THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY (1972) Reviews and overview

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The Possession of Joel Delaney is a 1972 American supernatural horror film directed by Waris Hussein (The Henderson Monster) from a screenplay by Irene Kamp [as Grimes Grice] (The Beguiled) and Matt Robinson. The film is based on the 1970 novel of the same name by Ramona Stewart. It was partly financed by Lew Grade’s ITC Entertainment.

Despite it being a mainstream Paramount release, the film included footage of actor David Elliott, who was thirteen years-old at the time, fully naked, being verbally abused by the character Joel Delaney. These controversial scenes have been trimmed for subsequent releases.


The movie stars Shirley MacLaine, Perry King, Barbara Trentham, Earl Hyman, David Elliott, Michael Hordern.

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New York City: Norah Benson and her younger brother Joel Delaney attend a wealthy people’s party. It is subtly implied that theirs is not an ordinary siblings’ relationship.

Two days, Joel fails to attend a dinner at Norah’s house. When she calls him, all she hears is somebody making odd sounds into the phone. She heads over to her brother’s seedy Spanish Harlem apartment to investigate. Norah sees Joel dragged out, having tried to kill the building superintendent, before being taken to Bellevue Hospital.

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At Joel’s apartment, she finds the whole place in disarray and an eerie sign painted in the wall of both the super’s and his brother’s flats. She also finds an unusually large switchblade knife…

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Joel Delaney is a creepy story…and also a VERY claustrophobic movie. The grimy, confusing landscape of Manhattan provides the perfect, festering environment for the weirdo black magic that beats Shirley MacLaine’s character down…and out of the city to the disturbing and powerful climax.” Dan Hunter and Jason Knowles, The Terror Trap

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” … what ultimately sets this film apart from the glut of demon/exorcism movies that possessed screens throughout the ’70s, is a feeling of authenticity, and the desire to strike a deeper, more resonant chord than the typical shlock of the day. There’s more to The Possession of Joel Delaney than just the possession of Joel Delaney.” John Dedeke, Shock Till You Drop


“The final twist, which I’ll refrain from giving away, is not the same as the final twist in the book. It’s a more disturbing wrap-up than the book’s more subtle, eerie ending. Once again, the film industry came in and took a perfectly creepy book and upped the sensationalism because nothing can ever be too shocking in Hollywood.” Jennifer Makowsky, Pop Matters

” … works for a number reasons, first and foremost that it assimilates the idea of demonic possession on a more plausible level, with events that take place hidden in the underbelly of Manhattan. A sequence depicting a ritualistic Santeria (a Cuban-originated voodoo-like religion) ceremony in a small apartment is almost documentary-like… George R. Reis, DVD Drive-In




Cast and characters:

  • Shirley MacLaine as Norah Benson
  • Perry King as Joel Delaney
  • David Elliott as Peter Benson
  • Lisa Kohane as Carrie Benson
  • Michael Hordern as Justin
  • Barbara Trentham as Sherry
  • Earl Hyman as Charles
  • Lovelady Powell as Erika
  • Edmundo Rivera Álvarez as Don Pedro
  • Teodorina Bello as Mrs. Pererz
  • Robert Burr as Ted Benson
  • Míriam Colón as Veronica
  • Ernesto Gonzalez as Young Man at Seance
  • Aukie Herger as Mr. Perez
  • Marita Lindholm as Marta Benson

Choice dialogue:

Joel Delaney: “Rich people don’t beg.”


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