Chinese Take-Out and a Tumble in the Kitchen: “The Haunting of Julia”

To lighten the mood after the melancholy aspect of the last post, I dragged this snarky mess out of the archives, a movie review from roughly three years ago. Enjoy.

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.) 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 seconds later, 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 thing 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…”


Previously published, mildly modified.

Note 1: This review was originally part of a “Horrrathon” blogfest on “Maddy Loves Her Classic Films”, back in October of 2017. Maddy still loves her movies and she’s still doing blogathons, so hop on over there if you have a fondness for such things.

Note 2: 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.


25 replies »

  1. I’ve never seen either of the movies…LOL. And I’ve never really cared for Mia Farrow. I’ve always found her to be a bit disturbing for some reason. Doesn’t really make sense…I usually like disturbing people. Bwahahahahahaha!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I usually like disturbing people, too. Well, to an extent. If they pull out an axe named “Miranda” whilst we’re having some wine on the front porch, I’m over it pretty quickly. Quirkiness does have its limits… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Mia is not my fave actress by any means, but I think she’s fine with the right material. The troubling part is that she doesn’t always PICK the right material and she comes off as just too… weak? But this movie is NOT terrible, which is more than you can say with a lot of “horror” flicks, so I didn’t mind the repeat viewing, especially since the incidents were separated by thirty-odd years…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never cared much for Mia, despite her hair cut being the ‘in’ thing in the late 70s (when I was tortured, briefly, by cosmetology school..long story,not relevant to this comment). I was devastated to learn that only women of a certain wisp-like build (do they have bird bones? These are things I ponder in the deep, dark night) can sport that waifish haircut and not have their head look immensely large and out of proportion. ANYWAY. I don’t care for Mia. And I have read enough Peter Straub to avoid the film you parsected so deftly, with a grim resolve usually saved for things like political rallies involving Republicans and idiots wearing MAGA hats.. I recently re-watched “Ghost Story” – the one from the early 80s with the remarkable Fred Astaire and John Housman, not that mess that came along later. Ghost Story is by Peter Straub as well. And I will say the climax of the film (and the book), but obviously in the movie you got to SEE what occurred rather than just visualizing it and giving yourself trauma that required lots of therapy; was so vivid that I’m shocked it got past the censors of the time. But then they had a couple of flashes of full frontal male nudity too, so … yeah. Great critique of Julia. Come to think of it, I don’t like that name much EITHER..

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s fair to say that Mia’s minimalist pixie-cut may have indirectly lead to the mammoth female (and male) hairstyles that we had to endure during the 80s, with folks rebelling against said minimalism. Some women had coiffures so massive that I didn’t understand why their necks didn’t snap.

      Now, I LOVE me some Peter Straub. Yes, he had those collaborations with Stephen King, which are quite good, but I think his own novels are mighty fine on their own. (Okay, he had a few that I didn’t quite fully support. “Koko” comes to mind.) There was a time when I would gleefully knock people over to get my hands on a fresh copy of his latest release.

      But back to this full-frontal nudity that you mention. I remember going to see “Ghost Story” in the theater, but I don’t remember free willies. Hmm. Apparently I need to track that movie down for a retrospective review…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I suspect the version available on Prime (Amazon Streaming) whatever… is not ‘cut for viewing suitability’ and you do have to be paying strict attention to catch the glimpses. One of the scenes is where the guy leaps from his penthouse apartment. As he’s flying past the windows on his way to ground gravity, he’s nude. Everything is shown. He’s isn’t especially overly endowed though, so I don’t think things FLAPPED per se. But I’m sort of a pervert about such things. In “The Color of Night” – the psychological thriller with Bruce Willis as the psychiatrist….I saw HIS dick too, just a glimpse, but I think they didn’t edit as carefully as they might have and missed the shot. All I got to say about THAT is that Demi Moore and whomsoever is Mrs. Willis these days had/has NOTHING to complain about. Nothing. >phew<

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a tough crowd – what do they have against Mia? I mean, other than her vapid look and cutesy-girl voice.

    I never saw this movie, not sure I want to beings how it’s a scary movie. Though I will say I appreciate your review and I am now quite glad our house doesn’t have a bathtub. Just two very roomy showers. Also, who names a baby Magnus? I wonder, maybe when he was born he looked like the baby in the Bugs Bunny cartoons who smokes a cigar and turns out to be a crime boss. Do you suppose that’s what happened? Yeah, I bet that’s what happened.

    Is that enough off-topic? Are we done talking about scary movies? 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was a little startled by the Mia backlash as well. She’s no Meryl Streep (who is?) but I never really had any misgivings about her, other than my mild discomfort with “movie stars” who had it easier breaking into the profession because their parents were already somebody in the business. (Mia’s mother was Maureen O’Sullivan.) I think she’s been miscast in some of her movies, but who hasn’t been?

      I’m still mystified by “Magnus”. But I’m equally mystified by many of the currently “popular” baby names. Blue, North, Apple and Donald Trump, Junior? I don’t get it.

      Liked by 1 person

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