The Video Vacuum (thevideovacuum) wrote,
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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.

Tags: horror, p
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