A masterpiece that is genuinely scary even for adults!
IN POSSESSION is easily the best episode of the HAMMER HOUSE OF MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE series as I shall demonstrate.
The TV series in question was a combination of hits and misses. Some episodes had wonderful concepts but became bogged down in very boring 1980s drama styles, with upper middle-class characters exchanging boring dialogue with each other. Most 1980s drama in Britain was executed along these lines. On the other hand, some episodes of this TV series were genuine exercises in suspense, tension and genuine horror. IN POSSESSION is one such episode. Others include A DISTANT SCREAM and THE CORVINI INHERITANCE.
The plot is as follows - a man and his wife are preparing to move to abroad. On the night before they leave, they witness strange events at their apartment.
The abstract concept is admittedly far from unique. However, the execution most certainly is unique. I guarantee to everyone that the abstract concept has never been executed like this before or since. It has to be seen in order to be believed!
As another reviewer on this site has pointed out, the title IN POSSESSION is a deliberate heading for the setting of a paradox. Instead of a couple moving into a haunted house. It is during the last night at their own house that supernatural events take place.
Execution of this masterpiece is more akin to a movie than an episode of a TV series and that is only its first strength.
The second strength is the seriousness of the whole exercise. There is no room for humour - not even the tongue-in-cheek kind - in something like this. The horrific nightmare presented on the screen is genuinely scary. And this is coming from someone who was highly disappointed by supposedly "scary masterpieces" such as THE HAUNTING, THE INNOCENTS, THE ENTITY, THE WOMAN IN BLACK, THE ORPHANAGE and SESSION 9 just to name a few. I can assure every reader of my review that I do not scare easily. There is a multitude of horror movies that I love for entertainment value but very few of them have ever scared me. But IN POSSESSION has scared me every time I have watched it.
The starting point of the plot is deliberately mundane. However, it is interspersed with supernatural occurrences from the earliest scenes. It is the intrusion of these supernatural elements into what should be a by-the-numbers drama that takes both the viewers and the characters by complete surprise.
The acting is stellar across the board.
Carol Lynley gives the performance of her career as a loving wife who becomes terrified by the supernatural occurrences she bears witness to.
Christopher Cazenove is perfectly cast as a rational husband who thinks his wife is just having nightmares or just nervous about leaving home. His gradual build-up of fear is very realistic given the initial characterisation.
David Healy has fun playing the friend of Cazenove's character. He is given a few corny lines. But he executes them in a manner that makes his character very likable.
Judy Loe is given little to do playing the wife of Healy's character. However, her character's stronger will than that of Lynley is a key part of the set-up scenes.
However the absolute standout on the cast list is Bernard Kay. He gives the performance of his career as the highly sinister Mr. Prentice - a man who plans to murder his wife so that he can get his hands on her life insurance. Mr. Prentice is given one superb line after another that he speaks with supreme malevolence that genuinely sends chills down spines. Every word, every glance, every hand gesture and every movement of Mr. Prentice is delivered with understated literal creepiness. He is one of the best villains committed to celluloid.
These excellent actors are all backed up by a director who clearly knows the concept of horror inside out. This is rather ironic as Val Guest is actually more famous for directing comedies! I'm not making this up. Check his filmography and then see IN POSSESSION. You'll find yourself wondering why he never directed more horror works.
Val Guest does an excellent job exploiting everything available to him - lighting, camera angles, camera motion, sound effects, editing, you name it. Even simple everyday events such as dripping water from taps are made eerie in this masterpiece.
High-pitched jarring musical chords complement some truly disturbing visual images.
Lighting is used perfectly to blur the lines between the perceived "reality" and the perceived "fantasy". The "dark is scary" cliché is cast aside as the scenes with lighting are actually the scary ones! This is the only movie I can think of where you literally want the lights to go out to feel safe!
The style and execution is always fully in tone with the concept of paranoia and nightmarish imagery that is the heart of the story.
All of this culminates in a truly intelligent ending that you simply will not see coming. The final image is truly unforgettable and will stay with every viewer long after the show is over.
The incredible irony of the whole exercise is that Hammer movies made during the British horror heyday of the 1960s and 1970s were always executed in a light-hearted tongue-in-cheek style. They were almost always exciting but very rarely scary. In fact, these movies are more likely to induce laughter than anything else if seen today. In contrast, IN POSSESSION is a latter effort that strips away the humour, removes the clichés and ratchets up the tension to unbearable levels.
Overall, IN POSSESSION is a true masterpiece of horror. It is easily the best episode of this particular TV series. I highly recommend it for every horror fan. What are you waiting for? Start looking for the DVD!
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