Saturday, April 14, 2012

Movie Review: "The Hauting of Julia" (1977)

As I threatened promised during my review of Peter Straub's novel Julia, tonight I got on YouTube and watched the movie version, The Haunting of Julia.

This, as it turns out, was a poor use of a Saturday night, but hey: at least I can, now, tell you fine people all about it.

It's a thoroughly terrible movie, sad to say.  In digging around looking for info about it on the internet, I've stumbled across a fair number of comments from people talking about how it's one of their all-time favorite movies, and one which has been scaring the bejesus out of them for the past thirty-plus years.

Well, I'd never tell anybody that their opinion is wrong.  That would be rude.

I, will, however insinuate it, and as such I feel obligated to mention at this point that contrary to popular belief, opinions can be wrong, and art can -- objectively speaking -- be good or bad.

Feel free to draw your own conclusions as to what I mean in saying that.  I'm WAY too gentlemanly to say it bluntly, so I'm relying on you to do the legwork here.

In any case, The Haunting of Julia was not, apparently, always called The Haunting of Julia.  During its British release, it was known as Full Circle; it was retitled for American release.  As titles go, The Haunting of Julia is far the more sensible of the two, because it actually bears some relation to what transpires during the course of the movie, whereas "Full Circle" doesn't, and is inaccurate on top of that.  Nobody comes full circle here; "full circle" implies a journey -- either a literal one or a metaphorical (an emotional, or a philosophical, etc.) one -- that upon its conclusion has deposited the traveler in more or less the same place he or she was when the journey began.  Someone who was just determined to do so could probably concoct a rationale for why the idea of coming "full circle" applies to this story, but they'd be incorrect in that assessment.

Yet, at some stage in the making of this film, someone MUST have felt it was an appropriate title, and it this kind of muddled thinking that seems to have dominated every stage of the production.  Want another example?  Howsabout this one:

There is a character in the novel named Mrs. Fludd.  She is a spiritualist who is of considerable importance to the story.  In the movie, she has been renamed Mrs. Flood.  Fludd is an unusual name, so I would have been sympathetic if the screenwriters had decided to change the name altogether: to Mrs. Davenport, or Mrs. Jackson, or Mrs. Gladwell, or whatever.  Changing it from "Fludd" to "Flood" simply makes no sense.  It hurts nothing, but it also helps nothing.  It's possibly a sign that neither of the screenwriters read the novel, that a poorly-paid assistant read it and then gave them an oral summary one day over tea.

Certainly there is very little here to suggest that anyone involved had much interest in the novel.  Enough of its bones were retained that it's clear somebody read the thing, but nobody seems to have taken much away from it.

Julia, played here by Mia "Rosemary's Baby" Farrow, is at least somewhat similar to the character from the novel.  Farrow doesn't have to do a whole heck of a lot other than look sickly and troubled, and since she's Mia Farrow, she does so capably.  I mock for no real reason; I've actually always found Farrow to be hot as balls, in a waifish sort of way.  She does have a really good scene right at the end of the movie, and while this scene is also changed from the novel, it's one of the few changes that improve the story.

One of the book's most important characters is Julia's husband, Magnus, who is a domineering, abusive -- or is he? (wink-wink) -- bull of a man, played here by...

...Keir "2001: A Space Odyssey" Dullea, who was not in any way cut out to do a British accent, and was not in any way cut out to play domineering.  Happily -- or, depending on how you look at it, unhappily -- the screenplay and the director don't seem to have been committed to having him do either, because both elements come and go.  The screenwriters have mostly eliminated the subplot of Magnus's dangerous magnetism, and have also mostly done away with his stubborn refusal to accept Julia's independence.  However, a couple key scenes from the novel that heavily feature those elements have been retained (though in a heavily-altered format), so Dullea is called upon to try and bring those qualities on occasion.  It's a botch, but don't blame Dullea: his writers and director obviously had no grasp of the character whatsoever.

Also changed from the novel: Magnus's sister, Lily, has been virtually removed from the story.  Their adopted brother, Mark, in the film version does not appear to be their adopted brother any longer, but merely a friend of Julia's.  This doesn't hurt the film all that badly, though it is plain that the character now exists mostly as a sounding board for Julia to tell us what's on her mind by telling another character.

Nothing scary happens during this movie's ninety minutes.  Not one single thing.  There is nothing even close, and there is only one scene -- involving Julia lying asleep in bed -- that I would say comes even close to being creepy.

Actually, I take that back.  There are two scenes toward the end which summon up moments of compelling grimness, and in those two moments -- one is a scene involving a man taking a bath, and the other is a scene involving a woman sitting in a chair (this is the film's final scene) -- the movie actually manages to work for a few seconds.  I say this because I believe it to be true, but also simply so as to say something nice.

Here's something else nice: I did quite like the score by Colin Towns.  I'm a film-music nerd, so I pay attention to that sort of thing.  Here, the music has some unfortunate "contemporary" moments, in which you can practically feel the seventies in the same way you might feel cold cat vomit squeezing between your toes in the middle of the night with the lights out.  But for the most part, I genuinely liked the music, and wished it had a better movie to support.

I would recommend this movie only to people who are massive fans of Mia Farrow or of Colin Towns, or who perhaps feel obliged to write posts about it for their blog.

Otherwise, I suspect you will be bored out of your mind.


  1. I saw the movie and liked it a great deal. It had a creepy atmosphere to it, an old fashioned ghost story. No, not a lot of blood or gore, but an interesting and creepy story. See it if you get the chance and make up your own mind.

    1. It's got a few selling points, I guess. I'd love for it to get a Blu-ray release one of these days, if only to let more people see it and, as you suggest, make up their own minds.

  2. I watched this a second time tonight, and enjoyed it somewhat more than I did the first time through. I think it's probably a better movie than I gave it credit for being in this review.

    Which is not to say that I think it's good; I still don't. BUT...I do think the atmosphere works in a few scenes, and that there are enough strong individual moments to make it wrongheaded to write the movie off altogether. I suspect that when I did so, it was because the novel was too fresh in my mind; tonight, it's considerably less so, and so I was able to take the movie on its own terms.

    1. Watching the movie as I am drags in places,but it has a real creepy atmosphere,and some of the elements remind me of a much more brutal (and real life based) horror movie "The Girl Next Door",which was based on real crime events(and semi fictionalized by James Ketchum in his novel),and was probably one of the most disturbing movies I've ever watched.This seems to be a supernatural version of that story,with Julia investigating the death of Goeffrey.Also "The Girl Next Door" has an evil,older version of Olivia,a women who tempts children into doing unspeakable things.

    2. I should check "The Girl Next Door" out. Thanks for the recommendation!