The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972)

Article 2209 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-3-2007
Posting Date: 8-30-2007
Directed by Waris Hussein
Featuring Shirley MacLaine, Perry King, Lisa Kohane

A dominating society woman tries to look after her resentful brother who has recently begun to act very strange. She dislikes his friendship with a homicidal Puerto Rican friend she has never met. When a close friend of hers is horribly murdered, she discovers that the friend is dead, and that his spirit may have taken over the body of her brother.

At the time of this writing, this movie has a 5.3 rating on IMDB, which tells me that this movie is not well-liked. Well, there are things to dislike here. In my case, I’ve never been a big fan of Shirley MacLaine, not so much for her acting abilities (which are considerable) but more for the fact that I’ve found so many of her characters cold and unlikable, and the first time I saw this movie, I was initially turned off by those very qualities. Also, the final scenes of her and her family being terrorized by the possessed brother are truly upsetting, since the terrorizing involves a great deal of psychological and physical humiliation. However, these factors ultimately don’t bother me, because there is something psychologically correct about it all; much of what happens in the movie is driven by the psychological motivations of everyone concerned. Ultimately, it was the relationship of the brother with both his mother and his sister that drove him into the friendship with the killer, and in this context, the unlikable aspects of MacLaine’s character plays a significant role. There is also one absolutely stunning scene here, in which the MacLaine’s character takes part in a Puerto Rican ritual in an attempt to exorcise the spirit from his brother; I’ve seen similar scenes in many horror movies, but this one is absolutely riveting and convincing. All in all, the movie utterly fascinates me, though those expecting a more conventional horror movie may be disappointed. And taking the movie overall, the only thing I do not like is the final twist in the last few seconds, which feels more horror-movie-convenient than psychologically compelling.



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