Note: The following is one of two movie reviews I’m doing for Maddy’s “Horrorathon” that she is hosting on her site, “Maddy Loves Her Classic Films”…
We start off with an opening shot of a lovely two-story home, and in one of the upper windows we can see a little girl messing around with what looks like one of those wind-up monkeys that mash cymbals together until you can’t stand them anymore. (Since Mia Farrow stars in this movie, the hyperactive monkey makes my mind immediately picture Woody Allen. That’s right, folks, we aren’t even 37 seconds into the movie and I’ve already gotten twisted.) The little girl quickly grows bored with Woody (so I guess her name isn’t Soon-Yi) and runs off to find Momma Mia. They gaze at each other contentedly, all smiles and sunshine.
37 additional seconds later, and something terrible happens in the kitchen. It’s a startling mood shift, going from a benign family conversation to a sudden whirlwind involving a bowl of fruit, a menacing knife, the introduction of blood on an otherwise pleasant frock, and lots of hyperventilation. (We also have some dialogue that, if taken out of context, is eye-opening. Example: “Use your fingers and try and get it out!”) Obviously, I shouldn’t reveal too much, but it’s not good. Suffice it to say that children should listen to their mothers when they are advised to moderate the intensity of their apple-consumption.
So, this bad thing happens, bad enough that we next see Mia in what is most likely the mental-health wing of a hospital. There doesn’t appear to be any security, so this is probably not the “homicidal maniac” section but rather the “let’s just keep an eye on her for a while” section. We get the impression that she’s been here for a bit, even though her hair hasn’t grown a single millimeter. Apparently, Mia has said and done all the right important things lately (or maybe they just need her bed for a more A-List client), because they’re letting her out of this place on the very day we show up with flowers.
Whilst hubby (Keir Dullea) and the doctor chat about who cares what, Mia slips into her traveling ensemble, which turns out to be a massive white fur coat and an annoying hat that a band member of R.E.M. would wear if they were trying to be ironic. (If she was aiming for discreet, she missed it by a mile.) While we are gazing at this mess in horror, Mia changes the itinerary by suddenly fleeing the hospital. (No one tries real hard to stop her, so I guess her hospital tab has been paid in full and the staff has moved on emotionally.) Mia doesn’t stop running until she manages to buy a new house in a different part of the country, leaving behind hubby and the tainted kitchen where it happened. When Mia decides that something needs a fresh coat of paint, she doesn’t play.
From this point forward, I really can’t go into any details without hinting at or fully revealing the plot, so I’ll resort to some impressionistic commentary instead of a synopsis. (Despite my poking fun, this is actually a decent movie, especially for its time (1977) and source material (the Peter Straub novel “Julia”), so you might want to actually watch it someday.) Here we go.
Somebody in this family has a lot of money, because both the old house and the new house are essentially slightly-modest palaces, with endless rooms. We spend a lot of time with Mia exploring her new digs whilst the soundtrack features moodily creepy, synthy instrumentals that were presumably avant-garde during filming but can now be performed by a savvy kindergartener using an iPhone. During this search and seizure, Mia manages to find several things in the house that remind her of that other place she used to live! (The synth music swells just like the pot smoke most likely did in the recording studio.)
Scene with Mia having tea with her hubby’s sister. The conversation makes it clear that there has been marital discord for years. It’s also made clear that hubby’s name is “Magnus” (I think the marital discord started right there) and he’s a bit of a wanker. Then we jump to a park, the first of many that Mia visits throughout the movie for no apparent reason. She may or may not be having visions. We may or may not be properly following the plot. Peter Straub may or may not have considered having his name removed from the credits.
Mia picks up some Chinese take-out, arrives home to find that she has misplaced her key, forces a window, tumbles though said window onto the kitchen floor (not that kitchen, mind you), and cuts her leg. Whilst tending to said wound in the bathroom, Mia gets blood on her hands and waves them around whilst having a small breakdown. (You find yourself urging her to scream “Out! Out! Damn spot!” But she doesn’t. Maybe she’s not a team player.) A bit later, Mia thinks Magnus has broken into the house (Why not? You just did.) and is trying to torment her. She searches the massive house to no avail, without bothering to turn on any decent lighting or alert officials who more professionally deal with unwelcome guests in one’s home.
We get introduced to “Mark” (Tom Conti), who has been assigned the role of “supportive best friend and/or prior paramour”. It’s not clear; he just shows up, bearing an antique mirror and a 1970s shag cut. Whatever his purpose, he makes Mia happy, so we’ll let him stay. Besides, this is a horror movie, and best-friend characters usually don’t make it to the final credits, so he needs to get some screen time while he can.
We also get introduced to this odd black box thing with a red light on top of it, about the size of a robust cosmetics case, the kind that women used to lug around back when women lugged such things whilst waiting to board a Pan Am flight. It controls something in Mia’s house, and it seems to go wonky at times. Mia fiddles with it (a lot), other folks fiddle with it (not so much), and it appears to be at least mildly involved in the plot. But even at the end of the movie I still had no idea what that was.
More scenes with Mia finding things in her new house that remind her of things in her old house. She also finds things that hint at not-good past events in her new house, like cryptic toys that perch eerily on shelves and fleeting images of children in mirrors. Clearly, Mia either needs to quit being so nosy or move, but she’s not taking my phone calls.
More scenes in parks where Mia may or may not be having visions, including one park that features a playground with odd teeter-totter/rocking horse rides designed during the Spanish Inquisition. The pint-size actors hired to play the children plunked on these contraptions are obviously terrified and suffering some degree of pain, but they’re professionals and they keep riding the damn things, forcibly exuding giddiness and child-like wonder. (I’m assuming that most of them went on to have prescription-drug abuse issues.)
Mia has another mild breakdown in the bathroom. (“Out! Out!”)
For some inexplicable reason, Magnus’ sister (I suppose I should look up her name, but I’m not really feeling it) convinces Mia to hold a séance in her house. Naturally, this is not going to end well, but Mia does her waif-like best to get through it all, with creepy people and odd dialogue. (Mrs. Flood: “Do you have any tea, dear?” Mia: “No. Would you like some coffee?” Mrs. Flood: “That’s caffeine. Caffeine’s a drug!” But….) Eventually, someone manages to tumble down a flight of stairs (in that overly-dramatic 1970s way they had of doing so) and break a few bones as well as some knick-knacks on a clever hallway table. The séance abruptly ends, what with a trip to the hospital now necessary. (We have a few scenes in Mrs. Flood’s apartment, with her warning Mia about something or other, but the old fool doesn’t even know what caffeine is so we might as well ignore her.)
Cut to Hubby Magnus scuttling around outside Mia’s House of Cray-Cray and Acrobatics, peering in windows and looking shifty. (Has he heard about the black box?) A neighbor comes waltzing up and tries to take a bite out of crime by intervening, but Magnus has no time for the hovering gnat. He weakly shoves at the neighbor, who then plummets to the ground in a wailed outrage of fear and confusion, clearing seizing the opportunity to gun for a Supporting Actor Oscar. (Did we do anything subtly in the 70s? Geez.) Once Showboat has been sunk, Magnus slinks around back and breaks into the basement, walking right past the window, curtains still fluttering in the breeze, where Mia pole-vaulted into the kitchen just a few script pages ago. Some people make things much more difficult than they need to be, which is why we still don’t have universal healthcare in America.
At this point, ladies and gentlemen, I really have to clamp down on the intel or there will be no point in watching this movie. What Magnus does once he breaches the cellar leads to a chain of interlocking events right up to the denouement. (And boy, that final scene is truly a humdinger. In fact, until a few days ago, I hadn’t watched this movie since the early 80s, but the surprise of the ending has stayed with me all these years.) To further pique your interest, should you enjoy scary movies that are more creepy than outright slasher fests, I’ll leave you with five additional teaser bits.
It’s best to avoid taking sponge baths in an antique tub.
The cymbal-whacking monkey is actually a clown, which makes it worse.
Something happened in 1938.
There are only two of them left.
And remember: “Everything’s right now. Stay with me. Stay with me. Stay with me…”
If you have the time, please drop by Maddy’s site and enjoy the Scary-Movie themed reviews and articles she has coordinated for her “Horrorathon”. The actual blogathon doesn’t start until the 26th, but you can find more information and a list of the upcoming blog pieces by clicking here.
Trivia: This movie was originally released in England as “Full Circle”. It did not do well, box-office wise, and it was eventually released in the United States as “The Haunting of Julia” in 1981. This has caused confusion over the years and has made it difficult to track the movie down. In fact, the version I watched the other day was found on YouTube, with the post named “The Haunting of Julia” but the in-movie title was “Full Circle”. In either version, don’t take a bath unless you feel really, really dirty.
Categories: Video Review