Arrow Video: The Possessed (1965) Reviewed

Caught directly in between the early giallo films of Mario Bava and the 1970’s giallo from Dario Argento that audiences are more familiar with, The Possessed is sort of a prototype to the later giallo pieces that is a captivating piece with its haunting black-and-white cinematography and mesmerizing lead performance. Arrow Video graciously restored and released this recently to the public eye, allowing a greater in-depth look at perhaps a lesser known gem in Italian cinema. It’s part style and part substance- less enamored in its visual world like Argento tends to be, and a little better focused on its core mystery at hand, while simultaneously retaining an atmosphere of tantalizing enigma that sucks you in and refuses to let go.

There’s a recurring dreadful motif that plays throughout the picture, over and over again, intermittently and suddenly cutting out as scenes change, that really gets under your skin as the story progresses. As writer Bernard finds himself diving deeper and deeper into this complex web of intrigue and deception, his memories and dreams become a massive jumble, tricking both him and the audience alike in a torturous ploy that reveals this film’s true giallo roots.

Viewers will be pleased at the ability to choose between the original Italian and the English dub- purists may want to go for the Italian audio, while people who prefer not to read subtitles might opt for the English. But, having tried both at least a little, I found it difficult to get through with the English audio track on. It suffers from the cheesy, almost B-movie quality voice dubbing that takes away from the overall artistry that can be appreciated when just going with the original Italian language. A dub would perhaps be more appropriate for a spaghetti western like Django or Once Upon a Time in the West, where the time and location of the story would match with the English language instead of feeling out of place with Italian audio. But in The Possessed (or The Lady of the Lake, in the original Italian title), one would probably have an easier time getting absorbed into the atmosphere and story with the original Italian audio on (of course, that’s simply my own observation based on personal preference- to each their own).

Arrow’s release, of course, comes with a few nifty special features, including new interviews with the film’s makeup artist and art director; and a couple of appreciations of The Possessed and the Bazzoni brothers that provide greater insight into the film and the brains behind the story. Also included is an audio commentary on the feature film by critic and writer Tim Lucas and the original Italian and English release trailers. It’s not as heavy on the number of special features it has, but the transfer itself was gorgeous enough for me to not really care about what else was already included in the release. The Possessed is a great enough classic film in my eyes that I only expect to get better and better with eventual revisits.

-Wes Ball