Blu-Ray Review: The Haunting of Julia (1977)

APRIL 26, 2023


As is often the case, I remembered liking The Haunting of Julia (aka Full Circle) when I saw it many years ago as a canon Horror Movie a Day entry, but nothing specific beyond that - I was even kind of hazy on the sub-genre it belonged to. But the most surprising thing about re-reading my review (now over a decade old) was that I saw it on Netflix "Instant", back when their streaming platform was still in its relative infancy (House of Cards didn't even exist yet). It's pretty easy to forget (and almost kind of hard to imagine) that their movie library used to be fairly robust with regards to obscure films; nowadays I assume the deepest cuts are probably DTV studio films from the aughts.

But I should have remembered that it had to have been streaming somewhere, because it never even came to DVD outside of a bootleg version that was released in France. That makes it an usual but highly appreciated choice for Scream Factory to add to their growing 4K UHD library, as the bulk of it is just upgraded versions of their own previous releases (the Carpenter stuff, Return of the Living Dead, etc.). The only other one I know of that came to 4K without a Blu-ray before it (either from their own history or the studio's) was Alligator, but at least that had a DVD to compare to. For this forgotten little gem, with the Netflix option long gone, the only thing to compare the transfer to would be either that bootleg French DVD, or the damned VHS tape.

I say that to note that it's not exactly the most mind-blowing ultra high def restoration out there - it actually looks rather soft to my eyes. But just having the movie at all is the real "get" here, and since most of SF's releases of late have been double dips, it's nice to see that there are still titles like this that they can rescue from out of print hell, and in this case complete obscurity. Despite the presence of Mia "Rosemary's Baby" Farrow and Keir Dullea (who once again breaks into a basement looking for the rattled heroine, as he did in Black Christmas - the man has a niche!), the film's unavailability has left it pretty much unheard of by most genre fans, and the fact that it's known by another title (neither of which are Julia, the name of the Peter Straub novel it's based on) doesn't help much. Long story short, it's a gamble for them to go down the more expensive 4K route with a title that most aren't aware of, and I laud them for it.

For those who didn't click back on my old review and/or simply don't know the story, it's very much in the vein of Don't Look Now or The Changeling (which came later), in that it kicks off with the hero (Farrow) losing their child and then being haunted by their memory... or is it an actual ghost? I've never read Straub's novel*, but from what I understand he makes things a little less vague than the movie, which as depicted seems like the filmmaker wanted you to draw your own conclusions as to whether or not she was just having a mental breakdown or if the ghost was actually committing the (relatively high number of) deaths in the film's second half. And if it was a ghost, which one? Her daughter? A little boy who was murdered? Or the evil child that killed him, who was later in turn murdered by her mother when she realized how wicked her daughter was? Again, it's unclear, but on the commentary track director Richard Loncraine spells it out, prompting his moderator to note that all he has to do is "tour the countryside explaining the movie to anyone who is about to watch it."

That's one of the many comments that makes the track an unexpected delight, as the two men are old pals and, as is quickly made clear, moderator/historian Simon Fitzjohn actually likes the movie more than Loncraine does, as the latter feels that Straub's novel itself had some issues (I poked around online and the consensus is that Ghost Story was his improved version of the same kind of story, a sort of "Four Flies on Grey Velvet compared to the later Deep Red" type situation) and he didn't do the best job of fixing them. So the two take little jabs at each other while running through the usual retrospective type commentary, with Loncraine talking about the production, working with Farrow and the others (apparently she caught Rosemary on tv a few nights before shooting started and suddenly decided she didn't want to do the movie in fear of repeating herself; Loncraine had to convince her to stay on), etc, while Fitzjohn gets into the "Where are they now?" sort of thing. It's the sort of track I wish I heard more often, as you usually get a moderator who is just asking questions to the director without bringing much to the table at all, or a historian who is by themselves and goes off on unrelated tangents to fill up the dead space since there's only so much they can know without someone who actually made the movie sitting there with him.

(So if they upgrade Shocker to 4K, I'll be the historian, but I want Peter Berg and/or Mitch Pileggi there with me. Thanks in advance.)

There are also a pair of interviews, one with Tom Conti who plays Farrow's friend/potential new love interest, and Samantha Gates who played the evil child Olivia. They're both fine, if a bit overlong considering their relatively minor roles in the film (Gates in particular is only onscreen for a minute or so, but the interview runs for over ten minutes). Of more interest is a solid critique from Kim Newman, which runs 25 minutes and acts as a sort of mini historian commentary, highlighted by his noting that Farrow's career is most famous for Polanski's Rosemary's Baby and her work with Woody Allen, which has to suck. There's also a fun little visit to the shooting locations as they exist today, a bonus feature I always enjoy as someone who visits such locations for personal faves (the first time I came to LA, I looked for Fletch's apartment in Santa Monica). Loncraine also provides an intro to the film, but like all the other extras (save the commentary) it's confined to the accompanying standard Blu-ray, which puzzles me - it's not even a minute long, could it really not "fit" on the 4K disc with a mere 95 minute film? I only found it because I decided to take the standard disc with me to work (no 4K there) to watch the rest of the commentary on my lunch break.

Other than that, it's a solid release for a film that could have easily continued to languish in moratarium; one of those releases where even a bare-bones presentation would have been enough to make fans happy since there was literally nothing better (unless you're one of those obnoxious VHS champions who find a murky/cropped tape of Die Hard or something and hold it up like it's a treasure as opposed to something that should just be thrown away). I hope it's a successful gambit for Scream Factory as I'd like to see them continue to "save" these movies as often as they can, as opposed to sticking with safe bets like upgrading Army of Darkness or whatever to 4K. Not that I'm against that sort of thing, especially if it keeps the lights on (and you know damn well I upgraded my Halloween releases), but I feel there should be room for both, preferably in equal measures!

What say you?

*I have it here though; I was planning to actually do a comparison when this disc came out, but got swamped on a much larger "book vs movie" project that will hopefully appear in a certain horror mag later this year!


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