You know the old adage ‘there’s no such thing as a free meal’?

Well, I have held that view with DVDs as well for some time now – if somebody is looking to give you a disc for free, chances are it isn’t that good.

Which is why my copy of The Possession of Joel Delaney sat on the shelf for some time before I first checked it out, after a colleague thrust it into my hands (still wrapped no less) saying they ‘didn’t want it’.

But as the nights got darker and colder a few years back I thought it was time to check out a few movies I have passed by and, lo and behold, this one turns out to be a lot better than expected.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating everyone rush to their nearest store and seek this one out, but sitting down to watch it with very low expectations I was pleasantly surprised.

The title pretty much gives the game away here, but anyone expecting some schlocky, camp exploitation flick is likely to be very disappointed.

In fact, the whole thing is played totally straight, and although that often works against horror movies, in this case it was definitely the right move.

Shirley MacLaine stars as Norah Benson, a wealthy single mother, who also happens to have a frankly borderline incestuous relationship with her brother, the aforementioned Joel Delaney.

Delaney is the arty-type (claiming to be a ‘freelance writer’ although we never see him do any writing), who has travelled the world and enjoys mixing with society’s misfits.

Everything seems fine, until (out of character), Delaney is arrested for attempting to kill his landlord, leading to him being carted off to the loony bin.

Trouble is, he cannot remember a thing about it, but after some palms are greased he is released back into Norah’s care.

It does not take long for things to get dramatically worse though, when Joel’s on-off girlfriend gets decapitated in her bed, with her head strung up to the lighting.

Delaney is obviously number-one suspect, as the case bears a chilling resemblance to a trio of similar murders that shook New York the year before.

Those were pinned on the never-caught Tonio Perez, a Puerto Rican hoodlum who was a known friend of Delaney’s.

Just how is Joel mixed up in all this? Is he responsible? And will Norah have the guts to turn him in if he is?

These are the questions that will keep you guessing throughout this movie that is, while an undoubted slow-burner, interesting nonetheless.

There are definite pacing issues, and certain characters seem to disappear and reappear at crucial moments, suggesting some trimming was done post-production.

Director Waris Hussein builds a suitable mood, with good use of some grimy NY locations, and a bizarre ritual scene thrown in for good measure.

Effects are kept to a minimum, although there are still some shocking scenes, notably a climax that would struggle to get by today’s censors.

MacLaine turns in a strong performance, and it is always good to see Oscar-winning actors popping up adding credibility to the horror genre.

Special mention should also go to Perry King, who really hits the spot as the titular character.

The Possession of Joel Delaney will not be to everyone’s tastes, and, as stated earlier, those who like plenty of bang for their buck should probably steer clear.

But for those that like a bit of character meat on their shock bones, this is well worth checking out.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.