Tag Archives: Keir Dullea

The Haunting of Julia (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghost child haunts home.

Julia (Mia Farrow) leaves her husband Magnus (Keir Dullea) after their child accidently chokes on some food and dies. She then moves into a large home, which also had a child die in it years before. After Julia begins living there for a while she notices the presence of a ghostly spirit and holds a séance run by Mrs. Flood (Anna Wing) where she learns that a child was murdered by a group of other children lead by the mischievous Olivia, who is now the one haunting her home.

The film is based on an early Peter Straub noveI, but seems all mixed up in what direction it wants to take and I couldn’t understand why the first part of the story dealing with her child dying was even needed as the second half goes into an entirely different direction.  It also introduces a solid nemesis in the form of her controlling ex-husband who dies off quickly, which again left me wondering why his character was even put into the story at all.

The choking aspect is another issue and I was genuinely shocked they showed it as it’s hard to effectively pull off without it looking unintentionally comical. Having the child get hit by a train, car, slipping off the side of a cliff, or even drowning is far more dramatic and could leave a lasting visual impact whereas this looks as clumsily staged as it sounds.

The séance should’ve been avoided too since that has been parodied so much in movies that it’s hard to take seriously. The film doesn’t approach it with any new interesting angle so it comes-off as tacky as every other séance you’ve seen in a movie, even the funny ones, and yet this one we’re supposed to take seriously even though any sane participant would be convinced that the woman leading it was simply overacting for affect, which is how it looks.

The backstory involving the female child who was able to somehow control the other boys in the neighborhood to do her bidding had an intriguing element, which made me think that’s what should’ve been played out while the ghost angle dropped completely. Instead it could’ve analyzed the psycho young girl while she was alive and examined how she got the way that she did and what methods she used to convince the other kids to do what she wanted, which is never explored, but would’ve been far scarier than what ultimately gets played out.

Farrow with her super short haircut looks too much like she did in Rosemary’s Baby and a different do was needed to avoid the resemblance. Dullea has potential as the heavy, but then disappears too soon. The only one that does shine is veteran actress Cathleen Nesbit who hams it up as the mother of the killer girl, but overall the rest of it is a big letdown including the non-eventful ending that completely fizzles making it no surprise why the studio left this one sitting on the shelf for 5 years before finally giving a limited release that netted it very little in return.

Alternate Title: Full Circle

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1981 (Filmed in 1976)

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Loncraine

Studio: Discovery Films

Available: DVD (Out-of-Print), Amazon video, YouTube

Paperback Hero (1973)

paperback hero

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Big fish small pond.

Rick (Keir Dullea) is a hockey player living in a small town on the western plains of Canada. To pass his time he imagines he is a gunslinger in the old west and makes himself the self-imposed marshal of the community.  Outside of Sheriff Burdock (George R. Robertson) the other townsfolk considered it an amusing and otherwise harmless quirk. Then Rick learns that his hockey team will be disbanded and he will be without a job. He is given an opportunity for employment in nearby Saskatoon, but he refuses it feeling that he will lose his ‘mystique’ in the bigger city. Slowly the strains and pressures of his situation start to get to him and eventually it culminates in an old fashioned gunfight right in the center of town between him and the sheriff.

If the film gets one thing right it is in the recreation of small town life. Filmed on-location in Delisle, Saskatchewan director Peter Pearson gives the viewer a wonderful and vivid feel of the town. Just about all the sections of the hamlet are captured including the inside of abandoned buildings, trailer homes and farms as well as a couple of nice bird’s eye shots. The remoteness and flat wheat laden terrain brings to life the region in an almost stunning clarity. Having grown up in a small town not too terribly far from the Canadian border I can say that this film hits-the-mark in its portrayal of people in the Nordic region. All the little dramas that can go on between people locked in a remote local as well as the scenes done inside a dark and dingy bar that many times can constitute as the place to go for a ‘night-on-the-town’ is amusingly well played-out.

However, despite having the right flavor the film lacks direction. It was hard for me to get into this because all the scenes were random and not connected together by all that much. The plot is thin and made up if anything by a series of vignettes.  The main character is brass, egotistical, deluded and arrogant. He treats women like they are his property. He beats up one and considers it minor because her bruises are only the ‘size of a quarter’. He talks about getting turned on by one woman while making love to another and then is surprised when she gets upset with him. Having a film built around such an unlikable character is not entertaining or interesting especially when we are given no history to why he became the way he is.

Dullea does well in the lead and shows a lot more emotion and panache than one might expect from him especially when compared to his most famous role as the rather robotic Dave Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is always fun to see Elizabeth Ashley and here she plays one of Rick’s love interests, but her role is small and rather thankless though she does get shown in a long and explicit nude scene.

My favorite was Dayle Haddon as the alluring Joanna. Haddon has retired from the acting profession years ago, but was at one time a fashion model and she looks gorgeous here. The scene that takes place in an abandoned house where she tells Rick off and shreds his deluded ego while doing it in a quiet whispery tone is the movie’s best moment.

The segment showing a big hockey brawl where fans jump out of the stands to get involved and even the ref gets bloodied is fun. I also liked the part where Rick takes Joanna on car ride through the wheat fields. The camera is hooked up to the bumper of the car so the viewer gets an up close experience of watching the wheat thrash before them at high speeds. The standoff at the very end in the center of town is also interesting, but the film takes too long to gel and the main character is such a turn-off that it hurts the good points and ultimately makes this a misfire.

The movie also features the Gordon Lightfoot’s song ‘If You Could Read My Mind’, which is a great a song, but it has been played so much on lite-rock stations that instead of getting the viewer more engrossed in the movie it instead takes them out of it. The film works hard to create a gritty appeal and for the most part succeeds, which is why having a long segment with the song played over it doesn’t work and I would have left it out.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Pearson

Studio: Alliance Film Distribution

Available: VHS, YouTube

Black Christmas (1974)

black christmas 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s in the attic.

It’s Christmas time at the sorority house, but as the girls celebrate the season they continue to get harassing phone calls from a strange man who speaks in different and frightening voices. Unbeknownst to them the man has snuck into the attic of their house and the calls are coming in from another room. As the night progresses the girls begin to disappear forcing the lone survivor to fight off the killer by herself.

I have not seen the remake of this film and due to negative response that I have heard I don’t think I want to either. This review pertains to the original only. If you have seen the remake and disliked it you should still give this film a try.  Despite its low budget it is quite effective and it slowly builds up the tension in a nice compact style with a great twist ending.

Of course one of the things that make this movie so good is the humor. I loved Marian Waldman as the alcoholic house mother Mrs. McHenry who stashes bottles of whiskey in all sorts of goofy places. The vulgar Santa who swears even as the kids are sitting on his lap is a hoot and a nice precursor to Bad Santa, but my favorite is the poster of a sweet old lady giving the finger.

One of the best moments on the terror end is the part where the killer’s eyeball can be seen looking through a small crack in the doorway, which is memorable. The scene where the camera pans from each girl’s nervous and frightened face as they listen to the weird voices emanating from the phone receiver is very well done although it would have been even stronger had the Christmas music not have been playing in the background.

The performances are top rate and I liked the fact that the girls all have distinct personalities from one another. Margot Kidder as the vulgar and obnoxious sorority sister Barb is a scene stealer and I’d say this is the best performance of her career. I loved when she calls one of the more conservative members of the group a ‘professional virgin’, or has the audacity to call her own mother a ‘gold-plated whore’. The part where she gets a young kid drunk and even swears in front of him is also funny as is her conversation about a species of turtle that can have sex for three straight days without stopping. Yet through all of her outrageousness director Bob Clark still manages to create a three-dimensional character by showing her as also being lonely, moody, and suffering from asthma, which is good.

Olivia Hussey as Jess is terrific. She is poised, confident, intelligent, and sweet and the type of character the viewer can immediately connect with and care about. Her face has a wonderful fragility about it as well a natural beauty. The look of terror coming from her eyes seems genuine and the horror is made more effective because she responds to it in a believable and relatable way.

Keir Dullea is good as Jess’s high strung boyfriend Peter. I had to chuckle a bit seeing him here as it brought back memories of what playwright Noel Coward once said about him “Keir Dullea gone tomorrow”, which seemed to have some credence since he was starring in the masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey just a few years earlier and now delegated to a supporting role in a low budget horror film. I always felt that his reserved and emotionless delivery can work when given the right role and for the most part it clicks here despite the fact that he was pushing 40 at the time and not quite looking college age.

I read one review where the critic complained that he did not feel it was believable for a killer to be hiding in an attic and no one else in the house aware of it, but the house was a big old building and for me it seemed possible especially since it was only for a short period of time. Overall I felt this was a very plausible premise that is handled in a realistic fashion without all the glaring loopholes, which is one reason I continue to enjoy it no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

However, there are a few quibbles. One is the policeman who gets his throat slashed while sitting in an unmarked police car just outside of the sorority home. I would think a seasoned office would be able to spot someone sinking up on him while he is inside a car especially since it was otherwise not a busy street and since it was wintertime I think it would be highly doubtful that he would be sitting there with the driver’s side window rolled down. I also had to roll my eyes at the scene where Jess is trying to get out of the house as she is being chased by the killer and yet for some inexplicable reason the front door conveniently jams even though no had a problem with it before.

Bob Clark shows what a talented director he is and it is too bad his career and life was cut short in a car accident in 2007. It is one thing to have a big budget and access to all the state-of-the-art special effects, but it is another to make a memorable movie on a shoestring. Despite its low budget it doesn’t seem hampered by many of the limitations that other similar films suffer.

Some may prefer lots of gore, which this one has very little of, and a bigger-than-life monster or bad guy, but the reason this is a classic is because they go with the philosophy that less is more. Any self-respecting horror fan should see this film and most likely appreciate it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 11, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Clark

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Special Edition), Blu-ray