Julie (Isabelle Mejias, SCANNERS II: THE NEW ORDER) is at that awkward age where she adores only her doctor-father Harold (Anthony Franciosa, TENEBRAE) and her eight-foot pet boa constrictor. Her mother Irene (Cindy Girling, MEATBALLS) wants to send her away to boarding school and gives away her beloved pet snake. When grocery delivery man Weston (Paul Hubbard, FUNERAL HOME) tries to rape Irene, shotgun-toting Julie hesitates and Irene is accidentally killed in the struggle. Weston high-tails it out of town and Julie tells the police that she did not see the assailant. Julie thinks that she finally has her daddy all to herself until he introduces Susan (Sybil Danning, THE HOWLING II) as her future stepmother with her own small son Dennis (Benjamin Schmoll). Susan makes an effort with Julie, but she remains icy; however, when Susan suspects Julie of locking Dennis in an old refrigerator while playing hide and seek, she indirectly lets the girl know that she is not to be messed with. Meanwhile, Weston gets picked up by the police while roughing up a hooker and is placed in a lineup as a suspect in Julie’s mother’s death. The wheels start turning in Julie’s head and she claims that she does not recognize him. Later, she follows Weston and discovers where he lives. She phones him and arranges a meeting. She tells him she knows he murdered her mother and will tell the police unless he murders her stepmother (“You can rape her all you want!”). Julie arranges for Weston to burglarize the house and kill Susan in the process, but she is also planning to take out Weston when the deed is done. Julie sends her look-alike friend Michelle (Natasha Rybakowski) off wearing her clothes to convince Weston that she has left the house and loads up her shotgun again. This time, however, she may have underestimated both Weston and Susan.
Shot in Canada and Germany from a script co-written by German director Paul Nicolas and prolific Canadian producer Maurice Smith (SCREWBALLS, SPASMS), JULIE DARLING isn’t quite the rip-off of THE BAD SEED it wants to be. Whereas there are many a horror film or thriller with Freudian Oedipal undertones, JULIE DARLING explores the Jungian Elektra complex with Julie vying for possession of her father with her mother and then her stepmother, and it does so explicitly (while watching Susan and her father having sex – cue Sybil Danning toplessness – she imagines herself in Susan’s place and the film shows it). The film sets up the theme in a scene of Susan and Julie playing chess – much is made of the pivotal sequence in the commentary tracks – but, like most of the better scenes of the first half, it does not go on long enough. Just when the viewer thinks that Susan is not fooled by Julie, the film cuts to Susan standing precariously on top of a ladder hanging a picture and asking Julie to steady the ladder for her. The film is padded out to ninety minutes by shots of characters arriving and leaving locations and driving, while would-be suspenseful moments such as the aforementioned one are over too quickly (it does not help that Julie’s friend can be seen at the very corner of the frame waiting to enter it and unknowingly prevent Julie from doing anything to Susan). The scenes with Weston and the hooker (who does not participate in any gratuitous nudity) are also drawn out for the sake of the running time (the actors at the end of once scene actually seem to pause for the upcoming reel change).
As the focus of the film, Mejias is excellent as Julie. Despite her claims on the disc interview and commentary to having been young and inexperienced, she hits all the right notes here and goes from cunning to cheerful effortlessly. Danning is mostly eye candy for the first half of the film, but gets in on the action during the climax (which actually does generate some excitement). Danning and director Nicolas also shot the superior in every way CHAINED HEAT (with Linda Blair, Tamara Dobson, Stella Stevens and John Vernon) the same year. Franciosa seems to be just hanging around long enough to pick up his paycheck (of course, that may be because the script requires his character to be completely and incomprehensibly oblivious to everything odd going on around him). Reinhard Kolldenhoff (THE WINDS OF WAR) plays a badly dubbed cop in some dispensable scenes. Co-producers Ernst R. Von Theumer and Monica Teuber also executive produced CHAINED HEAT and directed JUNGLE WARRIORS with Danning, while “presenter” Arnold Kopelson (THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE) also presented the CHAINED HEAT follow-up RED HEAT. JULIE DARLING was released theatrically in America by Australian Terry Levene’s company Aquarius Releasing, the company that also distributed THE BEYOND in its cut, rescored (in Dolby Stereo) version titled 7 DOORS TO DEATH and the rescored ZOMBI HOLOCAUST as DR. BUTCHER M.D. augmented with footage from the unfinished American horror anthology TALES TO RIP YOUR HEART OUT. The film was released on VHS a couple times under the alternate title DAUGHTER OF DEATH. It was previously released in unauthorized editions on DVD in 2002 by short-lived PD label Beverly Wilshire Filmworks as DAUGHTER OF DEATH and under its original title from Synergy Entertainment (it also appeared under its original title in a cropped fullscreen version on one (or more) of the Mill Creek movie sets as well).
Code Red presents JULIE DARLING in a dual-layer, anamorphic, progressive 1.78:1 transfer – mastered in high definition from the original 35mm interpositive – with good mono audio (although some of the live audio is at the mercy of the mix). The transfer is mostly clean with the exception of the odd spec of dirt and the usual reel change marks. Lead actress Danning and Mejias provide separate audio commentary tracks. Danning’s commentary is moderated by filmmaker David DeCoteau (THE BROTHERHOOD series). They spend most of the commentary talking about most of her other films including ALBINO, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, WARRIOR QUEEN, CHAINED HEAT, THE HOWLING II, and BLUEBEARD among others, with plenty of anecdotes. With regard to the film at hand, Danning does mention that Franciosa really got into the love scene. She also speaks highly of Mejias, as well as detailing which scenes were shot in Berlin and which were shot in Canada (cinematographer Miklos Lente – who also shot the Canadian slasher HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME – may only have shot the Canadian scenes). The commentary seems to have been recorded a couple years ago, since Danning mentions her film JUMP with Patrick Swayze, which she feels may be he last because of his illness. I’m assuming DeCoteau had something more to do with the production of this disc since the website address for his production company Rapid Heart is on the back cover.
While Mejias – prompted by Scorpion Releasing’s Walter Olsen – has fond memories of the ten week Berlin shoot, she did not think much of the script and had not seen the finished film until recently. She still does not think highly of it and she is bewildered by the film’s popularity (which she puts down to either the presence of Franciosa or Danning). She cringes at her sex scene with her on-screen father, and makes a pointed comment about the film’s score trying to create tension where there is none. She does, however, agree that there are some effective moments. She speaks about her film and TV work – as well as how Canadian actors had little leeway in selecting parts (she once turned down a role and did not work for a year) – and how difficult it was to find work when she tried the Hollywood route. Danning and Mejias are also featured separately in a 24 second introduction before the movie and then in separate interview segments that were seemingly shot around the same time as the commentaries. Mejias (15:31) speaks more about the film at hand in the interview, including her other co-stars, while the Danning interview (20:24) – with DeCoteau again – is also spent mostly on other films, including the memorable THEY’RE PLAYING WITH FIRE. Danning gets to JULIE DARLING about twelve minutes in and compares their rivalry to the ALIENS climactic “bitch fight” (it might have been a better film if it had something akin to that). Spoiler warning: the interview segments do feature clips from the ending. Trailers for HORROR HIGH, I’M GOING TO GET YOU, ELLIOT BOY!, STIGMA, BRUTE CORPS, and MEAN JOHNNY BARROWS round out the extras. (Eric Cotenas)
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