Written by: Paul Nicholas and Maurice Smith
Directed by: Paul Nicholas
Starring: Anthony Franciosa, Sybil Danning, and Isabelle Mejias
Reviewed by: Brett G.
She’s sweet sixteen, and she simply loves her daddy…
Horror has had some pretty famous guys with mommy issues (Norman Bates and Jason Voorhees lead that oedipal charge), but as a member of the male species, I imagine a girl with extreme daddy issues to be much scarier. I mean, females are already scary enough, but when they’ve got an unnatural love for their father, it’s even worse. Consider the title character in Julie Darling, who is not only rocking a wicked Electra complex, but a vicious psychotic streak as well. Usually you’ve got to watch out for an overprotective dad’s shotgun when you date a girl, but in this case, it’s the other way around.
Sixteen year old Julie (Isabelle Mejias) really loves her daddy (Anthony Franciosa); however, mommy (Cindy Girling) is a different story. She’s neurotic and possibly suffering from a mid-life crisis that’s led her to blame her marital problems on Julie. To rid herself of this problem, she’s convinced her husband to ship Julie off to boarding school, much to her dismay. However, fate intervenes in the form of a lascivious grocery boy her attempts to rape her mother and ends up killing her. Problem solved? Not so fast, as daddy soon has a new flame (Sybil Danning) who might end up as her new stepmother…but not if Julie has anything to say about it.
It takes a certain kind of demented individual to come up with something like this; that individual probably needs to have an unhealthy distaste and distrust for women too. I don’t like to lay that kind of allegation at the feet of writers/directors Paul Nicolas and Maurice Smith, but Julie Darling has quite a misogynist chip on its shoulder, even bigger than most rapey/revengy exploitation movies like this. Just about all the female cast members are beaten, many of them nearly raped, and none of them are particularly likeable (maybe with the exception of Danning, simply because she doesn’t have much to do besides look pretty--which she does!). Even most of the women hate each other, which, given the concept, sort of makes sense I guess. Cindy Girling is especially shrill and insanely wicked; you’d think she was the stepmother, but nope--Franciosa actually upgrades from her to Danning (in what world does that happen?).
Anyway, it’s pretty sleazy, though I suspect grindhouse aficionados will be able to stomach it and see the film for some of its merits. There aren’t a whole lot of those, but Mejias is one because there’s an obvious disconnect between her angelic features and her homicidal tendencies. If you’ve ever seen Meatballs III, you know she’s the nerdier girl that’s trying to jump Patrick Dempsey’s bones (meanwhile, he pines for Shannon Tweed); it’s a total 180 from what she puts on here, so to get the full effect, maybe you should check that flick out first (you will also be greeted with a better movie). Mejias is actually pretty good here too, especially because it’s a difficult role. I can’t say she’s altogether likeable, but she’s kind of sweet when she needs to be. This mostly occurs when she’s cozying up to her father, which is just some creepy stuff; it’s made all the more creepier because Franciosa plays it up like he’s Mr. Rogers or something--he’s overly fatherly and cloying, which sometimes makes you wonder how far the flick will actually go.
It teases at going pretty far, but it never really gets ultra disturbing or anything, despite all the child peril (Danning has a stepbrother who soon begins to steal Franciosa’s attention, so he’s gotta be dealt with) and incestuous innuendos; the flick also gets a bit sidetracked about midway through. When it’s simply focusing on Julie’s burgeoning desire to kill off her step-mom, it works; the film is obviously not particularly well made, but there’s a distinct focus and intrigue as we watch her scheme. She eventually settles on an elaborate plot that returns the murderous grocery boy to the picture, which just manages to further make it a boys show. Oh, sure, Julie is technically attempting to outwit everyone, but the final act just puts her where girls usually are in movies like this: stuck in a closet as a psychopath prowls around. Requisite emasculation-like scenes are thrown in, but I think it’d really be hard to make the same sort of argument that Julie Darling espouses female empowerment like I Spit on Your Grave and its ilk.
But, hey, the ending is pretty memorable and I legitimately didn’t see it coming. It doesn’t rescue Julie Darling from being a pretty average exploitation flick with a disturbing premise, but it’s something I’ll take away from an otherwise tepid experience. Really, the only thing it dials up to extreme volumes is its women-hatin’, so you’ve been warned. This is yet another obscure title that’s been plucked from the vaults by Code Red, who restored it from the original 35mm negatives, which yields a fine transfer. The print itself shows a little bit of wear and tear, but the detail and colors are fine, and the mono soundtrack is more than adequate. Special features include an on-camera interviews with Danning and Mejias, plus two different commentaries featuring both. They also pop up before the feature starts, and Mejias implores you to only watch Julie Darling if you really have nothing else better to do for 2 hours. She said it, not me--but take her word for it. Rent it!
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