Friday, February 7, 2014
Friday Flashback: The Haunting of Julia (1977)
Two things warranted my attention to this film: its source material was from a novel entitled simply "Julia" by one of my favorite authors, the great Peter Straub. I read the book years ago as a teen but failed to remember key details and thought it would be quite nice to see how it was adapted. The second reason to check it out, for me anyway, was lead actress Mia Farrow. It's no secret that I'm a fairly big Rosemary's Baby fan, so naturally finding out she did something else within the genre was a coup for sure.
The film wastes no time getting to the matter at hand when we are introduced to Julia Lofting (Farrow), her husband Magnus (Keir Dullea), and daughter Kate (Sophie Ward). They're enjoying a quick breakfast before heading off to their daily activities. Kate suddenly starts to choke on a bite of apple, and the situation escalates from precarious to deadly in short order. Being unable to dislodge the apple has Julia attempting a desperate at-home tracheotomy which fails miserably and their daughter is lost.
Soon after, Julia splits with Magnus (as so often seems to happen after the death of a child) and buys a fully-furnished house across town. I got the impression that Julia is from money, and after witnessing a conversation between Magnus and his sister Lily I came to think Magnus was fairly determined to keep his husband title.
Julia however, is nervously content in her new abode, busying herself by decorating and spending time with her old friend Mark (Tom Conti). In an upstairs bedroom Julia discovers children's toys, eventually cutting herself accidentally on the cymbols of a toy mechanical clown. This seems to start something sinister, as shortly after Julia sees a young blonde girl in a local park and immediately thinks it is Kate. It isn't of course, and when she runs to where the child was standing she finds only a knife and a mutilated turtle. (Which obviously doesn't bode well...)
A group of seven assembles, led by the very quirky Mrs. Fludd, a medium. While conducting the seance, Mrs. Fludd becomes scared to death, and warns Julia to move out of her home. Before everyone leaves, one of the women falls down the stairs after apparently seeing something frightening. She won't say what it was and the subject is closed without further questioning.
All this and Julia stays in the house....
One day when Julia is out, Magnus snoops around the house, and after investigating a strange noise (as is always the case, that's Horror 101) he "accidentally" trips down the basement steps only to land on a broken bottle, effectively slicing his throat and bringing his annoying existence to a crashing halt.
This leads Julia to do some investigating of her own, and finds a story in the local library about a young boy that was murdered nearby. To add to her shock, she soon finds out the young girl that died in her home had something to do with the murdered boy's death. Confusion and desperation meet head-on as Julia tries to unravel the mystery. And it seems anyone with any helpful information is later turning up dead.
The Haunting of Julia isn't a great film. But it's pushed to a bit loftier heights by its very good cast and some decent spooky atmosphere. It's certainly a slow-moving film, with a whole lot of nothing going on a lot of the time. But dismal, rainy alleyways and dark corners hold many dangers, and Mia Farrow with her wispy frailness never fails to evoke a vibe of imminent dread. It's not so much a haunted house film as it is a haunted parent film, as the death of a child is something one never gets over - making the parent left behind eager to hear a child's whisper in the dark, or see their ghostly form in the mirror; when in fact it's just the clicking radiator. Or your own face in the mirror. The mind plays cruel tricks sometimes.
Honestly, The Haunting of Julia could use a makeover. I don't generally promote remaking a film, but this is one that never really took off and is ripe for a second go. (Though you'll never find anyone who is able to play the stereotypically weak character as well as Farrow.) But it could be a great film - with the right director and the right cast. And no CGI ghosts!
Surely Straub would be happy to see his story told once more, perhaps to a more mainstream audience and with a bit more meat on the (ghostly) bone.