The Possessed (1977)
Year of Release: 1977
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 74 minutes (1:14)
Director: Jerry Thorpe
James Farentino ... Kevin Leahy
Claudette Nevins ... Ellen Sumner
Joan Hackett ... Louise Gelson
Ann Dusenberry ... Weezie Sumner
Harrison Ford ... Paul Winjam
Diana Scarwid ... Lane
Eugene Roche ... Sgt. Taplinger
Kevin Leahy is a man running for his soul. An ex-minister who has lost his faith and fallen from the grace of God. Leahy is driven to seek out evil in all of its manifestations. When a malefic and hateful presence wreaks havoc and death at a girls' school, Leahy mysteriously arrives to do battle with an ancient enemy. For something unspeakable is stalking the dark dormitories of the Helen Page School. Something deadly. Something evil.
The Possessed, remindin' us that the court system is powerless to stop Satan, cause at the end of the day, possession is 9/10ths of the law.
An speakin' of people who know their way around a pitchfork, somehow Sadie Bonebreak found out about what happened between me an Bambi Pankins at the New Year's party last week an dropped by to show 'er support at 5 in the AM. I'd been pretty depressed ever since I woke up an saw those double-d divots mashed into my mattress, an so Sadie took it upon 'erself to stop by an gimmie a few words of encouragement, like: "That's DISGUSTING!" an "Am I gonna hafta twist that thing off an make you watch it rotate on a hot dog carousel?" Helpful stuff like that. It's no wonder Skunky Hernandez always puts 'er in charge of kid/candy duty in the Sage Maze; she's just got a knack for nurturin'. Anyway, after I got the swellin' down in my face that afternoon she called to check on me an said that I need to be "rehabilitated" before I could be trusted around nasty women again, an at first I was ready to fight 'er on this cause I thought she was gonna try forcin' me to watch a Hillary Clinton workout video, but instead she called up Cleave Furguson an Billy Hilliard an we moseyed on over to Walleye's Topless Dancin' & Bait Shop for a lengthy therapy session. Bless 'er heart, she really did mean well, but unfortunately Chastity Dollarhide'd taken the day off to visit Arnold Alderman at Mom & Poop's Senility Acres Hospice Care as part of 'er weekly Make a Wish contribution (she musta been pretty well covered up, cause I haven't seen Arnold's name in the obituaries), an so the selection that night was kinda pitiful. We're talkin' tea cups where there shoulda been D cups. I'd also like to state, on the record, that all the blame for what happened next belongs squarely on Wade Sawyer, cause if he'd had anything decent to slobber over that night it woulda never happened.
Long story short, we needed somethin' to *do* while these gals were up on stage embarrassin' themselves in public, so I came up with this game called "Light Socket Darts," which's just like regular darts, only a lot more challenging. Some folks, they say that "necessity is the mother of all invention," an I won't argue with that, but I'd like to add that beer helps tremendously. Basically, you get one point for hittin' the ground socket, two points for the neutral slot, an five points for the hot slot (the hot slot's a little smaller than the neutral, so it's only fair). Now, I guess *maybe* we shouldn'ta used the runway outlet that the girls use for their boom boxes, but I stand by my declaration of innocence just the same. So about two hours an four pitchers later, the score was: Billy 3, Cleave 2, Sadie 4, an me with just 1, an that was right around the time Wade stuck his head outta the back room an hollered "last call", so I fired off my last dart an stuck it flawlessly in that hot slot (winnin' the game I might add, though nobody seemed to care at that point). Next thing you know the outlet starts spittin' out sparks like a tailpipe draggin' on asphalt an fryin' the cassette deck on a stereo belongin' to this gal named Mona. Blew every fuse in the place an made a pop so loud it triggered a Vietnam flashback in Wade, who just about gutted us with the bayonet he keeps under the cash register before Tetnis finally got it away from 'im. That ain't the worst of it though, cause when Mona whirled around to see what in the sam hill was happenin' she took a shower of sparks right directly in 'er crotchal region, which ignited a fairly serious bush fire. Thankfully, Cleave doused it with our last pitcher before things got outta control, but I could swear I heard that thing callin' out to Moses before it finally got extinguished. Needless to say, we're banned from Walleye's until we come up with the money it's gonna take to rewire the place, but the one upside is that Mona's been pullin' in twice what she had been in tips now that 'er shrub's gone. I guess removin' that gender ambiguity from the equation'll do that for ya, cause before the accident there was no tellin' *what* mighta been hidin' in there.
After all that excitement I invited everybody over to sober up with this made-for-TV flick about demonic possession called The Possessed. I hadn't actually watched this thing since it aired on TV back in 1977, but the one thing I remembered about it was how you could get up an go to the bathroom seven or eight times an still not miss anything, which was a factor that strongly influenced my decision at the time, given how many brewskis we'd sucked down at Walleye's. A lotta people call it an Exorcist ripoff cause it's about possession, but then I guess that's whatcha do when you've got all the analytical ability of a cocker spaniel that bit into the tire stem of a 1979 Camaro goin' 45mph an got its head slammed into the pavement six times before finally lettin' go. Sorry, that mighta been the beer talkin'. Anyway, what I was tryin' to say is - this ain't just any flick about demons talkin' over people's bodies an lightin' 'em on fire an makin' 'em literally spit nails, no sir, it's got *moxie*. It's got *charm*, it's got Harrison Ford offerin' high school girls money to *touch* things, so don't go underestimatin' its made-for-TV cred or you could end up missin' out on a once in a lifetime opportunity. Or you may just end up missin' out on a once ON a Lifetime opportunity, but either way, let's at least give it a shot an review some of its more memorable facets, ya know, for the scientific value. First, Satan is obviously in league with the Steel unions, cause anytime he lights somebody on fire he makes this noise like John Henry drivin' railroad spikes into a blacksmith's anvil. Second, Harrison Ford has reverse Roy Moore syndrome; meanin' that when he goes for the under-aged panty produce, he gets the *girl's* permission instead of goin' over 'er head to 'er Mama. An third, WD-40 is no match for a possessed door hinge.
The thing I like about these kinda flicks is that they getcha thinkin' about the meanin' of life, the hereafter, an the eternal struggle between good an evil, an throughout the course of its runtime I think I've finally come to understand why Satan's so goll durn cranky when he ain't actin' in low-rent Comedies where some down-on-his-luck schmoe sells his soul for significance: the man's a closeted homosexual. Actually, it's even worse than that, cause it's pretty clear he *wants* outta that closet, but he simply can't come out without the entire world losin' their fear of 'im. See, fire an brimstone? That's pretty scary. Lace doilies an angora sweaters though? Not so much. I can see you're still skeptical; fine, I'll run you through the evidence an let you decide for yourselves. Seriously though, what more evidence do you really need? The guy is constantly possessin' women an makin' 'em hornier'n a busload of nuns scopin' out a veggie stand an tryin' to make 'em have sex with every man within reach. Remember The Exorcist? The Eerie Midnight Horror Show? Amityville II? Every movie Marilyn Chambers ever made? An that's not even considerin' the way he's always ignitin' gaudy clothing an tryin' to turn people into Mongolian barbecue for bein' '70s fashion nightmares. These are some pretty obvious red flags that indicate a long history of sexual frustration an repression, yet the guy can't do a thing about it or he'll have a horde of ambitious, schemin' demons plottin' to bump 'im off an dive headfirst into the resultin' power vacuum. I mean, you can get away with possessin' a girl an usin' 'er to seduce guys, cause that's just corruption of the innocent. Your minions understand an respect *that*, but possessin' a guy an seducin' another man? That'll raise some horned eyebrows. That's when everyone assumes you've gone soft an starts gettin' concerned that you might try turnin' Hell into your own personal fern bar, which is likely to lead to some serious pitchfork sharpenin'. You'd think Hell'd be the one place where you could finally just cut loose an be yourself, but nope; even down *there* it's stigmatized, an virtually impossible to find anybody who'll bake you a weddin' cake. I guess what I'm sayin' is - social progress in Hell ain't much better'n what we've got goin' on up here, an as long as Satan can't get his pickle dipped, we're prolly gonna continue to feel the brunt of it.
The movie begins with this priest (Leahy) sittin' in his chamber blessin' the crap outta his liver with the sacramental wine an proceedin' to wrap his Christler around a telephone pole an wakin' up in Purgatory where Orson from Mork & Mindy commands 'im to get right with God an makes 'im promise to battle evil in all its forms. Which hopefully means he'll be headin' off to defend America from the upcomin' spandex revolution. Elsewhere, at this girl's school where the headmistress (Louise) forces all the students to ride their bicycles in the hallway so they won't think about boys, some pretty weird stuff's goin' on; like, for instance this one teacher (Ellen) is typin' up a report on all the immaculate conceptions that've taken place durin' the quarter with the help of their abstinence only education curriculum, an all the sudden 'er paper catches fire like a trailer park on the 4th of July. Little things like that. There's other gonzo stuff too, like the students fillin' Weezie's bed with enough ketchup to cover one of Donald Trump's steaks, but I think this's just part of that whole girls wantin' to have fun thing Cyndi Lauper was singin' about. Unfortunately, we never get to see what happens with the kitchen condiment booby trap, cause by the time Weezie gets back to the dorms it's past curfew an she ends up comin' home to an empty room where the door locks behind 'er an the curtains go up in flames like a bad teenage mustache at a high school bonfire, an 'er room mate (Lane) barely makes it home in time to get 'er out before she gets 'er rump roasted. The next day, the girls get all gowned up an assemble in the auditorium so Lane can practice 'er graduation speech about how if women put their minds to it they can break down all the social barriers life throws at 'em an still have dinner on the table promptly at 6, only before she can burn 'er bra *somethin'* ignites the backside of 'er graduation gown until she looks like Jennifer Lawrence havin' a Hunger Games wardrobe malfunction an Harrison Ford hasta run all the way from Biology class to smother the fire with his tweed jacket. Ellen finds all this Quest for Fire bullstuff just a tad whack, so once she double checks everyone's permanent record an makes certain none of the girls is related to Drew Barrymore, she goes to talk to Dr. Sigmund Freud about 'er problem an he suggests she get in touch with Leahy an possibly Keith Flint to see what he knows about this tahwistid fiahstahtah.
Course when Louise finds out she's P.O.'d cause she's a strong independent woman who don't need no defrocked priest to sort out 'er school's Satanic entanglements, but Ellen brings 'im in anyway an he basically tells 'er that God has a plan for us all, but that evil just does whatever the heck it wants cause anytime somebody in Hell tries drawin' up a schedule or a plan they get noogied an wedgied back to the stone age for bein' a wimp. Then Leahy interrogates Lane an Weezie an finds out that Weezie's been boning up for 'er Biology final with Harrison an how the two of 'em're plannin' to get a dee-lux apartment in the sky when she graduates, an so once Harrison's done scarin' the crap outta the girls in his class with a fake spider in a jar Leahy goes in to find out all he can about their little cram sessions. Harrison says he dunno nothin' about no extra-curricular activity with Weezie or that Carrie Fisher gal an that he was prolly framed by that jackwagon Greedo. So later that night, Weezie drops in on Harrison an invites 'im to come park his Millennium Phallus in 'er docking bay, only he ends up tickin' 'er off an once she's out the door his sport coat turns into a smoking jacket, an by the time it's all over the classroom smells like the cafeteria on meatloaf day. Naturally, somebody hasta break the news to Chewie, so Leahy heads into Harrison's office an finds the walls covered in so many impaled butterflies you'd think Jame Gumb lived there. He also finds Louise, who's blubberin' about how there's nobody left who'll paddle 'er hiney with a ruler when she's been bad, cept then she starts makin' like she's gonna grab ahold of Leahy's defrocked cock before eventually regainin' 'er composure an leavin' to find an icebox where she can refreeze 'er genitals. That was a close one; Leahy damn near found out why they call 'er the "headmistress" there, an God would *not* have been havin' any of that. Then ole glacier gaunch goes an slaps Weezie around for havin' a superior figure until Weezie starts feelin' like maybe she shoulda waited til Harrison left Louise a broken shell of a woman before she went to work with the hand solos. Leahy's operatin' on borrowed time now, but manages to assure Weezie that it took more'n one manwhore of a Bio teacher to bring down Sodom before stashin' 'er in Ellen's room for safe keepin' while he goes lookin' for Louise. Cept about that time the school starts fillin' with smoke like Lisa Lopes just transferred over, while Louise wanders around like a zombie gatherin' an leadin' all the students down to the pool where 'er face turns the color of sculptor's clay an 'er lips begin to resemble a frostbitten labia. Looks like Leahy better get his holy hinder down to the pool an kick some ass for the Lord. Don't you worry, he'll get there, but if you wanna find out how it goes you'll just hafta grab yourself a copy.
I dunno what it is about these 1970s made-for-TV movies, but they always manage to bring something fun to the table in spite of the uphill battle they're fighting against the censors. By the time the '80s rolled around you didn't see the networks crankin' 'em out like they had in the decade prior, and that's likely attributable to the boon of the Slasher movie and the amount of violence and gore exhibited therein. After Tom Savini painted the screen red in Friday the 13th, these kinda creaky atmospheric flicks became old hat with regard to the expectations of the younger audiences, and they began to gradually fade away. I really can't put my finger on exactly what makes them so enjoyable, but they all seem to share one of two things in common: a highly original or ambitious premise (think Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, or Gargoyles), or above average production values (Bad Ronald, Trilogy of Terror, Salem's Lot). The TV networks weren't willing to throw crap together willy-nilly in those days, because they knew that in a couple months they'd be premiering a new movie that people weren't going to watch if the last one was shoddily produced, and this is why the production values always tend above average and professional. This philosophy seems to have gone out the window by the time the '80s rolled around, presumably because they saw so many low budget offerings being profitably released at the drive-ins and thought they could follow suit. That didn't really work, because even though the production requirements might have slipped a bit, they were still under the thumb of the censorship board and unable to compensate with the spectacular gore effects that the flicks in the theaters had, so they began making movies that were less impressive technically, but which also had none of the draw inherent in the popular drive-in movies of the era. Don't get me wrong, there're still some really fun made-for-TV flicks from the 1980s, but as far as total volume goes, this is one arena in which the '70s absolutely blow the '80s out of the water. Even the lesser efforts like Killdozer, Snowbeast, and Ants are all fun movies, even if the premises are a little silly, so I always tend to go into these flicks with an air of optimism that I often lack with most low budget '70s titles, and they usually don't disappoint. The Possessed hasn't really achieved the cult following that some of the other titles I mentioned have, but while I can't be certain, I think part of the reason is that it doesn't seem to have gotten the level of reairings as many of the others. They were still showing some of these titles on cable pretty regularly as late as the 1990s, but you didn't see The Possessed as frequently as Ants or Salem's Lot, so it hasn't (and at this point, probably will never) attained the cult status of titles like Killdozer, despite being a better movie (though a bit less fun, cause, ya know, demon possessed bulldozer).
This flick's had it easy up until now, but unlike the entire cast of the movie, *I* know how to stop, drop, and roll, so let's take a closer look and see if Satan can keep the home fires burning in the face of some legitimate scrutiny. The plot is really very simple and to the point. There isn't much in the way of plot twists or grand revelations, and it becomes pretty obvious within whom the devil has taken up residence by about the halfway mark. It would be dishonest to say that the film doesn't borrow its themes from The Exorcist, but other than a couple characters that come off as derivative (the priest, and particularly the inconsequential detective) this crew handled the whole possession angle in a completely different way, with an entirely different cause, and with a decidedly different victim. The acting is unquestionably the high point, with Joan Hackett shouldering the bulk of the load in an excellent performance as she goes from frigid to horndog, or comatose to maniacal at the drop of a hat. There's also a pretty decent cast of young women who'd go on to fairly significant roles in important Horror flicks in the near future, including P.J. Soles, Dinah Manoff, and Ann Dusenberry, and even though Ann is the only one with much screen time, they all come across as believable high school girls. Of course, you've gotta mention Harrison Ford as the slimy Biology teacher, who does an excellent job of bein' a smarmy sleaze in a performance that's actually not all that different from the one he gives in Star Wars, which released in theaters just 24 days after The Possessed originally aired. Lastly is James Farentino who plays the defrocked priest, and while he's certainly not bad, I must say, he's no Jason Miller. His is definitely the weakest performance in the movie, but then, priests generally aren't intended to be all that exciting, so I'm inclined to give him a break.
Here's who matters and why (less Harrison Ford and P.J. Soles): James Farentino (The First Countdown, Dead & Buried, Violent Midnight), Claudette Nevins (Star Trek: Insurrection, Child of Darkness Child of Light, The Mask 1961), Eugene Roche (Roswell, Slaughterhouse-Five, Crawlspace), Ann Dusenberry (Jaws 2), Diana Scarwid (Psycho III, Strange Invaders), Joan Hackett (Dead of Night, The Terminal Man), Dinah Manoff (Child's Play), James R. Parkes (The Bionic Woman, Annihilator, Mysterious Two, Conquest Earth, Damnation Alley). Bein' a made-for-TV movie, we've also got some mainstream talent among the cast, so for those of you who might be interested, here are the roles most of these folks would prefer to be remembered for: James Farentino (Simon Peter in Jesus of Nazareth, Dr. Nick Tescanni on Dynasty), Eugene Roche (Bill Parker on Webster), Diana Scarwid (Angela in Silkwood), Joan Hackett (Prudy in Support Your Local Sheriff), Dinah Manoff (Evelyn Rayburn on State of Grace, Carol Weston on Empty Nest, Karen in Ordinary People), Susan Walden (J.L. Duval on Danger Bay).
The special effects are minimal, and consist almost entirely of combustible clothing. Not very exciting stuff, but they pull it off without making it appear hokey. Beyond that, there's some smoke that's badly composited into a few shots near the end of the flick, and another composite of a flaming Harrison Ford being reflected against a window, neither of which are especially impressive, but nor are they atypical of composite shots of the time. Last but not least is the makeup job on Joan Hackett once she becomes fully possessed, and if you're expecting the kinda work they did on Linda Blair in The Exorcist, don't. It's not bad, but it's pretty tame; mostly just a greying of the skin and some nasty teeth is the extent of it. There is one pretty decent stunt that comes after my summary leaves off so I won't go spoilin' that, but it's one of the better scenes in the movie, and well done. The shooting locations are the second strongest aspect, with principle photography being shot at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Don't ask me why they filmed in Portland and set the movie in Salem, but apparently those 50 miles would've otherwise changed the whole complexion of the movie, so they called it Salem. Technically speaking the students are all high schoolers, and while you could probably make the case that most high schools don't have caged monkeys in their Biology classrooms, just having an actual school (with dorm rooms) greatly improves the film's authenticity, visual aesthetic, and overall atmosphere. I always prefer a movie that shoots on location, because even though it's often a more difficult task, the result is always more believable. The soundtrack is about what you'd expect, and features a lot of traditional tense, atmospheric, 1970s haunted house style music. It's also got some chanting in it in the early goings that give it a slight Omen feel, with snippits of cliched "hmm, something's not right here" oboe solos later on. It's a very subdued soundtrack that lingers in the background and remains perfectly content to do so for the movie's entire runtime, but while it may not jump out at you or grab your attention, it helps to boost the flick's atmosphere and create a feeling of uneasiness. Overall, it's a shame that this one doesn't have more notoriety than it does, because despite being a little slow in the pacing department, it's a decent little chiller. It's gonna be too tame for the gorehounds, but the production values are above average and it's got a certain humble charm that makes it enjoyable for a PG rated title. Definitely a must for fans of 1970s made-for-TV Horror titles, and a decent choice for anyone with a weak stomach, or folks trying to ease their way into the genre slowly.