Friday, August 8, 2014

Only now does it occur to me... THE HAUNTING OF JULIA

Only now does it occur to me...  that in THE HAUNTING OF JULIA, I've found a new entry for my Melancholy Horror genre.  
A couple years ago, I laid out a subcategory of 70s horror called "Melancholy Horror," describing it as "a sub-genre of especially artistic horror/thriller/supernatural drama films that fill half of you with genuine scares, and the rest with a genuine sadness– or at least a sense of overwhelming alienation.  They routinely begin and/or end with a tragedy, often of an accidental, non-supernatural variety.  They were made, by and large, between 1970 and 1981, and mostly on lower budgets that lend them a very' documentary' feel.  They always make the most of their budgets, however, and come across as very impressionistic, hypnotic, and dreamlike; the 1970s film stock often lending sunlight, candlelight, and fall colors a special ethereal prominence."

THE HAUNTING OF JULIA is no masterpiece: it's not as good as DON'T LOOK NOW or THE CHANGELING or AUDREY ROSE, three films that it resembles thematically.  But in Melancholy Horror, atmosphere often trumps narrative quality, and JULIA has atmosphere in spades, taking place in a soft and hazy autumn climate that somehow avoids overwhelming fall colors. 
It rests beautifully in that overcast, spooky, unsettling color palette well-known to residents of the American Rust Belt, the Pacific Northwest, large swathes of Canada, seaside communities, and the British Isles...
Furthermore, this film (made nearly a decade after ROSEMARY'S BABY) stars Mia Farrow, still looking exactly like Rosemary Woodhouse, cropped haircut and all.
Like the best of Melancholy Horror, it's a film about loss– loss of life, loss of identity.  Mia plays a sensitive, depressed mother whose daughter has died in an accident  (nobody knew the Heimlich Manuever, I guess), and who has now moved into a new and mysterious abode; a place that may have in the not-so-distant-past hosted horrific and mind-numbing happenings– a place that may be haunted.
It seems to be hitting every Melancholy Horror bullet point along the way, even the "seance scene" and "ghostly research at the library sequence."
And keep your ears peeled for creepy, synth-y strains courtesy of Colin Towns (RAWHEAD REX, VAMPIRE'S KISS) that complete the picture.
In closing, this film doesn't particularly break any new ground, but it's nonetheless a solid entry into the genre; a dark, restrained horror film steeped in narrative ambiguity and the vapors of death...


gweeps said...

Thanks for the recommendation! I'm already starting to think about October, a country where, according to Bradbury, it's always turning late in the year.

Mike B. said...

I second the thanks! Your list of melancholy horror a while back really got me hooked on the vibe and I still have several more to go through; "The Changeling" in particular is a new favorite. Keep 'em coming!

Sean Gill said...

Glad to oblige. As I said, this one's not a capital-M masterpiece, but it hits all the right atmospheric points. And I'm always ready for the Halloween season– I've always considered it to last from about September 1 to Thanksgiving.

No prob, and glad you've taken to Melancholy Horror! And it really doesn't get much better than THE CHANGELING.