POSSESSION (1981) Reviews and 4K restoration and re-release news

 

Possession, Andrzej Żuławski’s controversial 1981 arthouse horror film, is being released in a 4K restoration by Metrograph Pictures. The new print will premiere at Fantastic Fest, then debut via virtual cinemas on October 1st and theatrically in select US locations from October 15th 2021. A new 4K trailer has been issued.

Meanwhile, here is our previous coverage of this divisive film:

Possession-1981-MSS-06850

‘Inhuman ecstasy fulfilled.’

Possession is a 1981 French-German film directed by Polish filmmaker Andrzej Żuławski from a screenplay co-written with Frederic Tuten. Żuławski has stated that he wrote the screenplay in the midst of a messy divorce.

The Gaumont-Oliane-Marianne-Soma Film co-productionstars Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill, Margit Carstensen and Heinz Bennent.

The film was controversial when first released, and heavily edited for distribution in the United States. After an initial limited theatre release in the United Kingdom, Possession was banned as one of the notorious so-called ‘video nasties’, although it was later released uncut on VHS in 1999. It gradually developed a minor cult following among arthouse aficionados.

Plot:

With their marriage in pieces, Anna and Mark’s tense relationship has become a psychotic descent into screaming matches, violence and self-mutilation.

Believing his wife’s only lover is the sinister Heinrich, Mark is unaware of the demonic, tentacled creature that Anna has embarked on an affair with. The unhinged woman visits her monstrous lover in a deserted Berlin apartment and will stop at nothing to protect it…

Review:

Possession is about many things, but at the heart of it is a marital breakdown. Sam Neill is Mark, a likely government agent (it’s never really explained) who returns home from a mission to try and patch up his failing marriage to Anna (Isabelle Adjani). Anna has a lover, the slimy Heinrich (Heinz Bennent), and it’s fair to say that neither of them is handling the situation well – Mark vegetates in a hotel room for three weeks, Anna leaves their young son alone in the flat, and they have intense physical confrontations as Mark flips between pushing her away and begging her to return. But it soon turns out that she has moved on from Heinrich, and now has a mysterious new partner – a grotesque, evolving tentacled creature that she will do anything to protect.

Possession is a remarkable film. Set in a grey, depressing West Berlin (the Wall is literally right outside the couple’s window), it would be a deranged, intense film even without the bizarre creature – if you think you’ve ever had a bad breakup, this film might make you think again. Neill and Adjani are both at full throttle, reaching levels of hysteria so overwhelming that you worry for their sanity at times, Adjani especially going all out as she not so much descends as plummets into madness. The infamous ‘birth’ scene is rightly notorious for the level of dementia the actress shows, and never loses its power.

While not a horror film, Possession certainly ventures into that area and does so impressively. Carlo Rambaldi’s monster is worryingly authentic, and the violence has a sickly reality to it – possibly because so much of it is quite intimate and small scale (the scene where Adjani takes an electric knife to her neck is still shocking). The creature could’ve derailed the film, but given the deranged nature of what we’d seen too far, its appearance isn’t that odd, and Carlo Rambaldi’s creature is so weird, so grotesque that its appearance adds to the overall shock value.

Zuwalski’s direction is thankfully restrained – he lets the wildness happen within the characters, and the film itself has a sedate, cold feel to it. There’s a political element to this story – it was his first project after leaving Communist Poland and it’s clear that the evil he sees in the story isn’t just that involving tentacled creatures – but it’s not laid out in a heavy-handed manner, instead of making up a part of the general insanity (after all, what could be more insane than a city split in two by a giant wall?).

As powerful now as it was on original release in 1981, Possession is a disturbing, astonishing, sometimes darkly comic and often moving tour-de-force that straddles the arthouse and the grindhouse while ultimately transcending both. A must-see movie.

David Flint, guest reviewer via The Reprobate

Other reviews:

” …Possession is a unique and difficult viewing experience but one that anybody with an interest in proper cinema should appreciate. Unlike many of today’s quick-fix and workmanlike ‘horror’ films, Possession is a steadily crafted work of art that, if it were a painting, would be framed and mounted on a wall in a gallery for everyone to ponder over and draw their own conclusions as to its meaning.” Ancient Slumber

“For followers of purely mainstream cinema, it would be startling for any Sam Neill fans to stumble across Possession. You’ll see your familiar actor suffer a complete mental breakdown, and become a slurring, gibbering, violent lunatic. And that’s nothing compared to what happens to the heroine of the piece, Isabelle Adjani, who suffers through scenes of such intensity, it’s at times hard to watch.” Girls, Guns and Ghouls

“It’s a difficult movie which veers wildly between the asinine and the unforgettable and is packed with disorienting compositions and images. I was thoroughly impressed by its wrongheaded audacity while finding myself touched by some of the razor-edged pain on display. Overall, an odd, disturbing mish-mash of monsters, mayhem and emotional meltdowns.” Shock Cinema

” …a barely watchable stew of unmediated mad-eyed acting and dialogue so laughably pretentious one has to check that the film isn’t a parody.” Jonathan Rigby, Euro Gothic

Buy: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com | Amazon.ca

“It’s beautifully shot with some great performances from the leads but the whole thing ends up being one big frustration that leaves you cold. Whether that’s the director’s intent or not doesn’t forgive this for being a colossal bore. Even the much talked about subway birth scene isn’t really much to talk about.” The Video Graveyard

Buy DVD: Amazon.co.uk

“The over-the-top, emotionally raw, annoyingly unnatural acting by all the leads is a hurdle for audiences, but Zulawski pushes his actors to behave emotionally wild as if in some radical psychotherapy, conveying the raw emotions of the relationship and breakup, and although this sometimes works in his movies, here it comes off as theatrical, pretentious histrionics.” The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre

Cast and characters:

Isabelle Adjani … Anna / Helen
Sam Neill … Mark
Margit Carstensen … Margit Gluckmeister
Heinz Bennent … Heinrich
Johanna Hofer … Heinrich’s Mother
Carl Duering … Detective
Shaun Lawton … Zimmermann
Michael Hogben … Bob
Maximilian Rüthlein … Man with Pink Socks (as Maximilian Ruethlein)
Thomas Frey … Pink Sock’s Acolyte
Leslie Malton … Sara / Woman with Club Foot
Gerd Neubert … Subway Drunk

Filming locations:

Berlin, West Germany

Technical details:

124 minutes
Audio: Mono
Aspect ratio: 1.66: 1

Trailer:

Disclaimer: This website includes affiliate links to Amazon and as an Amazon Associate the owner of this website earns a very minuscule amount from qualifying purchases.