The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: Cathy’s Curse (1980)

Posted by Damon Swindall - November 24th 2011 @ 12:58 pm

After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!

VHS cover of Cathy's Curse

People love to rip off other films. This is something that happens frequently today, mainly with the direct-to-DVD/SyFy Channel companies like The Asylum, but it’s no new concept. The practice has been going on for years. For example, in the early 70s when The Exorcist came out a number of copycats soon followed. There was even a Blaxploitation version called Abby. Most are terrible but some still retain a glimmer of fun. This week we take a look at one by the name of Cathy’s Curse (made in 1977, released in 1980). Here is not only a possession movie but it manages to work in a bit of influence from The Omen, which was only released the previous year. This film is quite far from perfect, but there are a few moments of brilliance.

In 1947 a young girl is abandoned by her mother at home. As her father comes home to find his wife and son gone, they rush out to right the wrong, but on the way end up dying in a fiery car crash. Fast forward many years later and young George Gimble is all grown up and returns to that same home with his wife, Vivian, and daughter, Cathy (Randi Allen). The curious little girl finds a peculiar doll in the attic to which she takes a liking. Something is wrong with this tattered and burned doll as it contains the malicious soul of her dead aunt. Soon the little girl is acting strange, hurting other kids and might be behind a death or two. Her mother is afraid of her, George is clueless, but something must be done quickly.

Father: Where’s your mother and your brother?
Laura: Mommy’s gone. She’s taken George with her.
Father: Your mother’s a bitch! She’ll pay for what she did to you!

Not only does this film drip heavily with the influence of the two previously mentioned horror successes, but it also combines two other popular subgenres of horror. On one hand you have the evil, killer kid, which has been terrifying audiences for years. It could be argued that both The Exorcist and The Omen are killer kid movies with some possession/spawn of Satan aspects but I wouldn’t consider them in that field alone. That is left for the likes of Patty McCormack with her goose bump inducing performance as Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed (1956), or most recently the British chiller The Children (2008) that will have you re-thinking procreation. Cathy becomes a creepy little girl. The chills come not only from the child but the powerful possession device of the doll, and this dolly is not something you want in your house. It’s ugly and just looks like bad things are going to happen. Some strong horror film watchers are reduced to messes when a doll or puppet is brought into the mix. Maybe even someone who occasionally writes on this website – cough, Brian Kelly, cough.

Scary doll

It would seem that this film would be a winner with combining all of these elements, but it falls flat at nearly every turn. This was a French/Canadian co-production, originally titled Cauchemares (which is French for nightmares), and the writing team of Myra Clément, Eddy Matalong (also the director) and Alain Sens-Cazenave just could not get everything together. You would think between three people and a runtime of just over 80 minutes that a decent film could be made. There are definite script problems, like how ridiculously funny it can be at times, but some of the blame should fall on the editor’s shoulders for the nonsensical choices made. Wait, what’s that? It was a team of three editors as well? Shit, I give up.

So many things in this movie are bad. Beyond the perplexing editing choices there are mostly horrid performances and weird scripted bits to leave you in a daze. Soon after moving in, a friend of the Gimbles brings over a psychic to check the house for bad juju or whatever, and that isn’t the weirdest part. Before long she’s speaking in weird voices, screaming, shattering a photo as the kids outside begin screaming. Even though she was freaked out a bit she laughs it off and just leaves. The odd part – the mother just lets her go! If someone did all of that in my house I would at least have a few follow-up questions to ask for sure. There is another bit with the mom that is blatantly foreshadowing… or is it? She closes the door to the attic after finding Cathy has been mucking about up there and says she has to “oil this or someone might get locked in there.” A slow zoom in follows this on the doorknob accompanied by a laugh from anyone watching at the hilariously obvious bit of forewarning, but nothing ever happens. Later, as things happen in the attic, the escape is easy with no stuck doors. I have never noticed such a weird set-up for something that never pays off in any other film. Another way in which Matalong and company have made something special.

Old Evil Medium: Well, if it isn’t the great medium herself. Heh, medium? I’d say extra rare piece of shit!

The highlight of the film is the crazy dialog. Our possessed little Cathy is always calling people “filthy cows” and throwing around “bitch” and “whore” like they’re going out of style. In fact, everyone does. Guess our screenwriting dream team loved to call out women. To be fair, one of the utterances of “bitch” is said in reference to a female dog. The best two lines are the ones I’ve included as quotes above. Seeing an evil, older doppelganger of the medium call her out as a piece of shit is damn funny. This is also one of the highlights of the film.

EEK!

Most of the death scenes are cut. We get the full long scene of the property’s caretaker Paul being paralyzed with fear as Cathy helps him “hallucinate” spiders, snakes and rats crawling all around him, but we get very little of the red stuff. The most we get in that department is when Vivan’s bathwater changes to pouring blood from the spout and she jumps up with leeches covering her back (which are obviously painted on and never fall off or change as she furiously wipes them away). Some of the longer and more graphic scenes are out there on certain VHS tapes but any DVD release, as far as I can tell, are all cut. Some uncut scenes also appear on the early 80s horror kill compilation Terror on Tape.

One other thing I’d like to mention is something that bugs me each time I see it in a film or TV show. So often a couple is interrupted in the middle of getting it on, or just before, by their kids. Sometimes they’re in danger, sometimes it’s just a nightmare but the adults stop immediately and rush to their kids. Whenever I see this I can’t help but think how awkward it must be for that guy in his aroused state. I don’t have kids so I don’t know this problem firsthand but I can’t imagine having to sit there consoling a child while at full attention.

Cathy’s Curse is a film that’s stuck somewhere in the middle. It’s not so bad that you have to watch and laugh but, save for a few scenes, it’s not that great either. The mix of the creepy kid and creepy doll subgenres with a possession is a great idea but maybe they should have brought in another writer or two to get something that would be a tad more interesting.

Until next week – keep your kids out of the attic, you filthy cow!

Body Count: 4, and 1 dog
Time to First Death(s): 2:03
Best Kill: Nanny Falling from the Sky
Number of Utterances of “Whore”: 3
Number of Utterances of “Bitch”: 9

Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-11/23/11: Monster Shark (1974)
-11/30/11: Creepazoids (1987)
-12/7/11: Mutant Hunt (1987)
-12/14/11: Society (1989)

Glowing painting in the attic

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