The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972)

the possession of joel delaney

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Possessed by his friend.

Norah (Shirley MacLaine) is a divorced mother of two living in a well-off neighborhood of New York that is also keeping a watchful eye on her younger brother Joel (Perry King). He is a recent college grad returned from an overseas stay and still looking to find his way in the world. He lives in a poorer section of town and does so to keep a distance between he and his sister who he feels has domineering traits like his now deceased mother. As things progress he begins to show odd, frightening behaviors that at times turn violent and when conventional therapy doesn’t help Norah turns to a Puerto Rican witch doctor that is convinced that Joel is possessed.

What makes this film so intriguing is that it has far more layers than a typical horror film and its most interesting aspect isn’t the occult at all, but instead the vivid look at New York’s contrasting socio-economic and cultural make-up. It shows how buffered the rich are from the poverty stricken areas of the city and how completely helpless they become when thrown into that environment. In fact Norah’s most frightening moments are when she is taken out of the safety zone of her pampered lifestyle than in dealing with the possession of her brother.

MacLaine’s character is not too likable, but this ends up being a positive. Her exchange with a clerk at a mental hospital when she expects to receive preferential treatment is amusing as is her obliviousness to her surroundings when she walks into a rundown tenement building wearing a gaudy fur hat and coat only to later finally get the sense to take it off when walking down the street of a tough neighborhood.

King is perfect choice for the role as his clear blue eyes give off a naturally creepy look and his moments of possession are some of the most unnerving parts of the film although I would have liked more time to have been given showing him in more of a normal state. His relationship with his sister also exposes an underlying sexual theme that never gets sufficiently explored

Although the terror is more cerebral it still has some choice moments including a shot of a decapitated head of a woman hung over her nude body as well as Maclaine’s extremely odd reaction to it. The ritual involving the attempted removal of the dead soul from Joel’s body has a nice cinema vertite flair and when the man lights some kerosene on the floor and steps in it with his bare feet it looks genuine and not staged. The climatic sequence that takes place in a remote beach house is intense and includes the controversial scene showing a young boy being forced to strip as well as a young girl having to eat dog food from a dog dish that was excised from many prints, but intact on the Legend Films DVD release. There is also a cool twist that occurs at the very, very end.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 24, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Waris Hussein

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD

One response to “The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972)

  1. A woman leaves her children with a psycho. She signed him out of Bellvue. Film stretches credulity to say the least.

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