A Movie A Day: Quint on THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY (1972) There is a common sorrow here.
Published at: Aug. 6, 2008, 2:23 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we get our third and final Shirley MacLaine movie of this run and it’s been a little bit of a disappointing run.
Thank God THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY is a better movie than yesterday’s DESPERATE CHARACTERS, but it’s by no means a winner.
This movie comes pre-EXORCIST (movie) and is a tale of possession, but a boring kind. You have a sweet younger brother to Shirley MacLaine’s Norah, the titular Joel Delaney (played by Perry King) who is having violent bursts and having no memory of them later.
Turns out he’s being possessed by a Puerto Rican… you know this because in the big revealing evil full possession scene at the end he says Puta a lot, rolls his Rs and is dressed in leather with slicked back hair, wielding a switchblade.
I guess if the Devil is going to possess a little girl she’ll look fucked up and have Mercedes McCambridge’s voice, so it’s only natural that if a well off white boy is possessed by a Puerto Rican spirit he’ll kill women and make little boys dance naked in front of him…
Yeah, so like I said the movie isn’t a winner, but I will give it points for trying. There are a few shots in this flick featuring decapitated women that are genuinely creepy in a very Hammer Horror way. You know, the heads don’t look realistic at all, but the almost paper mache quality somehow heightens the WTF factor.
And they really go fro broke with the ending, some may say they go too far. I don’t know where I fall on this issue. Is the threat to kids (and the subsequent naked boy dance) just cheap shock value or a real hard-edged, demented envelope-pushing cycle downward, showing the evil of the character? I’d have to think about it, but I must admit that I had no idea what was going to come next for much of the finale.
MacLaine does better with her character, a definite precursor to Ellen Burstyn’s Chris MacNeil (with a little bit of Mia Farrow’s Rosemary Woodhouse thrown in for good measure). In fact, I don’t know how to pick this apart. Both THE EXORCIST and THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY were based on books published in 1971 and center on possession. THE EXORCIST focuses more on the spiritual aspect whereas today’s AMAD is more about solving the mystery behind a man’s condition… But there are definite benchmarks… hell, one character in today’s movie even utters a line that showed up almost word for word in THE EXORCIST “Hell, I don’t even smoke grass…” when asked if drugs might be an explanation.
The direction by Waris Hussein is passable… He actually directed tomorrow’s AMAD (a comedy) as well as a movie I’m dying to see after years of hearing about it called MELODY reteaming OLIVER!s Jack Wild and Mark Lester about a ten year old boy and girl who decide to get married. What’s even worse is that a good friend of mine has (or had?) this movie on 16mm and I still haven’t seen it. I’m curious to compare Waris’ work here with tomorrow’s AMAD because while his work on POSSESSION isn’t remarkable, there are interesting visual flairs that pop up. He has a few great shots involving mirrors (nothing scary, just interesting compositions) and his reveal of the two big gore scenes are really well done.
Final Thoughts: If you’re a horror completist and want to see Shirley MacLaine in a bizarre possession movie (like me) then yeah, give it a spin. It won’t make you want to tear your eyes out of your head like DESPERATE MEASURES did, but I don’t know if you’ll get more than a passing curiosity experience. It’s pretty devoid of atmosphere minus a few key scenes, but when it works it really does kind of hit you deep in the gut. I just don’t know how much that is due to a couple happy accidents or real technical skill of the crew/writers/directors involved.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Wednesday, August 6th: QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX (1970)
Thursday, August 7th: START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME (1970)
Friday, August 8th: HELL IS A CITY (1960)
Saturday, August 9th: THE PIED PIPER (1972)
Sunday, August 10th: PARTNERS (1982)
Monday, August 11th: BARRY LYNDON (1975)
Tuesday, August 12th: THE SKULL (1965)
Tomorrow we hit a film I didn’t know existed until I read Gene Wilder’s Autobiography KISS ME LIKE A STRANGER. When I read about his experiences doing a movie with a bizarre name like QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX I immediately hit Amazon and saw it was out on some small label DVD and purchased it. It co-stars Margot Kidder and that’s about all I know. Can’t wait to give it a spin tomorrow.
I’m in Arkansas at the moment visiting my grandmother and great-grandmother (pushing 92), but I plan on keeping up with the column while here. Some good stuff coming up, so see you folks tomorrow!