Review Index



An appealingly creepy, understated and compelling film that deserves comparison with better-known 1970s chillers like LETíS SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH and DONíT LOOK NOW--and thatís high praise indeed!

The Package
     Peter Straubís 1975 novel JULIA was the inspiration for this 1977 film, which was initially titled FULL CIRCLE but seems destined to be best known under its American title THE HAUNTING OF JULIA. Itís become undeservedly obscure over the years, and is long overdue for a rediscovery--preferably on DVD!

The Story
     The mousy Julia is severely traumatized after giving her choking daughter Katie an emergency tracheotomy with a steak knife, which the girl doesnít survive. Following this event Julia leaves her abusive husband and moves into a creepy old townhouse.
     There she suffers visions of a still-living Katie. Sheís losing her mind, it seems, and her husband is looking to have her committed.
     One night Julia and some friends hold a sťance in her living room, and an old woman goes into a trance. Later the woman reveals to Julia that while in the trance she contacted a girl very much like Katie. Shortly after this Juliaís hubbie breaks into her house and, hearing many odd sounds, believes Juliaís trying to scare him; sheís not home, however, and he meets his end in a suspicious accident in Juliaís basement.
     Unaware of her husbandís death, Julia questions the old woman further. The latter reveals that she didnít actually see a little girl resembling Juliaís daughter, as previously assumed, but rather a little boy.
     This leads Julia on a search for the source of this vision. She uncovers info on a German immigrant boy who was tortured and killed by a gang of schoolchildren, all under the depraved influence of a psychotic little girl. Itís the latter, Julia deduces, whose spirit is actually haunting her house. Julia visits the girlís deranged mother in a local nuthouse, and she reveals that she killed her own daughter just as Julia killed hers. From there Julia heads back to her house for a final confrontation with the many ghosts haunting her.

The Direction
     Richard Loncraine has directed films that are interesting (the feature version of Dennis Potterís BRIMSTONE & TREACLE, 1995ís RICHARD III) and not-so (FIREWALL, MY ONE AND ONLY). THE HAUNTING OF JULIA represented a rare excursion in horror for Loncraine, and is unquestionably one of his strongest films.
     Itís distinguished by unpretentious craftsmanship, appropriately measured pacing and a restraint that actually renders the most horrific moments (notably the early tracheotomy, which is never explicitly shown) more horrifying than they probably would have been if presented in a more graphic manner. The acting is also strong, with Mia Farrow providing a strong and sympathetic anchor (although, as she often did in her early days, she emotes in a wholly unconvincing English accent).
     On the downside, the generally effective electronic score by Colin Towns has a tendency to grow distracting, and the narrative could frankly be a little stronger. JULIA is not one of Peter Straubís better novels, being a clichťd haunted house tale in many respects, and this film follows suit. It contains an utterly superfluous love story, with Tom Conti as the thoroughly bland object of Juliaís affections (when heís killed off near the end thereís little sense of loss), and too many scenes that directly recall those of other, lesser seventies horror fests (such as the heroineís obligatory trip to the library to gather info on the ghosts haunting her).
     Yet the tightly controlled atmosphere and ever-present sense of muted terror render this film unique and effective. Itís worth seeking out.

Vital Statistics

Canadian Film Development Corporation

Director: Richard Loncraine
Producer: Peter Fetterman, Alfred Pariser
Screenplay: Harry Bromley Davenport, Dave Humphries
(Based on a novel by Peter Straub)
Cinematography: Peter Hannan
Editing: Rom Wisman
Cast: Mia Farrow, Keir Dullea, Tom Conti, Jill Bennett, Robin Gammell, Cathleen Nesbitt, Anna Wing, Edward Hardwicke, Mary Morris, Pauline Jameson, Arthur Howard, Peter Sallis