CATHY’S CURSE (1977) – A REVIEW BY RYAN MARSHALL

During the first five minutes of Eddy Matalon’s CATHY’S CURSE, a father hits the road with his young daughter in an effort to escape the presumebly destructive mania of his wife. Prior to the fatal car crash which takes both of their lives, he consoles the panicked child in her bedroom and then suddenly takes a few unseen steps back, at which point he blurts out “Your mother is a bitch!”

Though this is hardly the first offbeat note in a film that’s essentially made up of them, it can be easily pinpointed as the moment when the majority of viewers will tune either in or out of its oddly alluring frequencies. As singularly strange as what basically amounts to a French-Canadian riff on CARRIE and/or THE EXORIST sounds, nothing on paper could possibly exceed the film’s baffling execution; as it is, it’s like a never-ending sequence of happy accidents.

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The girl from the beginning turns out to be the late aunt of the titular Cathy, who’s now about as old as her ill-fated relative when she went up in flames. Along with her overbearing father and “neurotic” mother, Cathy returns to the house from before only to happen upon the same supernatural forces which plagued the previous generation as they set their sights on her soul.

Much of the routine that follows seems familiar, what with the creepy dolls that can possess unassuming children or, even more disconcerting, the nosy spiritual medium neighbors. Then there’s the house these people occupy, with its bedrooms bathed in blood red and vomit-yellow kitchen interiors. The atmosphere, often flooded in uncomfortably over-exposed light, feels simultaneously obscure and attainable; it invites us in if only to inspire notions of escape.

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Those who put sensory satisfaction over conventional narrative logic will surely have a field day with this one, seeing as it’s an absolute structural nightmare that nevertheless gets by on its own unique vibrations. Scenes cut in and out of one-another abruptly, the set-up is so vague that it requires intertitles in order to get the viewer on the same general wavelength, and not a single human being present acts like one. It’s best to let things happen on their own terms; and oh, how they do.

An elderly handyman who gets a little too close to Cathy for comfort is set upon by snakes from inside a kitchen drawer and the bottom of a bottle, bath water turns to blood (and lots of leeches) in the blink of an eye, the finale delivers the scorching, appropriately nonsensical goods. And yet, even with such consistent eccentricities on display, it’s the dissociated direction that makes this that special kind of weird. Beverly Murray, playing Cathy’s mother, is an exceptional case, shrieking her way through this mess as if she’s trying to dig her way out of it; and who would blame her, seeing as her character is subject to so much excessive cruelty?

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The men at the heart of this ghastly tale aren’t much better; there’s a rather concerning undercurrent of casual misogyny that runs throughout, and it hardly ends at the aforementioned opener. If the film had a little more sense, it might have served as a scathing commentary on the broken concept of Family, but no dice. Instead what we get are fragments of ideas, snapshots of excursions that never were, co-existing in a world where everyone and everything is associated with unnaturally powerful properties, and in a sense this is far more compelling.

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One is left wondering if Matalon had spent much time around people, or if the finished product reflects a troubled production rather than lack of artistry. Either way, the film isn’t merely behind on the times – it’s not of this world. Like a half-remembered dream; lost in its own haze and ultimately incoherent, but also inexplicably addictive. Even if this isn’t one of the most unintentionally psychedelic films ever exposed to the unworthy general public, there’s still truth to be found in those glowing green eyes, those over-lit doors, and mother’s cold, soulless gaze. In a most peculiar sense, this is a lot like coming home.

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