It’s been decades since I’ve seen the latest additions to my collection. Conveniently, they make a perfect double feature because the plots are similar, and they remind us that angry ghost children have been haunting horror for years.
THE HAUNTING OF JULIA (1977)
Based on an early Peter Straub novel, this film starring Mia Farrow is disappointing–it’s disjointed, uneventful, and open-ended with nothing in the way of scares or even bone-chilling atmosphere. The “haunting” could almost be seen as more of a metaphor about guilt rather than an actual haunting. It’s up to the viewer’s interpretation.
Mia’s daughter dies in a tragic accident. It almost seems like Mia tries to take matters in her own hands to save her daughter before help can arrive, but we are left not knowing what really happened, and we never find out.
In the aftermath, Mia literally just runs away from her husband (the actor who played Peter in the original Black Christmas) and moves into a house on her own.
Mia soon starts catching glimpses of her daughter wherever she goes. She hears noises in the house. She makes a gruesome and random discovery in a park. She participates in a seance.
Mia decides to delve into the house’s history and visits various people connected to its past. The best part of the movie is a disturbing backstory of girl who grew up there, but unfortunately it’s only presented in a monologue by a character Mia chats with, not through flashbacks.
The trippy final scene is meant to be haunting…but is it real or just in Mia’s messed up mind? We’ll never know.
THE CHANGELING (1980)
Revisiting this slow burn for the first time since watching it on HBO back in the early 80s, I braced myself for the agonizing overacting that George C. Scott brings to his performances–the kind that made Exorcist III even more laughable than it already was.
Imagine my surprise to find his performance here is actually understated and realistic. In fact, this whole movie, with its classic bump in the night ghost story vibe, was the more enjoyable of these two similar features.
After a tragic accident kills his wife and daughter, Scott, who plays a composer, moves into an empty old house to work through his grief.
Along with lots of atmospheric panning shots of the house, we get banging at night, a door opening on its own, running water, weird noises, lights flickering, a ball rolling around the house, and a padlocked door Scott can’t resist opening. This kicks off an investigation into the house’s history. And considering it’s 1980, that means microfiche! And naturally, a seance is also obligatory.
Best of all, this film has a body in a well/ghostly revenge plot that predated Ringu/The Ring by two decades–minus a terrifying, angry spirit we can actually see. This one uses the classic notion that “it’s what you can’t see that’s scariest”.
The backstory behind the haunting is a goodie that takes us to places that still seem original over 40 years later, and the creepy highlight is a chase scene involving a wheelchair. Eek!