Written by El Fangorio
When Rosemary’s Baby hit the big time in 1968, Hollywood found that the supernatural was indeed a hot commodity. While the genre was always present in the independent horror films of the time, it wasn’t until then that the major studios decided it was legit enough to start producing some of their own. Soon, the marquees were filled with titles promising possessions, reincarnations, and resurrections. Also like Rosemary’s, the material was usually gleaned from a popular novel and anchored by an up-and-coming actor or actress. Such was the case with The Possession of Joel Delaney, based on the book by Ramona Stewart and starring an already established Shirley Maclaine.
Joel Delaney (played by then newcomer Perry King) is someone who, while brought up in the charmed life of a wealthy Manhattan socialite, lives and fights for the common man. He has given up his digs in Central Park West to live in a seedier section of the East Village, all the while remaining extremely close with his sister Nora (played by Maclaine) and her two children.
Starting with a destructive outburst that lands Joel in Bellevue, Nora watches in horror as her timid brother slowly changes into a man she doesn’t know. His erratic behavior, violent temper, and the sudden ability to speak fluent Spanish cause Nora to seek the answers necessary to save her brother. Making matters worse is the fact that people close to her and Joel are starting to lose their heads (literally) in the same fashion of a string of earlier unsolved murders. When the suspect, who was considered to be still at large, is found to have been dead for six months, Nora is faced with the realization that her brother may not be the person he once was.
The Possession of Joel Delaney has a lot going for it starting with the stellar performance by its main lead. Shirley Maclaine, like Alan Alda earlier in the Mephisto Waltz and Gregory Peck later in The Omen, lends an air of class to a picture that might otherwise have come off as exploitation. Don’t get me wrong, this film is still a lurid picture but there is something about a big-name star that helps delude the viewer into thinking they are watching something important. And who wouldn’t want to witness their very own Sweet Charity running around Manhattan bumping into headless corpses? Best of all is the setting of vintage upper and lower Manhattan, which are juxtaposed quite nicely when used to show the social differences between the two. Watching Nora treat her maid Veronica like her inferior is counter-balanced by a visit Nora makes to Veronica’s house, where she is in turn the minority. It is here that we begin Nora’s character arch from blissfully ignorant to horrifically aware. The feeling of being out of her comfort zone comes to its zenith when Nora attends a Santeria ritual that, in its attention to detail, has to be seen to be believed.
While being a bare-bones release, The Possession of Joel Delaney comes with a sparkling 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer and its original mono audio track. There is no doubt that this film has ever looked or sounded so good since it’s left the big screen. Another treat is the original artwork used for the DVD case, an iconic image to those in the know, and proof positive that there is no need for revamped imagery to sell a genre title (especially if it’s from the 70s!). A trailer would have been most welcome as it’s remained elusive for some time now (and it’s always a hoot to see how a large studio promotes a horror film like this), but this is a minor quibble. Most will just be happy to have this released at all as it’s been a forgotten gem for far too long.
Thanks to Legend Films for stepping up the plate in bringing us genre fans some titles that would have otherwise still be sitting in the vaults. A quick glance at their website Legendfilms.com (under the section: Studio Films), tells us that this summer will be full of hidden gems and forgotten treasures. All of these titles are new to the format and most of them are cult classics that the fans have been screaming for over a decade now. Some of the titles include Saul Bass’ Phase IV, Jacques Demy’s The Pied Piper, the infamously politically incorrect Mandingo, and the 1981 slasher-spoof Student Bodies.