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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Julie Darling (1983) review


Isabelle Mejias (Julie), Anthony Franciosa (Harold), Sybil Danning (Susan), Paul Hubbard (Weston), Cindy Girling (Irene)

Directed by Paul Nicholas

The Short Version: Occasionally trashy 'evil child' movie moonlights as a murder mystery and aside from some incredibly sleazy and blatantly gratuitous moments, loses steam at times, but really hits its stride during the last half. The director of CHAINED HEAT seems to be warming up for his WIP cult favorite here with abundant sex and nudity and a creepy, yet pouty lead performance by Isabelle Mejias as the calculatingly evil murderess. It has shortcomings, but this deadly DARLING manages to be an average and entertaining entry in the 'killer kid' style of thriller cinema. Fans of Sybil Danning take note!

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity***

Julie hates her mom and would do anything to get her permanently out of the way to have her father all to herself. One day a lecherous delivery man attempts to rape her mother and accidentally kills her instead. Julie watches from afar and thinks it's all over. Some time later, her father has a new wife and step-son in his life and Julie wants them both dead and devises an elaborate plan to get rid of them.

Gratuitous bouncing breast shot that serves absolutely no purpose other than to get in a few seconds of a blonde running down a hallway.

The director of the WIP cult classic CHAINED HEAT (1983) and THE NAKED CAGE (1986) shot this Canadian-German example of the 'killer kid' sub genre that's more of an exploitation murder thriller than an actual horror flick. It's not particularly spectacular, but is an enjoyable enough 90 minutes with serviceable performances, if unremarkable on the whole. Director Nicolas definitely piled on the sleaze with CHAINED HEAT, but for JULIE DARLING, it was a warm up punctuated by a handful of shock moments and even a nice twist or two that hits a high note during the finale.

The plot is noticeably similar to the male version of this story entitled RIVALS, an experimental failure made a decade earlier with Joan Hackett, Scott Jacoby and Robert Klein. JULIE DARLING has far more focus in getting its point across without a multitude of story arcs running simultaneously. That's not to say this 80s picture doesn't falter in some areas, it just doesn't try to be anything more than an exploitation feature and it succeeds on that level most of the time. The plot device of a young girl having an obsessively incestuous fascination with her father is disturbing enough, but the film goes one step further by showcasing a scene where Julie overhears her father and his new wife making love. Watching them she imagines her dad is making love to her instead! Easily the most disturbing sequence in the film, the rest of the movie never manages to expand on this salaciously unsettling moment, nor explore the backstory of this plot point. The notion that Julie sexually desires her father is mostly forgotten about after this instead concentrating on her attempts to kill off the new additions to the family.

Now having successfully and somewhat inadvertently gotten her real mother out of the way, Julie focuses on her father's new wife and her young son. Julie manages to lure the boy into a refrigerator while playing hide and seek. Almost dying, both Harold and Susan find him in time, but Susan is now privy to the hatred Julie harbors for her. This leads to a wonderfully shot sequence--the best in the film--where Susan and Julie indulge in a game of chess that formulates an interesting bit of juxtaposition. The two are playing chess, but at the same time, said game symbolizes the all too real game of life and death. Susan intends to protect both herself and her son's life and Julie intends to end them. Sadly, this intriguing battle of wits is pretty much discarded till the bloody finale.

Almost immediately thereafter, we see Susan wobbling on a ladder hanging a picture and casually asks Julie to steady the ladder for her! It's almost as if the previous sequence never existed. Also during this scene, the frame picks up Julie's friend Michelle waiting for her cue to enter. You even see the director's or another crew members hand motioning for her to walk into frame! There's also a sub plot with Weston the sexual degenerate delivery man that attempted to rape and accidentally killed Julie's mother earlier in the film. Not only does the actor resemble Gene Davis, but he also plays a very similar character to the Warren Stacy character Davis played in the Charles Bronson vehicle 10 TO MIDNIGHT (1983).

Aside from some novel touches and abundant nudity, the film is a bit cumbersome during the first hour. The fragmented script fumbles some key elements such as the relationship between Julie and her actual mother played by Cindy Girling. Watching the film, one never really gets the impression that Irene is Julie's mother judging by the way she acts towards her and the obvious wedge in their relationship is never explored. Even so, her character isn't in the film after the 30 minute mark and seemingly gets more exposure as the camera lingers on her in tight clothing or naked while bathing as opposed to any exposition.

Fortunately, the film finds its bearing for the last half when things really start to get going once the lecherous and murderous delivery man re-enters the picture. Things take a startling turn when Julie contacts the killer and threatens to tell the police that she saw him kill her mother unless he agrees to now kill her stepmother! Julie lays out the plan to the reluctant participant in this crime who has an alternate plan of his own. Unknown to him, though, Julie is a few steps ahead with some additional sinister details.

The actress that plays Julie, Isabelle (MEATBALLS 3) Mejias (she mercilessly rips the film apart on her commentary track), plays this conniving and devious bitch as a chubby cheeked, innocent young girl that nobody would suspect to be this evil, death dealing child. She does fine with the role getting the required reaction from the audience although with a bit more conviction, it could have put the title 'Bad Seed' as over the top as the subject matter suggests. Still, the moments where she tells her "hired killer" that, regarding Susan, he's welcome to"rape her all you want before you kill her" (Julie's plan also consists of setting up her best friend, Michelle to be snuffed out!) effectively creates audience disdain for her character and even anticipation in the hopes that she will meet a horrible death by films end.

Sybil (REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS, CHAINED HEAT) Danning looks as lovely as she ever did and her fans will be pleased to know that while she doesn't brandish any firearms here, she does partake in a sex scene with Anthony (TENEBRAE) Franciosa who, outside of this love scene, seems either disinterested or disconnected during the rest of his scenes. He's not bad, only Franciosa appears to be going through the motions. Danning plays a strong female role as she was accustomed to, only not in the usual comic book mold most are familiar with. She's great in the conclusion which reveals a shock or two. Even though the weak script gives neither of them much to chew on, Danning does a lot more with her role than Franciosa does with his.

Far from perfect, JULIE DARLING (1983) is little more than 'B' movie filler. It makes for a good time waster containing just enough choice moments of sex, nudity and violence (featuring a climactic castration!) to make it watchable. There's a few tasteless additions here, but outside of a trashy scene where Julie imagines sex with her father, nothing goes quite far enough to be anything more than a standard exploitation pot boiler. 'Killer Kid' movie enthusiasts and fans of Sybil Danning will want to see it and casual viewers may find it of moderate interest.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD.

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