Julia (Mia Farrow) and her husband Magnus are having a strained family breakfast with their daughter Katie when Katie chokes to death on an apple. Magnus holds Katie upside down and shakes her, then calls the paramedics, while Julia reaches in vain into her throat from her mouth and then through an emergency tracheotomy. After Julia completes her subsequent stay in the nervous hospital she takes the opportunity to leave Magnus and buys herself a house. Of course, since you’re reading this here, it’s haunted.
Now, Magnus wants Julia back because she’s the one with the money, and I believe that is why Magnus’s sister, Lily, asks Julia if her monthly seance group can have their seance at Julia’s new house. At least, it appears to be that way after we see Lily hang up the phone from asking and he is sitting in the corner looking like some kind of creepy godfather. Of course, he is played by Keir Dullea, which would make anyone look creepy. But when the medium claims that she sees something so awful that she undergoes a personality change while simultaneously one of Lily’s stuck-up friends sees something in the bathroom upstairs so scary that she screams and falls down the stairs, we don’t know if it is just part of Magnus’s plan. Until, of course, he breaks into the house while Julia is out, or is trying to break in when the ghost lets him in, and the ghost then locks him in and murders him.
Several times during The Haunting of Julia I thought I knew what was happening, only to have it turn again on me, but I’m not complaining. Sometimes I can see that the plot of a movie is a huge metaphor for something else, and sometimes I can only see the little metaphors within the story. Twice we see Julia with blood staining her clothes, once when the paramedics see the results of the at-home tracheotomy, and once when she cuts herself after climbing in a window, having been locked out of her new house. Well, that’s easy, I thought, blood on her clothes stands for a period which also means she is not a mother, which of course she literally isn’t anymore. But then we see blood on her hands twice as well. Fair enough, she feels responsible for her daughter’s death. But it’s worse than that. It’s not a metaphor, or maybe it is, but it’s also powerful foreshadowing. People are going to die in a horror movie, you say? Do tell.
Ugh. I hate to quote a Netflix viewer review, but after having seen this I can’t help remembering that someone wrote: “I liked this movie better when it was Don’t Look Now.” I wouldn’t say I liked that one better, or that this one necessarily ripped that one off, but there are some comparisons in that you really don’t know what will happen until the very end despite getting part of the necessary information from a psychic. Here in Julia, however, I actually was frightened, as in squeezing my husbands hand and getting goosebumps. I saw this as a child and was frightened, and I was frightened again tonight. There is a scene during which the ghost touches a pilled-out sleeping Julia all over the face and shoulders that rivals most cinematic ghost appearances. Seriously, fuck CGI; give me shadows and blurry closeups, and a distorted reflection rushing by. There’s also an ominous, shouty speech by the insane mother of the ghost from her wheelchair in the nuthouse that made me want to turn this off and save myself by checking out some Sesame Street or The Waltons or something equally benign. Yes, two dead children, two insane mothers, two asylums, like bookends.
As if the people in the insane asylum weren’t bad enough, almost everyone in the film seems like they already are residents of hell. The people Julia encounters all throughout her quest to find out what is going on are uniformly menacing, hateful, unforgiving, manipulative, and awful. Except for her lovely antique dealer friend played by Tom Conti and we know what happens to the very nice and sane friends of the haunted person in these types of movies. And I suppose, in a way, Julia is in hell, albeit one with soft focus and bright sunshiny days. You can visit her there on Netflix streaming, but you are lucky. You get to come back.
By the way, the latest horror movie rule is that if you are in a horror movie and you find a toy that is holding little cymbals, you’re going to die. Seriously, potential victims, try to keep up, okay?
Someone has been kind enough to upload the entire soundtrack. Here is the first part, my favorite section of which is a synthesizer part that starts at 2:52 and would do fine in comparison with almost any of the Euro prog movie themes of the 70s. Enjoy.
Want to see the ghost actress, Samantha Gates, as a grownup? She is featured here in this “where are they now” piece, not because of The Haunting of Julia, but because she and her brother were also the children on Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy album cover.