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Interview: Eddy Matalon

One of a handful of European directors lured to Canada to make films under the tax shelter system in the 1970s, French filmmaker Eddy Matalon directed two notable genre entries, Cathy's Curse (1977) and Blackout (1978). Under his Makifilms production banner, Matalon flourished in the '70s by making risqué adult features in his native France, but soon branched out to horror for his Exorcist-influenced Canadian debut, in which a young girl (Randi Allen) is possessed by a malevolent spirit that drives her to her kill. Shot in and around Quebec, the initial success of Cathy's Curse led to Matalon's working with Cinepix for his next tax shelter feature. His timely cops 'n' robbers thriller Blackout, in which escaped convicts terrorize an apartment complex, is set during the major 1977 power outage in New York City, and featured a familiar cast including Ray Milland, James Mitchum and Robert Carradine. His final Canadian production, the thriller Sweet Killing, followed in 1993.

While other French and British directors taking advantage of Canada's generous tax shelter system often brought a more serious, arthouse approach to their Canadian films, Matalon's work closely matches the other Canadian genre films released at the time. Further, his flair for coaxing memorable set pieces out of low budgets have kept his Quebec-lensed films among his most popular works today.

This email interview was conducted in March 2017, on the eve of the Blu-ray release of Cathy's Curse from Severin Films.

Cathy’s Curse was the first time you directed a film outside of Europe. How did you decide to work in Canada?

I did produce some films in the U.S. and Canada before then, but Cathy’s Curse was my first film as a director. Of course, the tax breaks that were available at the time were a part of my decision to shoot in Quebec.

Cathy's Curse was the only horror film you ever made, correct?

Yes. It’s not easy to finance that kind of film in France, but I would be pleased to do a new horror film.

There were a lot of "killer kids" horror movies around this time, with The Exorcist and The Omen, even Carrie.  In your opinion, how is Cathy’s Curse different?

Those are all great films and of course they inspired me; they are all in the same “family”. However, I think that Cathy’s Curse is different from those other films because it’s more simple and maybe, because of that, it is more touching and “realistic” for the audience compared to some of those other films.

What were some of the challenges of making the film? 

The whole thing was a challenge! We shot the film in six weeks with a small crew in a the Westmont area of Montreal. The house we used was for sale, so we had the opportunity to rent it for 6 weeks.

The special effects in Cathy’s Curse are minimal, but effective, such as the portrait with the glowing eyes, maggot-ridden food and Cathy causing hallucinations of things like rats and snakes.

All the special effects were “homemade”! In fact, the hallucination scene with all of the rats, snakes and tarantulas was my favourite scene to shoot, we had a lot of fun with all the real animals. Roy Witham, who we cast as the handyman, agreed to play with them and he really acted so well with them. And I remember that at the end of the day, we discovered that one of the a snake was missing.. we never did find it!

What was the original critical reception of the film like?

The reception to the film was good. The critics all felt that Cathy’s Curse had more of a “nouvelle vague” approach to the subject.

Cathy's Curse has had a lot of spotty public domain releases over the years. What do you think of the film's new restoration?

I did see the new restoration, and I'm impatient to see the film on Blu-ray!

For your next film, Blackout, you worked with John Dunning and Andre Link of Cinepix.

Yes, I met them years ago and Cinepix distributed Cathy’s Curse for theatrical dates in Canada. We had a very good relationship with John and Andre, and we did business with them in full confidence.

While Cathy’s Curse didn't have any big name stars, Ray Milland has a short role in Blackout. How did he get involved?

When we were casting the film, we were looking to have many cameos. It was Andre Link who suggested having Ray Milland play a role. Well, after reading the script for Blackout and meeting me, Ray agreed to play the part. Working with him was wonderful, he was a real gentleman.

Blackout's script was written by John Saxton, who specialized in many of Cinepix's most notorious films, including Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS and Happy Birthday to Me. Were you happy with John's work on the script?

The original idea for Blackout was mine. While John Dunning and I were working on the idea, the real New York blackout occurred in the summer of 1977. So when that happened, Dunning said to me, “It’s fantastic! Let’s start with that event!” He set up a meeting with John Saxton and we were immediately on the same track. The script was perfect, in my opinion!

Were parts of Blackout shot in New York, or was it just exteriors?

Just the exteriors. The rest we shot in Quebec.

What  can you tell me about the car chase scene in the parking lot at the end of Blackout? It's one of the film's most memorable scenes.

We did that scene in Montreal. At that time, very few car stunts were done in the city. I remember that, at the end of the chase, he had to drive through a parking garage door. Well, the stunt driver made a miscalculation and unfortunately he was really injured!

You left Canada after Blackout, but I noticed you did return years later to shoot one more film in Canada—1993's Sweet Killing. What can you tell me about this film?

It’s a black comedy. For that film I had a very good cast: Anthony Higgins, Leslie Hope, F. Murray Abraham and even Michael Ironside. It's based on a book by Angus Hall, an English writer, but it's a true story. Basically, Higgins plays a bank manager who wants to kill his wife. He invents an alibi, but suddenly the alibi becomes real…and the perfect murder becomes a perfect nightmare!

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