Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Final Girl Film Club - The Haunting of Julia

Throughout October, Cody will be participating in the Final Girl Film Club SHOCKtober event with articles posted on a different movie every day of the month.

Today's film: The Haunting of Julia (1977), a.k.a. Full Circle.

The Haunting of Julia (or Full Circle, the title on the version of the film that I watched on Netflix) is a movie that really makes you wonder just how many lives have been saved every year since the Heimlich maneuver became common knowledge. The events of this movie might not have even happened if the characters knew the Heimlich.

The film begins with the Lofting family - mother Julia, father Magnus, and young daughter Katie - gathering at the kitchen table for breakfast. Julia has cooked up some eggs which nobody seems to want, Magnus passes on the plate of eggs she sets in front of him and Katie would rather eat an apple. Even after Julia tells her daughter to save the apple for after breakfast, Katie takes a big bite of it... and begins to choke. The parents panic and do everything they can think of to dislodge the chunk of apple from Katie's windpipe - they pat her on the back, hold her upside down, stick fingers in her mouth trying to reach the obstruction, and when things start to look really desperate, Julia tries a steak knife tracheotomy.

All this, and they never even attempt to do the Heimlich maneuver. Modern viewers will be yelling at the screen in exasperation, "Why aren't they doing the Heimlich?", a question that has even reached the FAQ section of the movie's IMDb page. Turns out that the Loftings are just slightly behind the times, articles on the Heimlich maneuver had only started getting published in June of 1974 and didn't reach rescuer instruction manuals until 1976.

Regardless, nothing Julia and Magnus do saves their daughter. Katie dies and Julia ends up spending some time in a mental ward. When she gets discharged, she leaves her husband, giving the explanation that their marriage hadn't been right for a long time and now that Katie's not around, there's no reason to try to make it work any longer. He seemed like a jackass anyway.

Julia buys her own home, and soon after moving in begins to see and sense some very strange things around her. She feels a presence in her new home, like someone else is there. Going around the neighborhood, she catches glimpses of a little girl who then disappears, and whenever she sees the girl, she feels an intense hatred emanating from her. Is it Katie? If so, why would she be so full of hate? Has Julia moved into a haunted house, or was she discharged from the mental ward too early?

The odds of it being a true haunting go up when a séance (of course there would be a séance) is held in Julia's new home and the old lady medium is horrified by glimpses of wickedness, bad things, a child...

As Julia tries to figure out what's going on around her, she ends up uncovering some very dark secrets about the history of the area she has moved into... and the people around her start getting killed one-by-one.

My SHOCKtober viewing of this film was the first time I had ever watched it, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up liking it. Haunting stories are not my preferred subgenre of horror, I don't find movies based around ghosts, creaking floorboards and doors opening by themselves particularly interesting, but every once in a while there's one that's good enough to break through my wall of resistance.

The Haunting of Julia is one that broke through because the story, which is based on a novel by Peter Straub, kept taking interesting twists and turns, and the backstory that Julia digs up is extremely disturbing. The more evil and murderous a supernatural entity is, the better chance a movie of this type has at winning me over, and the ghost Julia runs up against is a nasty one. With great atmosphere and a groovy score by Colin Towns, this is a movie worth making an annual October viewing.

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