Mama Mia – Rediscovering ‘The Haunting of Julia’ (UK 1977 – 98 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - December 10, 2013
Mama Mia – Rediscovering ‘The Haunting of Julia’ (UK 1977 – 98 mins)

“Evil Never Dies” – Heather Rudge (Cathleen Nesbitt) to Julia Lofting (Mia Farrow)

Originally known as ‘Full Circle’, the atmospheric British ghost story ‘The Haunting of Julia’ is a slow burner of eerie chills, built around a parent’s grief for the death of their child. A movie full of loss and pain, this criminally neglected piece is now much sought after from genre fans, who hark back to the days of old-fashioned, mood piece horror.

Mia Farrow plays Julia Lofting, a young mother who suffers a nervous breakdown following the sudden tragic death of her daughter Katie, who dies after choking at the breakfast table. Julia’s marriage collapses and after a time in an institution,  starts afresh by moving into an old house, which harbours its own tragic history. The house appears to shelter the spirit of a vindictive little girl, Olivia Rudge, who died in the house 30 years ago. Julia’s grief for her own daughter leads her to investigate this dead child, culminating one rainy night when Julia and the spirit finally come face to face.

The climatic confrontation between mother and ‘child’ is both beautiful and chilling. The way the camera moves through the scene, coupled with the haunting soundtrack raises the chill factor up a notch, and to me is one of the most memorable endings in the whole ghost movie genre. I’ve never been sure what’s real and what’s not during the ending, but the film’s original title may be a clue. At the beginning of the movie Julia must slit her daughter’s throat (in a desperate attempt to save her), and at the end of the film has her own throat slashed (possibly by her own hand due to guilt). Could this be what ‘Full Circle’ means?

Mia Farrow plays Julia with the right amount of fragility and loneliness. Her range of emotion in all of her scenes ranks this film for me, as one of Farrow’s very best performances. Able support is given by Keir Dullea as Farrows husband, and stage veteran Cathleen Nesbitt as the mother of the long dead Olivia. A very British supporting cast is rounded off by Tom Conti, Jill Bennett and Peter Sallis. The two child actresses in the movie are also very impressive. Sophie Ward makes an early appearance in the opening scene, as the Lofting’s tragic daughter Katie, while Samantha Gates is very effective as the ghostly malevolent Olivia, the lost in limbo spirit, whose innocent looks may mask evil tendencies.

Richard Loncraine’s thoughtful direction of the sympathetic material is arguably his best work. Cinematographer Peter Hannan also deserves special mention for his superb camerawork, which at times gives the movie an otherworldly and unnerving aura, as it silently creeps through hallways and stairwells. The deliberate pacing of the story starts to gather real momentum in the second half, and when the memorable finale comes, it does so with great power and emotion.

What lifts ‘The Haunting of Julia’ above many others is the astonishing score by Colin Towns. Being both beautiful and unsettling, I think it is one of the most mesmerizing soundtracks I’ve ever heard, and one that I can listen to again and again. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect musical score that would fit within the mood of this movie.

An unforgettable ghost story, ‘The haunting of Julia’ is in desperate need of a decent DVD release. Only an inferior DVD from France is currently available. With their current crop of 1970’s genre releases, this would be an ideal DVD for the BFI label to pick up, and finally do justice to a shining beacon in Seventies British horror.

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