The Haunting of Julia. 1976. Review by Brian Kirst
Originally filmed and released in England in 1976 as Full Circle, this gothic infused ghost story was re-titled The Haunting of Julia and re-released in the United States in 1981. Both theatrical runs were failures and this spooky thriller has dampened in virtual obscurity for years. A recent run on In Demand’s FearNet may not change its critical status, but it did give viewers a chance to rediscover this potent – if not perfect – horror.
The Haunting of Julia is that rare beast that delivers its chills through not what is seen but what is imagined. Director Richard Loncraine and his effective cast recall past terrors with such skill that one’s skin may crawl with transferred remembrance.
Mia Farrow stars as Julia. The fact that the role is so similar to her frightened, inquisitive “Rosemary” in Rosemary’s Baby may have had something to do with this film’s initial lack of recognition. Farrow, also, mined this territory in another English production – 1971’s slasher themed See No Evil, so audiences may have despaired of her in this kind of tortured, seemingly helpless role. She is fine here, though – welcoming audience sympathy, if not delivering the subtle chills of her crazed guardian role in the recent Omen remake.
Plot-wise things are fairly predictable. Julia, after failing to save her young daughter from choking, emerges from a mental institution determined to start a new life. Escaping from the clutches of her money hungry husband, Julia purchases a new home and begins to start over again. Of course, strange phenomena start to occur in her new residence almost immediately. Slowly, but surely we discover, as Julia investigates, the cause of these disturbances. The story, obviously, could go in several recognizable directions. Julia could be crazy. Julia’s controlling husband could be gas lighting her. Or – there could actually be a disturbed ghost haunting the premises. The truth, predating The Ring and other lank haired girl-child Asian horrors, is more brutal and chilling than one may expect and is ultimately extremely frightening.
Loncraine delivers this fearful reality with style and grace. He counterbalances scenes of the elegant Farrow wondering through leaf strewn parks with the brutal frankness of the opening sequence in which Julia’s young daughter chokes to death. Some may find his languid pacing a detriment, but Loncraine’s established cast is ultimately able to hook the patient into the full mystery and beauty of this tale. Keir Dullea ( 2001, Black Christmas) is effective as Julia’s manipulative spouse and classically trained Tom Conti is amusing and completely engaging as Julia’s best friend and only emotional support. An assortment of English character actors, also, add mood to the requisite, tense séance sequence and a last minute asylum investigation.
After the mild pacing that has come before it, the ending of The Haunting of Julia does come off as a bit abrupt. Ultimately, though, it does tie things in with its original title Full Circle and those captivated by ghostly vengeance and calm reveal may find much to enjoy within Julia’s spirit filled walls.