FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

May 18, 2016

VHS Week Day 11: THE HAUNTING OF JULIA (1977)


It is quite fitting that The Haunting of Julia is better known as Full Circle because friends, my brain with regards to Final Girl is coming full circle. Or, okay, not quite full circle. More like my brain and this blog are forming something that is sort of like a möbius strip slowly sinking into quicksand. Time is folding in on itself and tearing apart. This has all happened before and it will all happen again. Up is down, dogs and cats are getting married, and, as usual, I can't find my pants.

Look, what I'm trying to say is that I've already reviewed this movie here! It was even a gotdanged Film Club choice! I knew I'd seen it–several times, in fact. I'm not that crazy. But as I never added The Haunting of Julia to the looonnng list of review links when we talked about it 3+ years ago, I plumb forgot I wrote about it. I watched it again for VHS Week, wrote down a bunch of notes...and then found the old review, which touches on basically everything I wrote down in my notes. I've talked about a lot of movies here and this blog is over ten years old and I am over 81 years old so give me a break.

So you know what? I'm not gonna try to come up with new ways to say the same things, nor am I going to make you click something and go to another page. That's right–I'm cuttin' and pastin' and no one can stop me. The old review is in between the pics.


You know what I love about Mia Farrow? It's the way she appears so vulnerable and fragile–what with her slight frame and her look of bewilderment and her delicate features–but she's got such a goddamn spine to her. I find myself wanting to protect her (or, I suppose I should say, characters she portrays, like Rosemary Woodhouse and Julia Lofting), but when push comes to shove she proves she won't be pushed or shoved.

And so after the tragic death of her young daughter and a breakdown, Julia ups and abandons her husband Magnus (Keir Dullea) on the spur of the moment as she leaves the hospital. Before long, Julia is...wait for it...haunted. But by what? The spirit of her daughter? Her own guilt? The spirit of the house's former resident? Unlike nearly every other supernatural flick on the market, The Haunting of Julia keeps all the goings-on vague and subtle, so much so that we're hard-pressed to discern whether or not there's any haunting going on at all. There aren't any Poltergeist-style furniture-flying-around-on-its-own theatrics to be found; sure, there's some bloodshed and casualties, but it's more about atmosphere or, as Julia puts it, the "feeling of hate" that engulfs her home.

Still, what's a good ghost story without some sort of mystery to be solved (not to mention that since it's a 70s film, there's a good old fashioned séance to boot)? And boy, Julia uncovers a good one–a downright chilling one, with a ghost that could give The Ring's Samara a lesson or two in evil. A note to wayward ghosts everywhere: I'm not fucking helping you, you're on your own.

The Haunting of Julia is a quiet film that will get under your skin more that it will outright scare you, and if quiet-n-subdued ain't your bag, it will undoubtedly get on your nerves more than it will get under your skin. But if you're in the mood for some precious blonde daughter dies early on and does she come back as a ghost or is her mother just mad with guilt? horror (that's totally a subgenre, you know), pair this up with Don't Look Now and go nuts!


As I said, there are no spook house histrionics to be found. There is grief so intense that it presses down upon you. There is a subtle unease throughout and by the time we get to the ending–and what an ending it is–the cumulative effect of this sad, chilling tale is incredibly powerful. But there are no easy answers, which may prove frustrating if you don't fall under Julia's spell.

There are plenty of similar films from the era that fans love to talk about: Don't Look Now, The Changeling, Burnt Offerings...films that have shocking, memorable moments worth recounting. The Haunting of Julia isn't "iconic" in that way (no red balls bouncing down the stairs, no homicidal dwarves), but it's absolutely worth adding to the pantheon. It's got a devoted following even as it's been completely neglected since the days of VHS. What I wouldn't give for a restored version, one that wasn't overly dark at times, one that doesn't snap and crackle, one that doesn't sound like there's a generator running just offscreen the entire time. Should it ever finally get the home release love it deserves, I'm sure I'll review it again, having forgotten all about the time I spent writing this post. No offense or anything, you're great. It's not you, it's me.

Wait, what was I talking about?

16 comments:

Nicholas Kaufmann said...

This is a pretty good adaptation of Peter Straub's novel, but the novel is richer. (Novels usually are.) By the way, Straub is one of my all-time favorite authors! Though his novel JULIA isn't my favorite of his oeuvre, it's extraordinarily good.

CashBailey said...

Superb film. I managed to buy ye' olde VHS copy when a local video store was offloading all of its video tapes for DVDs. The tape itself is probably near dust by now.

As far as I know it has only been released on DVD in France.


The Peter Straub book is damn good, too. It fills in a lot of gaps that I feel is the move's main weakness. It's pretty choppy, especially in regards to Tom Conti's character and how he fits into all of it.

Stacie Ponder said...

"...especially in regards to Tom Conti's character and how he fits into all of it."

Agreed. I've read the book so I know his story, but the movie makes you do some mental gymnastics. He and Magnus are obviously antagonists, but is Mark an ex-boyfriend? Future boyfriend? It's definitely vague.

KZ said...

Oh man this movie is a total creep fest. After you have that super intense choking scene in the beginning you know that just about anything goes. I agree that Farrow's vulnerability and simultaneous determination make her hard to pin down, much like exactly what is going on, until that "yeah, I should have known that was coming" moment at the end. Gut. Punch.
Great stuff.

CashBailey said...

One has to wonder if there are deleted scenes from this. I would assume there would have to be some.

The director, Richard Loncraine, is still alive and working. It'd be nice if someone could get him to talk about this movie.

Stacie Ponder said...

When every obscure, crappy horror movie seems to be getting the Blu-ray treatment, I really wonder why this is still neglected.

@KZ - the ending gets me every time. It's so sad and desperate and haunting.

Robert Kirby said...

I like this movie a lot, pure 70's old school mid-budget goodness. (The book by Peter Straub is also well worth checking out.) One of the best things about this film is the absolutely gorgeous score by Colin Townes, which has become something of a cult classic at this point (I read that Mia Farrow agreed to do the movie when she heard it).

It's out of print but someone posted the LP online, give 're a lissen up sometime:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDqj3NZmv08

Thanks for writing about it, Stacie. HoJ is really overdue for a reissue and I hope it happens sometime soon.

Kensington said...

One thing that seems less and less clear to me as time goes on is what to make of the ending.

Is this absolutely an unhappy ending?

Stacie Ponder said...

@Robert Kirby - thanks for that link! The score is so eerie, I love it to pieces.

@Kensington - I think the ending it a total downer no matter how you interpret it. It just leaves me kind of hollow every time. Maybe I'm a masochist, but I love it even if it's depressing...endings like this are so rare!

highwayknees said...

A rare ending indeed! That's what makes the film so special and a classic in the Don't Look Now vein. It takes real balls to go that route without a apology tacked on bit. This is why it's a cult classic. I also have the original score on album and cd, very rare, but so stand-alone relisten-able too.

Please restore this gem of a film for DvD- O powers that be!

Kensington said...

When I was younger, I assumed that Julia didn't want what happened at the end, but in more recent years I wonder if she isn't entirely open to what happens.

That's what I mean when I wonder if it's an unhappy ending. Is it possible that Julia thinks she's accomplishing something positive (with regards to settling things for the ghost, I suppose).

highwayknees said...

@Kensington: I used to think the same thing. It's just the textbook example of an ambiguous ending. I do lean more toward the somewhat altruistic-although unbearably sad second choice though. I know the ending must be frustrating for a lot of people who like things tied up neatly.

indigozeal said...

This is apropos of nothing directly related to this post, but in trying to get to your blog, I accidentally mistyped the URL as finalgirl.blogpot.com, and there's a site with an...interesting banner image that pops up on that page.

Stacie Ponder said...

That is...a lot of page, wow! With no title. And what a strange URL, how will people find it except for mistyping "blogspot"? IS THIS A SIGN OR SOMETHING?

Also just has an fyi, you can get here using the address >>finalgirl.rocks<< It will save you about .0003 seconds worth of typing!

crazycanuck said...

I read the book along time ago and remember liking it, just don't remember the details. So watching this was like going in cold; loved being creeped out by it.

GroovyDoom said...

Just watched this for the first time tonight, it was fantastic. The feel of it reminded me a lot of "Let's Scare Jessica To Death", especially when they had a seance, and then of course as you pointed out, "Don't Look Now".