Daddy issues have been a recurring theme in my psychotronic viewing project: first Toys Are Not for Children, then The Mafu Cage, and now Julie Darling (dir. Paul Nicholas, 1982), which I had the good fortune to see here at the Brattle Theater in 2010. It’s an insidious, wonderfully grimy-looking psycho thriller in the “evil children” vein, in which adolescent Julie (Isabelle Mejias) takes out her incestuous desire for her father (Anthony Franciosa) on every woman who threatens to come between them, first by standing by while her mother is raped and murdered by a sleazy grocery delivery man (Paul Hubbard), then by trying to off her more resilient stepmother (played by exploitation queen Sybil Danning).
The incest in the film is mostly limited to a squirm-inducing fantasy sequence (Julie imagines replacing her stepmom in bed with her father) and to howlingly un-subtle dialogue (Julie to dad: “I don’t ever want to get married; I just want to be with you!”). But since the film’s villainous main character isn’t given a particularly active sex life, the film has to contort itself in order to get in its requisite number of T&A shots, including the obligatory topless scene for Danning. It does so by turning Julie into a kind of sexual predator who works by proxy. She may daydream about making love to her father, but Julie acts with very real sexual aggression toward her mother and stepmother, training all manner of phallic objects on them (a snake, a shotgun) and even stage managing their rapes with the help of that sleazeball grocery delivery man. (In one of the film’s most jaw-dropping scenes, Julie tracks him down, tells him she saw him assault her mother, and blackmails him into doing the same to her stepmother.) It doesn’t take an expert in Freudian theory to understand that Julie’s problem lies in her desire to wield a phallus she doesn’t possess, hence her having to resort to her snakes and her weapons and her rapist minion.
The film’s uneasy attempt to make an “evil child” thriller that’s also sexually titillating is flagrantly apparent in the original poster (below), in which Julie is seen aiming a shotgun barrel in between the open legs of Sybil Danning, half-naked and spread-eagle on a bed. No wonder Isabelle Mejias felt uncomfortable on the set of this movie, which not only requires her to do a semi-nude sex scene with the actor playing her father but also—perhaps more disturbingly—positions her as her mothers’ sexual assailant. Julie Darling has as many mommy issues as it does daddy issues, most of them the function of a plot determined to have its evil little girl and its sexy nude women, too. But it all makes for hilariously twisted viewing. It’s newly available in a nicely packaged DVD from Code Red.