|Available at Amazon.com|
Possession movies are a small, but popular, subset of the horror genre. Of course, the granddaddy of all possession movies has to be The Exorcist, based on the novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, but there are other classics within this niche, the most recent being The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The Possession of Joel Delaney, which is also based on a novel by Ramona Stewart, claims to be a forgotten classic with the implication that it would have been bigger had it not come out only two years before The Exorcist. However, while there are some intense moments, I think its case is way overblown—this is an interesting movie, but it doesn’t come close to approaching the terror of The Exorcist or Emily Rose.
Joel Delaney seems to be a man who can’t find himself. He lived under the shadow of a domineering mother and later under the shadow of his well meaning, but strong willed sister, Norah. He’s a member of high society by birth and, by the connections his sister made through her ex-husband, an extremely successful surgeon; but he doesn’t feel like he belongs, so instead he lives in a rundown apartment in Spanish Harlem. Norah unsuccessfully tries to draw him into her world, but it’s not until Joel is arrested for assaulting his landlord that she gets her chance. The police commit Joel to Belleview, but later the doctors remand him to Norah’s custody. What she first sees as a chance to help her brother quickly turns into a very dangerous situation as Joel suffers through erratic mood swings, begins speaking in rapid-fire Spanish, and talking to people who aren’t there.
As Norah searches for answers to Joel’s behavior, she gradually moves from the standard methods of therapy to the strange, forbidding world of Santeria and it’s this journey that makes this movie something more than a rather bland possession story. Even though almost the entire movie takes place in New York City, Norah’s journey to Spanish Harlem is like traveling to another world and she keenly feels the difference. She moves from the power and safety that being a rich, white woman affords her in Manhattan to a place where those facts not only mean nothing, but actually put her in a dangerous position.
Shirley MacLaine does a great job as Norah Benson. Her unease is almost palpable, and even though I could never quite bring myself to liking her character, I could admire her courage and love for her brother in that she was so willing to put herself out of her safe zone to help him.
Unfortunately, what was a strong yet surprisingly subtle subtext on class and race is ruined by a completely ridiculous Santeria ceremony that seemed about as realistic as scenes of tribal dancing by natives in blackface in 50’s B movies. If the filmmakers were truly interested in making a statement on class and race relations, they really should have put in the time and effort to do their homework on what a real Santeria ritual looked like. This is just exploitation, and while I usually don’t mind exploitation (in fact, I usually enjoy it), it doesn’t work in a movie that tries to take itself as seriously as The Possession of Joel Delaney obviously does.
The movie was presented in 1:78 Widescreen aspect ratio and it looks very good considering its age. There are no sound specifications listed, but it appeared to be in stereo. There was no directionality, but the dialogue, music, and sound effects came through without a problem and without overlapping each other.
There are no extras for this movie, which I found a little odd considering this is the first time it’s been released on DVD.
The press for this movie has made a big deal about it coming out before The Exorcist; I think that’s a mistake because that will immediately prompt comparisons between the two, and frankly this movie doesn’t stand up. It’s not bad. In fact, the race and class subtext was very interesting, but in terms of scares or even just plain uneasiness, The Possession of Joel Delaney pales. Mildly recommended.
Legend Films presents The Possession of Joel Delaney . Directed by Waris Hussein. Starring Shirley MacLaine, Perry King, Lisa Kohane, and David Elliot. Written by Matt Robinson. Running time: 106 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: June 3, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.