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  • Noel Vera
    Little show of horror Noel Vera Possessed Directed by Steven de Souza Possessed, a made-for-TV movie based on what they claim is the only documented case
    Message 1 of 1 , May 18, 2001
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      Little show of horror

      Noel Vera


      Directed by Steven de Souza

      "Possessed," a made-for-TV movie based on what they claim is the only
      documented case of demonic possession in the United States, lands here in
      the Philippines as a full-fledged feature film. Watching it, I found little
      reason to release it as a feature film--it looked ready and waiting to fit
      inside a television set--other than the fact that we're roughly over eighty
      percent Catholic in this country, and rites of exorcism go over big here.
      There is, in fact, a television show, "Okatokat"(very roughly translated:
      "Scared Am I") where they recently held an exorcism--and for all I know,
      hold one every month, to boost audience ratings.

      I haven't read the book the film was based on (by Thomas Allen), though I'd
      be interested. I'd heard of this true-to-life case on which William Peter
      Blatty had also based his earlier "The Exorcist"--one of the anecdotes I
      remember (don't know if it's in the book) is of a physicist watching while
      the boy sat on an enormous chair, which tipped slowly backwards until it
      fell over. The physicist had absolutely no explanation for how the boy
      could have upset the chair.

      Would that the film be as matter-of-factly chilling. The true story, what I
      remember of it, would make a superb horror thriller, but the material needs
      someone who can reflect everyday reality almost as well as he can reflect
      the supernatural. I'm thinking of William Friedkin, who directed "The
      Exorcist"--the best moments in his film (which, unfortunately, hasn't aged
      well), is the everyday gritty naturalism Friedkin introduced in the
      beginning, so realistic it was almost boring (it WAS boring). Which
      startled the audience all the more when the horror kicked in.

      Of course, it would be even better--lovelier, really--if beyond the everyday
      horror, the filmmaker was able to inject surrealism, ironic humor--Luis
      Bunuel in "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," or Ingmar Bergman in the
      nightmare sequence of "Wild Strawberries," or most of Roman Polanski's
      "Rosemary's Baby" come to mind. Some of the best horror has elements of
      beauty and pathos in it, as far back as Boris Karloff groping for sunlight
      in "Frankenstein," as recent as Guillermo del Toro's parched and elderly
      vampire in "Cronos."

      Which isn't quite what you get from Steven E. De Souza, whose previous
      directorial credit was "Street Fighter" and who before that wrote
      screenplays to such contemporary classics as "Judge Dredd," "Another 48
      Hours," "Beverly Hills Cop 3," and "The Flintstones." For someone with the
      truth on his side, De Souza doesn't seem to believe in its effectiveness,
      much less power--he has to "augment" the truth with grotesque camera angles,
      shock cuts, trick photography and all other forms of hysteria (the climactic
      exorcism, for example, takes place in a storm, complete with thunder and
      lightning�can't not have lightning, that wouldn't be campy enough�).

      Which makes the things that do work seem all the sadder. Setting the story
      in the sixties--you see instances of racial violence--when it presumably
      happened is a nice touch, the sixties being the transitional stage when the
      superrational fifties gave way to sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll (presumably,
      the Devil had something to do with this as well). Comparing demonic evil
      with the evil of atomic energy--and suggesting the latter irrelevant in the
      face of the former--is a brilliant conceit; you can almost believe it's
      true. There are other moments--a cutting away of sound, a sudden stillness,
      a startling burst of song--that have an eerieness approaching great horror
      (even if some of these ideas seem borrowed from Friedkin and Polanski).
      Jonathan Malen, who plays the possessed boy, has line readings that have the
      right note of ambiguity to them (his "Father, are you sick? I'll go get
      help�" is nicely, unnaturally chipper). Even Timothy Dalton, he of recent
      "James Bond" fame (as in: "I'm above all this shit"), acts with conviction
      and intensity (as in "I'm above all that "James Bond" shit, but this is just
      right�")--even if said intensity seems borrowed from Bette Davis doing Baby

      Too bad, too little, too late. The film comes off as small-spirited,
      half-baked, and thoroughly confused, a thorough disservice to the intriguing
      story that started it all in the first place. Exorcism, after all, can
      make a good supernatural story, despite this sad recent example--and if you
      don't believe me, I can always tape next month's "demonic possession"
      episode of "Okatokat" to show you�

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)

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