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?