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.

Rivals (1972) review


Scott Jacoby (Jaime), Joan Hackett (Christine), Robert Klein (Peter), James Karen (Psychiatrist)

Directed by Krishna Shah

"Since Douglas's death, Jaime's changed. Sometime's I think's almost as if he's trying to take his father's place."

The Short Version: Confoundingly bizarre and totally unclassifiable movie about a disturbed ten year old boy with an Oedipus complex. Shah's movie can't make up its mind what the hell it wants to be. There's several daringly intriguing ideas presented here and some shock moments, but it's not enough. There's also a wacky performance from Robert Klein and a good turn by Scott Jacoby as the mentally unhealthy boy as well as some great and surreal shots of New York city life circa 1972 that looks all the world like it was shot "live--as it happens". This is a freakish curio for cinematic danger seekers, while most others will likely be bored and tune out by the thirty minute mark.

Jaime is an unusually intelligent ten year old boy who has a special, if unhealthy relationship with his mother, Christine. When Jaime's mother meets Peter, a quirky tour bus driver and a younger man, this drives a wedge between mother and son. The animosity Jaime feels towards Peter escalates when he and his mother plan to get married. Devising a murderous plan to get rid of Peter, young Jaime has no intention of allowing another man to come between him and his momma.

Utterly bizarre movie from the director of HARD ROCK ZOMBIES (1985) that alternates between pseudo hack work and transgressive surrealism. Portions of the movie are well shot with some good performances and others look to be the work of a slop artist bearing amateur levels of acting delivery. To describe this movie would be an act in futility. It's as if director Shah was trying for an occasional avant garde atmosphere, although some of these moments look like they were designed and shot by a middle school student--and in a way, they were! Speaking of middle school, Jaime plays a filmmaker in training along with a bunch of his other pre-pubescent buddies. The film is peppered with these weird musical interludes that look like they'd make a better fit in an episode of THE BANANA SPLITS or SESAME STREET. Other times the film resembles a romantic comedy between self reliant art gallery owner Hackett and the free spirited ardor of Klein.

Shah's movie trudges dangerously close to onscreen pedophilia at times and if it weren't for a handful of worthwhile moments, this uneven mishmash would be ripe for 'The Dis List'. Shah wrote the script and he seems a better writer than a director as his written word explores some fascinating, if controversial terrain. In fact, he packs way too much subtext here without ever giving any one thing an opportunity to bloom. If that weren't bad enough, there's a grand potential here for exploitation greatness, but Shah squanders it on so many themes and issues that it all ends up being perfunctory at best. Such as when Jaime is bullied by a gang of older kids. Does he ever plot revenge on them? No! Instead, he attempts to have sex with the bully boy's girlfriend. The music is also terrible across the board. It sounds like stock cues from a classroom filmstrip and that's likely what it is.

Funnily enough, the opening title reads "Krishna Shah's RIVALS". This being his first feature and it being as frequently ridiculous as it is, his name above the films title is hilariously pretentious. Another interesting tidbit more curious than anything in the movie is the story credit for Stanford Sherman who wrote such movies as ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN (1980), KRULL (1983) and ICE PIRATES (1984). Also, one of horror's favorite character actors, James Karen (FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) has a supporting role here as a child psychiatrist. Regarding the movie itself, the only major point of interest is Jacoby's character of the troubled Jaime. He's really quite good and if the film had stayed its course instead of alternating between a romantic comedy-drama and some experimental children's show by way of a twisted pathological semi-exploitation picture, we would have had an engrossing psychological example of the 'evil child' sub genre.

We learn Jaime is a genius with a higher than normal IQ (142 at six years old!). We know he had an indelible devotion to his father--this hammered home in several surreal flashback--dream sequences (Why do we need to see shots of him potty training shittin' in a toilet?). We also learn (in the first ten minutes) that Jaime has an unusual curiosity and learned capacity for the sexual act. At one point, Jaime dreams of some sort of satanic orgy where a group of onlookers watch Hackett and Klein have sex in the floor while Jaime masturbates behind a tree and keeps getting interrupted by his babysitter!

In one of the more exploitable sub plots, Jaime becomes infatuated with his babysitter who is awestruck by his statements of sexual enlightenment. Eventually she desires his little ten year old body while her of age boyfriend becomes understandably incensed. If it weren't for this borderline sexual deviancy and calculatingly sinister behavior on the part of Jaime, this movie would have nothing to offer. The films plot wants to be of the 'killer kid' sub genre, but can't make up its mind when so many other peculiar plot strands are thrown at the screen all of which ultimately render the films title a misnomer for much of the running time. Essentially both Jacoby's and Klein's characters are "Rivals" for Hackett's affection, but like the half dozen extra sub plots, the film is like a storm at sea cerebrally rising to the occasion before sinking back down into hackneyed waters.

Horror fans will recognize Scott Jacoby from the popular 'TV Movie Terror' of BAD RONALD (1974) and the taut thriller THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976), a film that treads some lines of decency regarding young people with what looks like an underage, and in one scene, a very naked Jodie Foster. Jacoby is consistently good in RIVALS if nothing else really is. The ending delivers a cruel twist of fate and if the rest of the movie had a lot more punch, than RIVALS would likely have been something well worth revisiting as opposed to a bewildering oddity that never left the playground.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD

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