I’m going to forgive myself for not fully getting THE HAUNTING OF JULIA (a.k.a FULL CIRCLE) when I first watched it many years ago. I knew nothing about grief back then and chances are great that I was under the influence of cheap beer and surrounded by wisecracking knuckleheads. I’m also sure the pan and scan VHS presentation did it few favors. Watching it late last night in HD (on Fearnet On Demand) it struck me as easily worthy of being included among the best ghost stories ever put to film, so much so that I watched it again this morning to confirm. See, it’s important to forgive yourself whenever you can, otherwise you risk being left behind in an ever darkening “once was” while the rest of the world blooms ahead. It’s like being one of those tiny marshmallows that stink up the Jell-o. You should especially take it easy on yourself if you are a failure at giving your child an emergency tracheotomy or if you are not familiar with the Heimlich maneuver because it’s the mid-seventies and not all that popular yet. These things happen. If you don’t let go of the past you just attract more of the same but worse.
Julia Lofting (MIA FARROW) watched helplessly as her kid Kate choked to death while she and her husband Magnus (KEIR DULLEA) had what appeared to be a contest to see who could be the most spazzy and useless. After a brief stay in a mental hospital, Julia decides that without her daughter she has no one to pretend she likes her husband for, and so she moves into a place of her own to clear her head. As fate would have it, Julia picks the exact worst place in the world to move into for someone who is trying to get over the death of a child. It has 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2 closely linked mysterious child deaths and a great view of her impending madness! Is the place really haunted or is Julia losing her marbles? Remember folks, those two things are NOT mutually exclusive. Understandably Julia begins to believe that if she can help the troubled spirit in her house, she can make up for that crappy day she played OPERATIONwith her daughter’s neck and lost big time. It’s a plan that backfires when everyone in her vicinity begins to die tragically and she slowly becomes the unwitting semi-possessed tool of an evil presence so heinous it has no issue putting into service, a wind-up clown doll with sharp clashing cymbals.
THE HAUNTING OF JULIA demands to be seen more than once to read its vaporous code. It trudges lethargically at times but that’s all the better to conjure a melancholic tsunami. Look closely and a figure darts past a mirror or an intangible shadow spills across the screen, for long moments you are kept in pitch black with only a glimmer of an eye as your guide. Allow yourself, and there are intense moments of anticipation for what might break through- yet never quite does. It’s subtle, probably too ambiguous for most but it seizes territory larger than itself, where anything in the imagination might materialize and the usual mental guardrails disappear. At one point Julia decides to visit the ghost girl’s crazy ma in the nuthouse and the crone is wheeled out with purple hair and a smile that’s impossible to pin down. Is she pretty, hideous, happy, evil, or insane? It’s like an ever-changing Rorschach smile you wouldn’t think possible outside an animated cartoon. Finally she lets the cat out of the bag, “I’m dead! And safe! Safe and dead!” That’s not what I wanted to hear. I’m sorry but old ladies are the scariest. If you are an old lady you should just know that and try to refrain from cackles and grimaces.
THE HAUNTING OF JULIA scarcely solidifies its spectral presence but who needs ghostly effects when gauzy MIA FARROW is wraith-ing up the joint? Apparitions in the know realize that it’s not what or why you haunt but whom. FARROW is always an interesting screen presence, even if I’m not sure what’s going on with her only sometimes British accent. Her translucent skin and abandoned eyes beg the question “Who haunts who?” and lo and behold, that’s much of the point. As is often her way, she goes through the emotional ringer here and it’s difficult not to feel something while witnessing her crippling heartbreak become eclipsed by cold solace found in an impossible goal that leads nowhere but down. I also need to praise the consistently dank and maudlin cinematography with its no fear attitude toward tenebrosity and the supremely mesmeric score by COLIN TOWNS that I could easily spin in an endless loop when playing solitaire or whist working on filing off my ankle bracelet. Maybe it just comes down to seeing a movie at the right time and in the right frame of mind in the end but I’m grateful this one didn’t hold a grudge due to my first impression and selected to creep back in my life. Maybe once long ago it flew over my head but this time it crashed right into it.