AKA Full Circle, The Haunting Of Julia is one of my all-time favorite ghost stories, based on Peter Straub’s novel, Julia. I first discovered this on VHS at a local Blockbuster in the mid-Nineties and loved it, despite its horribly faded and scratch-ridden (panned-and-scanned) picture and sound.
Very heavy on atmosphere, with some really effective scares, but it moves at a pace too slow for a lot of Horror fans. I absolutely love it, though. One of those rare examples of the movie being better than the book (my late mother and I would argue passionately about this whenever the subject came up).
Back in the heyday of my Horror-movie-hungry younger years, it seemed the trend among filmmakers dabbling in spooky ghost stories was to provide their ghosts with justifiable, sometimes sympathetic, motivations for their hauntings. The Changeling, Ghost Story, Flatliners, Stir Of Echoes, What Lies Beneath, to name a few off the top of my head. The true villains in most of these turned out not to be the ghosts, but murderous characters still living.
I enjoyed some of these movies, but found myself increasingly bored by them when I realized that, yet again, each would conclude on the same ‘upbeat’ note:
Misunderstood ghosts are finally laid to rest after their still-living murderers were brought to justice with assistance from the living and their understanding of the conflict. All’s well that ends well.
None of these ghost stories had dared to end on a darker note, which, for me, is what distinguishes great Horror movies from those that are just okay.
The Haunting Of Julia, though it was nearly 20 years old at the time I first watched it, was a breath of fresh air in this sense. It starts off much like those other ‘misunderstood’ ghost stories I’d grown tired of, a haunted mystery plot, but winds up in a much, much darker place by its conclusion.
Darker endings seem to hang around longer. If the movie ends on goodness and light, if everything’s made right again, well, then, there’s not much left to think about. I’ve always preferred movies that achieved that, whether through darkness or ambiguity. Some people don’t.
I remember overhearing a young lady shopping in Media Play twenty years ago who, when asked by her boyfriend if she’d seen The Usual Suspects, replied “I didn’t like that at all. It’s one of those movies that makes you think. I hate movies that do that”. Cute girl, I remember thinking, but, man, how boring.
Some Horror movies without darker endings have had a lasting impact on me (Jaws and The Exorcist quickly spring to mind), but, generally, the best in the genre wrap up with just enough grimness and uncertainty to send the audience out with a slight chill, but not so much as to leave them hostile toward the movie. Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, Night Of The Living Dead. All classics, all personal favorites.
This movie belongs to, I believe, Canal, who leased it out to Netflix a few years ago…in glorious 2.35:1 widescreen, which is where I grabbed most of the screenshots used in this Fake Criterion cover (the movie’s not in black & white, I just desaturated the screenshots for effect). After seeing it show up on Netflix, I assumed it would only be a matter of time before a disc release happened. That was, I think, four or five years ago.
The long wait continues.