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Norah Benson, an affluent socialite living in the upper east side of New York, seems to be living the perfect life as a divorced mother of two. After her mothers suicide, she becomes a mother figure in the close relationship she has with her younger brother Joel Delany. However, Joel begins to a act very unusually: he tries to attack a man, has to be restrained to a mental asylum, and begins to loose his usual free-spirited kindness in exchange for a turbulent personality. After witnessing the acts of her brother and finally breaking down the shield of her affluence and naivety, Norah seeks the help of a spiritismo who will attempt to exorcise the spirit of a murderer they believe to be possessing Joel. But before they can attempt to help her, Norah's brother quickly turns on her, threatening her own life and the lives of her children.
A unique and chilling forerunner of the 'possession' sub-genre.
Manhattan socialite begins to fear for her troubled younger brother when he starts behaving bizarrely and he seems to have been friends with a backstreet murderer.
The Possession of Joel Delaney is a dark horror film with much going for it. For one, it's among the earliest horror films to deal with the theme of spiritual possession. Also, it's one of those horror gems that doesn't need to resort to special effects or overt gore and violence to be effectively unsettling. It's a thoroughly well-written film as it blends eerie supernatural horror with a strong social commentary. The plot is compelling and quite off-beat as it builds to some chilling peaks and a finale that's splendidly suspenseful. It's a truly disturbing tale.
The direction, cinematography, and urban locations are all good but the true highlight is the stars. Veteran actress Shirley MacLaine is great as her bewildered, yet unsympathetic character. However the show is truly stolen by young Perry King who puts on an excellent dynamic performance as his potentially unhinged character. It's easy to see why King went on to a notable career after this debut.
All around The Possession of Joel Delaney is one of the finer low-key horror films of the 70's. It's a film that wisely chooses the intelligent, non-camp approach to its subject matter and it comes off a solid effective chiller because of it.
*** 1/2 out of ****
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