April 28th, 2008

THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY (1972) *

Legend Films has signed an exclusive agreement with Paramount Pictures to release some of their more obscure niche titles on DVD.  Among their first releases is Waris Hussein’s The Possession of Joel Delaney.  It was made one year before The Exorcist set the standard for possession flicks and while it contains some interesting ideas and good performances, it suffers from a totally unnecessarily cruel and sadistic ending that even left me, a hardened horror buff thoroughly pissed. 

 

MacClaine stars as Norah, a New York socialite with a bohemian brother named Joel (Perry King) who begins to act strangely.  When she calls him on the phone, all she can hear is a bunch of conga drums.  Norah goes to check on him, and is horrified to learn that Joel went nuts, beat up his landlord and was taken to Bellevue.  Joel’s released into the care of a psychologist whom he confides in that he’s living in his dead Puerto Rican friend Tonio’s apartment.  At his birthday party, Joel wigs out and starts cursing like a sailor in SPANISH!  Pretty soon, Joel’s girlfriend ends up missing her head and we learn that Joel has been possessed by Tonio, who also moonlighted as a serial killer.  Norah takes her kids to her summer home at the beach to get away from Joel, but he follows her dressed like a Puerto Rican pimp brandishing a switchblade the size of Cleveland, and sets out to terrorize them.

 

The film’s obvious role model was Rosemary’s Baby.  The New York settings are pretty similar, and like that film, it starts unassuming enough (one could almost say quite mundanely) with Norah and Joel attending a pretentious cocktail party before slowly turning up the horror.  The opening scenes are akin to the ones in Rosemary’s Baby as the film drudges along at a plodding pace while only occasionally dropping hints of the supernatural shenanigans to come.

 

I could take the molasses paced build-up to a film like this one.  I could stomach the lame-o psychoanalyzing baloney.  I could even praise it for the few moments of genuine shocks (like the revelation of the severed head) it offers.  But I have to ultimately condemn this movie for being in appallingly bad taste when it comes to the aberrant child abuse that comes out of nowhere during the film’s final act.  In it, Joel (possessed by Tonio), holds Norah’s pre-teen children at knifepoint, forces them to strip and dance around naked and makes them crawl around the floor and eat dog food. 

 

That’s not scary it’s just sick.

 

I’m usually not the kind of guy who gets riled up by shit like this, but the child actors should’ve never been subjected to this kind of stuff.  I’ve watched literally thousands of sleazy exploitation movies and never once felt the urge to shower afterwards.  After watching the final ten minutes of The Possession of Joel Delaney, I wanted to scrub OCD style every known layer of dermis off my body.  Some people will like this scene.  Any other sane person will be reaching for the Eject button of the DVD player ASAP.

 

Despite the descent into borderline pedophilic thrills, the first 90 minutes of the film is intermittently entertaining.  Easily the best thing about the movie was the performances by the two leads.  MacClaine (who was in between her pixyish performances of her youth and the more matronly roles that were to come) is the real star here and although her role is rather flimsily written, she makes do nicely.  You know, Perry King has always been one of those actors I generally liked, and I think he really never got his due.  Although handsome, he never traded in on his looks and relied more on his understated Everyman appeal to ingratiate himself with the audience.  (And if you don’t believe me, check King out in the minor classic, The Class of 1984.)  Unfortunately, leading men like King never really become “star” material and usually end up on television, which is where you could usually find him about a decade later.  (Yes, I tuned in to Riptide frequently back in the day.)  Even though he really doesn’t get to flash his acting chops until the final reel, his performance is pretty memorable.  It’s just a shame he and MacClaine had to be in such trashy surroundings.

 

Even though the last ten minutes were in nauseatingly bad taste, The Possession of Joel Delaney is still the best possession flick directed by a guy named Waris ever made.

 

For more information on Legend’s new line of DVD’s check out www.legendfilms.net.

MANDINGO (1975) ***

 

Director Richard Fleischer has had an odd career to say the least.  He’s done everything to classics (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) to Schwarzenegger movies (Conan the Destroyer) to sci-fi (Fantastic Voyage) to kid’s stuff (Doctor Dolittle) to… Mandingo.

 

Mandingo.  Just the word alone is enough to make the mind begin to swirl with oodles of racy racial imagery and southern fried melodramatics.  The movie’s reputation more or less precedes it and if you’ve only heard whispers about this flick, you may be a little disappointed once you actually sit down to watch it.  What passed for shocking back in ’75 may seem a bit tame today, but Mandingo is still chockfull of enough jaw dropping moments to live up to it’s status as one of the most exploitative exploitation movies of all time.

 

Basically, if V.C. Andrews gobbled down a bunch of Quaaludes and wrote a racially charged Harlequin romance novel and it was filmed by the director of Amityville 3-D, this is what you get.  

 

James Mason stars as a big time plantation owner who keeps his slaves ignorant of reading, writing and religion.  His lame legged son (Perry King) shuns the affections of white women and prefers to bed down with a slave girls and even gets one pregnant.  His poppa grows weary of King’s interracial intercourse and insists that he marry his white cousin (Susan George) to keep up appearances, and more importantly sire an heir to the plantation.  One day at the market, he buys a towering Mandingo (a “Breeder”) named Mede (heavyweight champ Ken Norton) who also is a cunning fighter.  George gets pissed that King is busy seducing slaves, so she whips the mother of his unborn child into having a miscarriage.  When King goes away on business, George seduces Norton and when she finally births Mason an heir, guess what color it is?    

 

Mandingo handles the subject of interracial romance with a little more conviction and sensitivity than White Meat on Black Street 7, but not much.  It’s a lurid melodramatic soap opera, plain and simple.  Having said that though, it gives you a lot of smutty goodness for your exploitation dollar, and for that, guilty pleasure movie fans should be eternally grateful.

 

That’s not saying it’s a perfect movie.  Not by any means.  It ambles along at a meandering pace and suffers from a perplexing personality crisis at times.  Sometimes Fleischer seems like he’s trying to make Gone With the Wind 2, other times he acts like he’s going for the feel of a Jaama Fanaka movie.  On top of that, it’s also way too long for it’s own good. 

 

But I will say this for Mandingo:  It’s a lot more fun than Roots.

 

The fight scene is pretty graphic and brutal (it seems like a warm up to Fleischer’s Tough Enough) and is among the movie’s many trashy highlights.  Norton punches, kicks and gnaws away at his opponent, and the brawl is one of the craziest fight scenes you’ve seen outside of a Penitentiary movie. 

 

Although Mandingo at times puts on airs and tries to act like a “real” movie, there’s enough ribald goodness here to keep you fully entertained.  Interracial S & M sex scenes?  Check.  Mason draining his rheumatic feet onto little slave boys?  Yeppers.  Slaves being hung upside down and beaten until their butts are bloody?  Gotcha.  Lots of men and women, both black and white, cavorting around buck naked?  Right on.  People being pitchforked to death then boiled alive?  You got it dude. 

 

Let me just put it to you this way:  If you’ve ever wanted to see Mr. Bentley from The Jeffersons check a musclebound slave for hemorrhoids, this is the flick for you. 

 

The performances are a bit uneven, but for the most part, they get the job done.  Mason’s southern brogue is so dang thick you can only understand about every third word he says, but that doesn’t affect his performance too much.  King makes for a solid romantic lead and George looks like she’s having fun as his wild eyed, whip wielding wife.  Norton also makes a considerable impression as the formidable Mede. 

 

Blues enthusiasts will be pleased to know that there’s a great theme song by Muddy Waters in there too.  Screenwriter Norman Wexler later went on to pen the sequel, Drum, the next year, as well as Saturday Night Fever.

 

Even though you can’t understand half of what he’s saying, Mason still gets the best line of the movie:  “You’re acting like a Georgia bitch!”

 

For more information on the upcoming Mandingo DVD, as well as Legend’s new line of DVD’s (all licensed from Paramount Pictures), check out www.legendfilms.net.