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John’s Horror Corner: Possession (1981), This film is one of the strangest, most disturbing story-driven things ever filmed, examining the psychosis of obsession, sexuality and the monsters within us

April 12, 2014


MY CALL: This film is one of the strangest, most disturbing story-driven things ever filmed. Surreal, symbolic, creepy and imaginative…this is a deep investigation into fixation, manipulation, obsession and acceptance. There is nothing like it. HOW YOU CAN WATCH THIS RARE MOVIE: You can find several versions of the entire movie on YouTube and, though typically with few copies at a time, it can be purchased on Amazon–but you may need to purchase a foreign import.

Zulawski’s Possession has slowly acquired a cult following of mythical proportions. Those who have seen it surely understand why. Those who haven’t probably just read synopses and have no clue what they’re missing. This is the one horror movie you could ever see in your life that has neither borrowed ideas or been borrowed itself. It’s perhaps far too cavalier and it comes as no shock that no one else would dare approach the themes of this film.


Mark (Sam Neill; Event Horizon, Daybreakers) and his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani; Nosferatu the Vampyre) are having difficulty after he learns that she wants a divorce. Mark becomes generally obsessive about learning why Anna, who he still loves, wants the divorce; whereas Anna becomes generally increasingly histrionic in her attempts to escape him and his attention. These characters are severely neurotic, seemingly thriving on each other’s bizarre behavior–yet, for all their apparently extreme behavior, they are somehow all too human.

As I watched I began to wonder if Anna truly was this crazy, or if the film is depicting Mark’s “perception” of Anna. Are they really this violent? Or are these reflections of how Mark feels, what Mark “wishes” he could do, how Mark “wants” to slap the crazy out of her?


Mark discovers that Anna has a lover named Heinrich. But fear not, this is no spoiler as it produces more questions than answers when he learns that she lies about being with Heinrich when really she is…with someone else. Anna’s true obsession has a somewhat gruesome process and nothing will stop her from reaching her strange end goal.

In case you find yourself doubting the psychological undertones of this film, their son’s teacher Helen (also played by Isabelle Adjani) looks exactly like Anna, but is her polar opposite in temperament. And starting a relationship with Helen lessens Mark’s obsession with Anna.  At the insane end of the spectrum this film features the most disturbing miscarriage scene and the most bizarre sex scene I’ve ever seen!  I have intentionally not mentioned many aspects of this film and it may sound like more a psychological thriller than anything, but I assure you it’s also a bizarre horror movie with supernatural components.


These images should help convince you that this isn’t just some sick relationship drama.



This film is neither easy to find (for purchase or rental) nor understand, and I expect it was likewise difficult to write and film. It shifts from an intense drama, to a dark mysterious horror, to something of a Euro-action… And all the while we are left to wonder which events truly transpire, and which are entirely products of Anna’s fragile psyche (e.g., the famous subway miscarriage scene) or, perhaps, what Mark’s rage perceives as her fragility and desperation.


The ending is unsettling and unclear. But the use of doppelganger characters and perspective reveal the dark and distorted nature of intense relationship conflicts, often resulting in perceiving our resistors as mirroring our own mania.


This film is CLEARLY one of the strangest, most disturbing story-driven things ever filmed. Surreal, symbolic, creepy and imaginative…this is a deep investigation into fixation, manipulation, obsession and acceptance. There is nothing like it.


16 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2014 1:00 pm

    I actually got this dvd about a year ago after someone suggested it for my Valentine’s Day – Love & Horror post (2013). I had never seen it and it certainly packed a punch for weirdness! Definitely worth a watch for those who like non-mainstream horror.

    • johnleavengood permalink
      April 12, 2014 3:56 pm

      Non-mainstream is right. This is like War of the Roses meets The Exorcist meets Antichrist weirdness.

  2. April 21, 2014 7:12 am

    Excellent post, that breakdown scene in the subway is so shocking to watch but it really lingers in the mind.

    • johnleavengood permalink
      April 21, 2014 4:46 pm

      Few actresses go through such challenging scenes.

  3. October 28, 2014 9:45 pm

    I am absolutely ashamed to say that I have never watched this. It is sitting in my vaults still sealed. After reading your appraisal, that is set to change. I hang my head in shame for dragging my heels so woefully on such a macabre classic. Thanks brother.

    • johnleavengood permalink
      October 29, 2014 8:56 am

      I sat on this one for YEARS until I came across the SPOILER-RICH review by The Nasties. But DO NOT watch that YouTube review until you’ve already seen the movie. They get deep into symbolism…DEEP. The movie is intense and if you stop to wonder what’s going on…you find yourself folding and contorting your brain like a Cirque du Soliel performer.

  4. June 3, 2015 4:20 pm

    Great to share the love for such a beautiful, stirring piece of cinema. Here is my appraisal.

    Possession (1981)


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