To celebrate the UK DVD release of GRACE: THE POSSESSION we have decided to look at our own TOP 5 POSSESSION FILMS! Possession, you can’t beat it. As a plot device it really is one of the tastiest flavours for horror. The idea that something unseen and malevolent can creep into everyday life undetected, permeate an individual, seep into their psyche, change their appearance or behaviour and make them perform unspeakable acts, is the perfect basis for terrifying concepts to be carved out on screen. It might be a séance that invites them in, an attack from someone else ‘infected’, it might be the arrival of some ancient talisman, or it might just be a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If horror film teaches us anything, Possession can be around every corner, and no one is immune to its dastardly effects. The idea has been used time and time again, never seeming to lose its appeal or power to inspire future generations of filmmakers. As a result there are literally hundreds of Possession horrors to choose from and the playing field is vast and inconsistent in terms of originality and quality. SCREAM take a look at five of the best and explain why we think these are essential viewing for every horror fan.
1/ The Exorcist (1973)
It may seem clichéd but it almost goes without saying that only one film really deserves to stand top of any Best Possession movies list- the film that should need no introduction The Exorcist (1973). But then the likelihood is you won’t need us to tell you why. The film has consistently won the hearts and minds of many genre fans, always coming top in the majority Top Ten Horror film polls and lists the world over, and rightly so; not to mention winning two Academy Awards at the time of its release, and being nominated for ten- making it the first ever horror to achieve such esteemed recognition. Such is its power to shock, thrill and terrorise that many a new genre devote has taken their baptism of fire into the delights the world of horror has to offer via director William Friedkin’s ground-breaking masterpiece; fittingly, it would seem, in turn forever possessed by its resonance.
It’s one film that most fans have their own personal story with, that they are all willing to affectionately share; never embarrassed to report just how terrified they were when they first encountered it (usually at a formative age, their appetites thoroughly whetted for more). But then The Exorcist remains highly memorable because it is horrific and exceptionally well crafted too. The story of a young, easy going sweet young girl Regan (Linda Blair) who is transformed, after messing with a Ouiji board, into a hideous demon beast. The film owes a great debt to its firm foundations, to the strong script- based on William Peter Blatty’s original 1971 novel, which in turn was apparently inspired by a real life Exorcism- and gruesome make-up effects. While the outstanding performances make the incredible, believable; thus bringing horror to the suburbs of middle American in one of the worst ways imaginable and carving out the path for a good old showdown between good versus evil. Possessed Regan screams obscenities at her family and friends, masturbates with crucifixes, contorts her body into all manner of revolting deformations- including that spider walk-, swivels her head around 360 degrees, vomits acidic green puke, levitates and shamelessly informs the poor local priest Father Damien Karras in her own abominable venom ‘your mother sucks cocks in hell’. It has to be one of the most referenced horror films in the history of the genre, yet the imitators pale into insignificance when pitted against Friedkin’s original cinematic symphony of blasphemous filth and hair-raising horror. From the shot of Max Von Sydow’s Father Merrin arriving at the family home under a singular streetlight, to Mike Oldfield’s score- Tubular Bells- , to the strong performances and spectacular practical FXs work, The Exorcist is a truly iconic piece of horror history and one that deserves its place as one of the reigning monarchs of, not just of movies of its ilk, but the genre overall too.
2/ The Evil Dead (1981)
1981 was a prime vintage year for horror. The golden age of the slasher movie was well underway and as fans entered a new decade, violence, blood and boobs were firmly on the menu for the foreseeable future. In amongst all the on-campus murderous mayhem, summer camp celebrations gone wrong, machete/axe/ kitchen knife (insert random sharp object here) wielding action and gratuitous shower scenes, a little independent director by the name of Sam Raimi was set to cause a stir with his innovative piece of possession based horror that broke the mould. Raimi’s feature length directorial debut The Evil Dead, former video nasty in the UK, was sowing its seeds as a tiny acorn, from which it would blossom into the bonefide cult classic it would later become. And what a cult piece of cinema it is, from a small grassroots movie produced by two school friends- Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell- it went on to become internationally acclaimed; sparking a trilogy, and a modern day reboot, it also made a genre icon out of ‘Groovy’ Bruce Campbell for his part as the Evil Dead’s Ash and saw Raimi eventually arrive in Hollywood to direct huge blockbusters like Spiderman (2001).
But then what’s not to love? Five friends head off for a spot of holidaying in a cabin in the woods, only to inadvertently unleash an evil force from the Necronomicon book of the dead. This quickly follows after finding the book and an eerie tape recording left by the cabin’s previous tenant; the contents of which featuring the magical chanting of summoning verses, once played thus provoking the damned spirits to cross over into the land of the living. This proves deadly for the new house guests. Once awakened the force works like a virus possessing each person in turn with the spirits of Kandarian Demons; building an army of what were to later become known in The Evil Dead universe lovingly as Deadites. Possession occurs on contact with the unseen force entering the body, or through being a victim to violence from one already possessed; Raimi employing both zombie lore- despatching the Deadites in a similar fashion so that their dismembered body parts can’t become reanimated- and the general facets of straight up possession to make something of a heady blend. The underlying concept lends itself to all manner of spectacular and horrifying themes and ideas to be brought into the mix, making The Evil Dead something of an innovator for its time. And what concepts they are- we have a gross Deadite zombie army, complete with rotting flesh, sharp teeth, weird eyes, and a rage factor of eleven out of ten with a strength to match , severed limbs, garrotting, disembowelling, satanic chanting, evil card games, pencil stabbing, killer zombies in the basement and spooky mind games. Raimi injects the script with his barbed wire wit and innovative sass, heaps of gore, and some nasty shock moments- not to mention a heavy dose of tree rape. While his energetic tracking camera work which includes the now trademark lightning fast shots zooming in to purvey a sense of dread and omnipresent force of evil, is inspired. Achieved with basic equipment, liberal use of a fog machine and ‘a make the best of what you have’ approach to both effects and composition, The Evil Dead is a true trailblazer for the genre; standing as testament to the fact you don’t necessarily need a multi-million dollar budget to create something truly horrific, all it takes is a bit of imagination. On this basis it is not surprising The Evil Dead remains one of the most heralded cult classics of all time, and therefore we think it deserves the prestigious runner up spot on our list of Best Possession movies. Groovy.
3/ Possession (1981)
A bit of a wild card, from the title you would think Andre Zulawski’s Possession was pretty straight forward, but the contents of this nifty piece of video nasty meets art-house film, are anything but. It is well documented that Possession was made at the time when director Zulawski was going through a divorce; it would appear that the maelstrom of emotions he was feeling during this process were transferred into the script for this film. These feelings were then consequently played out in the intense melodramatic and wildly hysterical performances from the two leads Sam Neill and Isabel Adjani to make something of a bewildering but highly charged piece of horrific cinema.
Possession focuses on the arrival home of father and husband Mark (played by Sam Neil), back from some secret work for an unknown agency and the opening scenes already stink of the espionage, betrayal and deceit that is to later develop. Mark’s wife Anna (Isabel Adjani) is distant, and he suspects she may be having an affair- disappearing for long periods of time; her mental state appears to be crumbling by the day. They both have a young child Bob to think of, but the pair are too busy venting their frustrations out on each other to care about parental responsibilities and so the youngster is left neglected. After Anna leaves, apparently to be with lover Heinrich, but we later discover something far more sinister is afoot, Mark embarks of a new friendship with Bob’s teacher Helen- the only problem being she is the spitting image of his estranged wife, apart from her shining green eyes, the likeness is eerily uncanny.
In essence the real horror of Possession becomes how far people can push each other in times of relationship crises; just what they will do to hurt the ones they have loved and how innocent’s lives are wrecked when they get caught in the cross fire of a relationship breakdown. But as a horror it also trades in the darker side of the fantastique; mixing in eroticism, alien beings, doppelgangers and murder to make something quite unlike anything that existed before or after it was made. All the elements blend together perfectly- the hypnotic score, OTT performances, and beautiful cinematography- to make Possession quite unrivalled in terms of peculiarity or class when you contrast it with the bulk of general genre features from the era. Only one thing is for sure, this will not be for everyone, but if you enjoy cinema that challenges the boundaries of conventional margins, Possession could very well be for you.
4/ Demons (1985)
If ever there was one film that encompasses the gregarious no holds barred flavour of the mid-eighties period in such a celebratory fashion, it is Lamberto Bava’s Demons. Produced by top Italian Maestro Dario Argento no less; the endorsement of pedigree behind this feature doesn’t stop there, with Lamberto also being the son of the one of the most outstanding horror filmmakers to have worked in the genre- the late, great Mario Bava. Director Lamberto Bava made some choice entries to the period, notably with his oddball debut Macabre (1980) and his Argento/Tenebre inspired A Blade in the Dark (1983). But it is perhaps for this, his magnum opus in eighties out there gore-tastic horror, for which he is most celebrated.
The tale of art imitates life. A group of random strangers are thrown together when they are invited for a complementary viewing of a new horror film at the Metropol Theatre. The theatre has been abandoned for some years, but on arrival the patrons are impressed the ‘new owners’ have invested in some restoration work. That’s the ones who aren’t ogling the impressive motorcycle and silver demon mask standing in the lobby. When Rosemary (played by genre icon Geretta Geretta) puts on the mask messing around and cuts herself, the group are completely oblivious to the danger which surrounds them. As the film starts to roll, and Rosemary’s mask injury is replicated on screen by the characters in the film, it all starts to get a bit curious. Rosemary leaves for the bathroom, never to return. What comes back in her place is about to wreak carnage in the theatre. Can the others escape before they too get taken over by the souls of bloodthirsty demons? Well they might have stood a chance if someone hadn’t bricked them into the Metropol.
Demons never loses focus, the action orientated pacing fuelled by the fabulously retro eighties hair metal soundtrack- including Billy Idol’s iconic White Wedding- and Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti’s Axel F inspired original score. The grue and guts are freeflowing with Sergio Stivaletti’s highly impressive effects work demonstrating pus drenched boil popping, throat ripping, eye gouging, and the odd bit of brain munching in all its cinematic glory. While the demon make-up is some of the best of its time and place; standing as the perfect example of why the Italians were so far ahead of their game in terms of quality in their craft. But then Demons isn’t just exceptionally well made, it is a hell of a lot of fun, creepy in parts, frenetic, and packs a punch when it comes to unrestrained violence.
5/ Night of the Demons (1988)
Night of the Demons is one of those perfect instances of it’s not what you say, but how you say it that matters. The basis of the underlying story- a group of young teens gather together, accidently unleash a malevolent force, and then one by one get possessed- had already been done by our number two entry The Evil Dead. It wasn’t that director Kevin S Tenney was breaking any new ground with this late eighties romp, and the film on this basis wasn’t particularly well received on its release. Yet, over the years it has become something of a cult classic, gathering up a hardcore of fans, sparking two sequels and a remake in 2009. Part of the appeal of the original being, with the benefit of time, that Night of the Demons stands out as the perfect time capsule and ode to the fabulous eighties and all its cheesy glory. The fact it harbours one of top Scream Queen Linnea Quigley’s best performances- alongside her portrayal of Trash from Return of the Living Dead- as naughty frilly knicker flashing Suzanne- in which she passes possession on to goth chick Angela (Amelia Kincade) with a lingering all tongues lesbian kiss, and learns how to hide lipstick inside her boobs- also probably has a lot to do with the fandom that revolves around the film.
It’s all about the ambience with Night of the Demons. Set on Halloween Night the group of ten young people go off to an abandoned funeral parlour for a night of not so wholesome partying and frolics. This is like The Breakfast Club, gore edition, as the usual stereotypes assemble, The Jock, The Nerd, The Kooky Goth Outsider, The Party Girl, and Nice and Wholesome Girl. After disturbing the forces of evil by performing that thing that you should never do in a creepy abandoned funeral parlour on All Hallows Eve- a séance- the party ambience starts to take a dive bomb as each member of the guest list is slowly, but surely, taken over and turned into a terrifying demon creature. Night of the Demon supplies the perfect blend of good old cheesy fun, eighties pop culture cool- complete with Angela’s provocative sexed up dance to Bauhaus Stigmata Martyr, and Linnea Quigley’s inimitable screen presence, including her standard free spirited approach to nudity on camera. It has gore, violence, suspense, and some impressive demonic make-up effects to boot. On this basis Night of the Demons becomes perfect Halloween watching and one of the best party vibe possession horrors out there.
Words: Kat Ellinger
If horror and possession films in particular are your thing then check out GRACE: THE POSSESSION, a story told like never before through the eyes of the possessed.
Alexia Fast (Jack Reacher) is Grace: a naive, beautiful, virginal college freshman trying to deal with campus culture and her outgoing new roommate. But when a terror takes over her body and unleashes chaos, Grace returns to the cold clutches of her severe grandmother (Lin Shaye) and the strict rules of the church. Haunted by the horrific death of her mother and deeply ingrained, destructive urges, she must stop the demon inside before it’s too late.
GRACE: THE POSSESSION IS OUT NOW ON UK DVD COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES HOME ENTERTAINMENT