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Possession marks one of those unsung movies from the early 80s that oozed its way along the grapevine, causing the occasional ripple among viewers and critics alike across the years. Recently the film celebrated 40 years since its release and is now considered a cult classic among some. Ashamedly, it is a movie that passed me by and I only recently caught the film in time for its anniversary. In a way, it’s not too surprising that I missed out on its initial release as it was criminally shafted into the video nasties group that so many were subject to at the time and perhaps the reason why it has become something of a forgotten gem.

Recently to commemorate this feature, Umbrella Entertainment released a Blu-ray/Dvd edition as part of their Beyond Genres collection and it’s jam-packed with over 4 hours of extra footage which I’ll list at the foot of this article.

So, why does it deserve such recognition?

Possession is a visionary film, where every scene is a spectacle and eviscerates the human soul and exposes every ounce of humanity at its most controlling. All the characters strive for power and control and with every movement, vibrating, convulsing, and straining to reach resolution but bound to repeat the cycle of events all over again. This raw energy stems from Director Andrzej Zulawski who would draw from personal experience to write the screenplay, and the anger and vitriol is part of what we see evicted onto the screen. 

Fueling these emotions is an incredible leading cast in Isabelle Adjani in her dual role of Anna, a domestiecised and sexuallay repressed wife, and Helen, a teacher and picture of innocence and virtuosity. Sam Neill also stars as Mark, a spy with a mysterious connection with the political underbelly of Eastern Europe, and a man who is set in his time, expecting that his home life should remain in a certain state and not alter. Threatened by change and a loss of identity, Mark constantly is fighting to remain at the heart of all that surrounds him, tightening his grip, only to watch it slip further from his grasp. 

There are many levels that are at play here, which elevates the movie into highbrow territory, none more so than the depiction of a city under political unrest with the physical divide between Berlin’s East and West. The constant threat of destruction in a world hinged on uncertainty. There are a series of doppelgangers at play too with Adjani’s Anna/Helen characters and Neill’s two versions of Mark, where one version symbolises all that is wrong with humanity, and the other, all that seems right, a yin and yang of balance and imbalance. The viewer is placed at the epicentre of the carnage. As the characters fight for their ideological past, they rip apart their very surroundings destroying all that once was. The infamous scene in the underground passage where we bear witness to Adjani’s electrifying performance as Anna experiences a violent miscarriage, is one of the most brutal scenes that I’ve seen on screen. This scene alone is a dark and disturbing depiction of the core being ripped out due to the trauma and conflict that humanity subjects itself to. Infused with cutting edge creature effects that would fit perfectly in any Cronenberg feature, spearheaded by Italian special effects maestro Carlo Rambaldi (Alien, Deep Red).

By the films conclusion as the world seems to be setting itself right again, we’re left with a dubious outcome with Mark and Anna’s son Bob in the wake of turmoil, afraid of both his ‘parents’ and the sounds of war and destruction in the background, a sign that we are all doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over if we insist on our ridiculous pursuits of perfection; possessed by this ideal and obsessed with fulfilling our desires, unwilling to relinquish control.

For more thoughts and discussions on Possession check out the Surgeons of Horror podcast here:

  • Saul Muerte

Possession is released on Blu Ray and DVD by Umbrella Entertainment.

Details of the extras are listed as follows:

  • Audio commentary with Director Andrzej Żuławski
  • Audio commentary with Co-writer Frederic Tuten
  • The Other Side of the Wall: The Making of Possession
  • Interview with with Director Andrzej Żuławski
  • US Cut of Possession
  • Repossessed – Featurette on the US Cut of Possession
  • A Divided City – Location Featurette 
  • The Sounds of Possession – Interview with Composer Andrzej Żuławski
  • Our friend in the West – Interview with Producer Christian Ferry
  • Basha – Poster Analysis Featurette 
  • International Theatrical Trailer
  • US Theatrical Trailer