Possession of Joel Delaney, The (1972)

“Possession? Insanity? Fragmented ego? Are you trying to tell me that my brother is so weak and so vulnerable that he can be invaded from the outside by a maniac who is dead? I refuse to believe it!”

Synopsis:
Spoiled socialite Norah Benson (Shirley MacLaine) is puzzled by the uncharacteristically cruel and erratic behavior of her brother Joel (Perry King). Eventually, Norah finds herself investigating the possible “possession” of Joel’s body by the soul of his deceased psychotic friend, and defending her children against Joel’s homicidal behavior.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “neglected film is one of the creepiest psychological thrillers” ever made. Shirley MacLaine turns in a nuanced performance as a wealthy socialite who must delve into the “underworld” of New York to investigate the mystery of her beloved brother’s freaky behavior. More commonly known as a comedic actress, MacLaine shows true depth of characterization here — notice the tiny details of her performance, such as the distracted way she snatches the train tickets out of a station clerk’s hand as she rushes to take her children to safety. The final scene — much discussed in IMDb and elsewhere due to the explicit torture of children presented, as well as full-frontal nudity of a ten-year-old boy — remains disturbing, but in keeping with the general tone of the story.

Redeeming Qualities:

  • Shirley MacLaine as Norah Benson
    Norah
  • Miriam Colon as MacLaine’s maid, Veronica
    Veronica and Norah
  • One of the better cinematic portrayals of “possession”—especially the intense spiritual seance held in the apartment of Puerto Rican New Yorkers
    Seance Leader

Must See?
Yes, for MacLaine’s excellent performance (which Peary nominates as one of the best of the year in his Alternate Oscars).

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One Response to “Possession of Joel Delaney, The (1972)”

  1. Not a must. Seems an attempt on the part of Paramount (its distributor) to return to the satanic (therefore unclean) waters of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.

    Unlike ‘RB’, ‘TPOJD’ has an idea left undeveloped by plot construction. Poverty of story gives rein to often-sluggish pacing. Director Hussein seems intrigued by not-well-supported incest inclination -(why can’t King dry his own hair?; why must MacLaine dry it with odd fervor?). The film is less about horror, more about disgust toward the upper class.

    MacLaine does well conveying a spoiled Upper East Sider but, as written, her character often appears simpleminded. (After seeing a few instances of her brother’s too-strange behavior, her response to him is “You’re just being silly.”; her long-trusted psychiatrist friend’s heartfelt/helpful conclusion is met with: “I don’t want to hear your theories, I just don’t want to hear any of these theories; just tell me how I can help my brother!”) With a thin role, King is weak – he makes a better impression in two ‘memorable’ cult films: ‘Mandingo’ and ‘Andy Warhol’s Bad’.

    There is one genuine shock, one welcome funny line by a sassy Bellevue employee, a cameo by cult actress Pat Ast as a loony – who touches MacLaine in a ‘meaningful’ way, one questionable exorcism, an unexplored element of possession vs. a “fragmented ego”, and oddly un-strategic police maneuvering during the script’s clumsy showdown.

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