Teasing Threads – The Pleasure of Forgotten Movies: Richard Loncraine’s ‘The Haunting of Julia’

Chris Palazzolo wonders why The Haunting of Julia, directed by Richard Loncraine, 1978, is a forgotten movie.

Image result for the haunting of julia images

I’m a lazy consumer of popular culture. It’s rare that I’ll read introductions to books or watch the special features of dvds. I like to take things straight off the shelves with the (probably self-serving) argument that if a book or a movie doesn’t contain everything it needs to be understood, but requires secondary sources to fill in gaps, then that’s a weakness in it. I am however ready to make inquiries into mysteriously neglected movies. I can’t think of anything more unloved than Richard Loncraine’s gothic masterpiece The Haunting of Julia (aka, Full Circle). By ‘inquiries’ what I mean is a cursory thumb flick through compilations of old reviews, or an idle google, and what I’ve found is that there’s very little written about this movie apart from a handful of dismissive reviews at the time of its release in 1978. I saw it originally on late night tv, under the title Full Circle, back in the 1980s. It’s only available on tv formatted vhs, and now an even more deteriorated looking upload on Youtube. It’s never been released on dvd so I’ve never seen this movie in its proper aspect ratio. I still associate it with enigmatic shots where sometimes only an actor’s hand can be seen while their disembodied voice comes from off-screen. The little I’ve gleaned from my ‘inquiries’ is that Loncraine became dangerously ill while making it (anorexia nervosa), and Mia Farrow, its star, hated working on it so much she completely disowned it. This film hasn’t just been forgotten, it’s been renounced.

For reasons that are partly superstitious I wouldn’t want to see this film in its ‘proper’ restored state. In fact I wonder if there ever was such a state. I think the vhs copy (the Youtube upload is just the vhs version, and it’s pretty dire) is its proper state. If the television formatting lopped off parts of shots then that was meant to happen. Its hideous beauty is in the butchery on its hide; as the evil in its imagery visits butchery upon a number of human hides, its own tormented condition is its punishment. I need to be careful when I think about this movie. My mind runs into its big molecular close-ups like water runs into blotting paper; the faces of Farrow, and Tom Conti and Kier Dullea; the ‘englishness’ of the faces of the supporting cast (repertory faces of middle class British television) loom in shots of gaseous volume. All of the spaces the human figures move through – rooms and stairways, streets and parks – are full of this gassy ambience. This makes the human figures, and their faces and their minds look like molecularising shadows, permanently on the point of dissolution; it spiritualises them. This sense is heightened by a soundtrack where almost all the incidental sounds are muted to the point of silence. The score is a sickly obsessive music-box theme which overlays everything with an air of unspeakable sorrow. All of these elements serve to electrify its horror set-pieces with supernatural malice.

The spirit world represented here is of the British spiritualist type. Like its dimensional sibling, British naturalism, it conceives of the spirit world as subject to ‘rational’ laws (which have nothing to do with Christian eschatology); laws of supernatural selection. The properly British posture towards these laws is contemplation and humble inquiry, but otherwise laissez-faire. The evil that resides in the house at the centre of the story serves the same function in the supernatural world as a funnel web serves in the natural – to snare prey. The old spiritualist warns Farrow to leave the house. But she doesn’t. There’s nothing more to be done for the poor girl; she’s too weakened by grief at the death of her daughter and the evil seeps into the open wound of her mourning like poison. The narrative’s sickly obsession on this poisoning however is Gothic, and the Gothic is Christian – a medieval Christianity of eternal damnation, of the sorrow of eternal damnation; a sorrow so abject it becomes Horror. But the Gothic (as a literary and artistic conceit) is also post-Christian. Its imagery of sickness, madness and death is of the aftermath of Christian belief. Eternal damnation still causes terror, but belief in the God that rationalises such punishment is no longer possible. It’s the supernatural world that dispenses punishments on the mortal, but in a morally arbitrary (natural selective) kind of way. These punishments are evil because they have no other purpose than the extermination of life. Evil is pure appetite and the meek is its no longer blessed prey.

 – Chris Palazzolo

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Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and was, until recently, manager of one of the last video shops in the world. His novel, Scene and Circles, is available from https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/449419