Title: Possession (The Night The Screaming Stopped)
Release Date: 1981
Director: Andrzej Zulawski
Starring: Isabel Adjani, Sam Neill
Many horror fans are filled with despair when flipping channels, or picking over the bones of their local movie store, pressed with the prospect of another Friday night watching Popcorn or Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. There was a long period, from the mid-90s until recently, when it seemed that no quality Horror cinema was being produced, and it didn’t take long to watch all the classics. We were left like those poor Stephen King fans, waiting for decades for the Dark Tower series to finish, with nothing to do but watch a snowy screen, possibly trying to manifest some ghostly apparitions of our own.
Sure, there have been underground gems all along, but the scarcity of information and the lameness of most big box video stores meant most of them remained in obscurity. That is why the internet has ushered in a new golden era of Horror cinema, with exquisite tastemakers finding the brightest, bloodiest rubies from the crypts. From time to time, I will showcase the fruits of my own endless, obsessive research.
This one came from my buddy, Nathan Dorsett, who always brings me the weirdest of the weird.
Possession is the story of a married couple, played by Sam Neill (Event Horizon, In The Mouth Of Madness) and Isabelle Adjani, who won Best Actress awards at both The César Awards and Cannes for the film. Mark (Neill) and Anna (Adjani) are in the process of getting a divorce, but decide to try and work it out, one last time, for the sake of their son Bob (played by the cherubic Michael Hogben). As bad as that idea often is, it turns out about a million times worse in this picture. Anna tells Mark she doesn’t love him anymore, and Mark suspects she is seeing someone else. Which is true, but its far worse than ANYONE could imagine.
Anna goes back and forth between lives, becoming steadily more unhinged. Mark is perplexed, just can’t work out what she’s up to. He sniffs out another lover, Heinrich (European character Heinz Bennett, one of the only likeable characters in the film), but he’s just as perplexed as the husband. Mark hires a private detective, who follows Anna to a decrepit apartment building in bombed-out West Berlin, and is never seen or heard from again.
I won’t give anymore away. The reveal is totally timeless, a climax of mind-melting psychological Horror. Totally essential for art-house enthusiasts and boundary pushers.
Possession takes all the psychodynamics of a nasty break-up, and takes things to their most far-out and warped fruition. It takes a hard, unflinching look at mental obsession and how it pulls our strings, making us do unthinkable things. Sex and death are old bedfellows. It shows the war between rationality and instinct, and in this case, the guise of civilization drops, and everyone gets down to their basest, most primal selves. Most of the situations in this movie could be avoided, if anybody had given a second thought. Instead, they succumb to dark fantasy, jealousy and revenge.
The acting in this movie is phenomenal, almost unbelievable. Sam Neill, who can be a bit wooden at times (and is still a mite Shakespearean in this role), goes from being totally despicable to being almost genuine, and Isabelle Adjani is an elemental tour-de-force, who deserves the awards she won for the part. The subway milk-and-splatter miscarriage scene (my particular favorite part) is like modern ballet, Anna flailing like an electrified corpse while primal wailing and rolling around in mustard and mayonnaise, a true highlight of the psychotropic Horror canon.
Possession also shows a clear and harsh dichotomy in the culture: those that celebrate Women’s sexuality, and those that want to destroy it. The director, Andrzej Zulawski, was going through his own harsh break-up, at the time, and you can watch the rageful male id splashed out in gruesome icky technicolor. It seems to suggest that if women are unable to control their own lust, it will literally open the gates of hell. The themes explored in this movie have been recently resurrected in the films of Lars Van Trier, whose Antichrist and Melancholia both look at feminine sexuality in relationships, and the awakening of the dark, animal side. All of these movies seem to suggest that it will end badly for everybody, if women just do what they want. It reflects strong misogyny and violence against women in all of Horror, and it reflects a grisly specter of our culture. Its raised some questions and themes that I hope to investigate further, here at Amazing Stories.
Possession is smart, sexy, oftentimes funny. The characters are symbolically loaded, archetypally poignant: the jealous husband, the good mother, the two-timing wife. To add a further element of innuendo, Isabel Adjani doubles as Bob’s school teacher, and starts coming by the house to help out. She is a sharp contrast to Anna’s wild woman, who is moody and unpredictable, passionate but nihilistic. Its like a war of the stereotypes, but in this instance, everybody loses.
The cinematography is superb, and its interesting to see vintage footage of West Berlin, before the collapse of the Wall. The set design has a classic European feel to it, all Bauhaus architecture and Art Deco interiors, giving it a real artistic temperament. The electronic music score by Andrzej Korzynski (recently re-issued on vinyl on the British label Finders Keepers) keeps things alternating between absurdly horrific, and just plain absurd. The musical cues are complemented by disoriented woozy fish-eye camera angles, and the sum of the whole is a plunge into pure phantasmagoria.
This movie has some pretty strong imagery and is not for those that are easily offended. Its not a splatter flick, not particularly gory, but its effect is visceral. You are watching a small handful of people melting down; it’s like re-living the worst day of your life, high on Dramamine. Its not for everybody, but anybody that loves surreal, nightmarish, artistic, thoughtful cinema, it is quintessential viewing.
Unearthed will be a semi-regular happenstance around here, while we will be showcasing treasures from the vault, past and present. If you have any requests or recommendations for movies you feel more folks should know about, or would just like to hear our thoughts on, please feel free to get in touch. And also feel free to share your thoughts/feelings/experiences with the movies we’ve already mentioned. We’re all enthusiasts, here, getting together to trade awesome stuff.