 12 at the time of the filming depending on who is telling the tale, eagerly talking about her sole performance on celluloid.
In all, Severin’s CATHY’S CURSE Blu-ray is a fantastic package that checks all of the boxes in replicating the enthusiasm and research leveled toward a film that movie zine culture once provided. This is, granted, nothing new for Severin, but it’s always great to see a film, no matter how ridiculous or obscure, getting the royal treatment. CATHY’S CURSE may not be the greatest film, but fans of genre oddities of the ‘70s will warm to its charms via osmosis, even if they’re not immediately drawn in of their own accord.