DirectorLuigi Bazzoni/Franco Rossellini
Release Date(s)1965 (February 5, 2019)
Studio(s)B.R.C. Produzione S.r.l./Istituto Luce (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
The Possessed, directed by Luigi Bazzoni and Franco Rossellini, is an example of the Italian giallo, a thriller-horror genre with elements of mystery, exploitation, psychological intrigue, and crime that had its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.
The film opens with Bernard (Peter Baldwin) breaking up with his girlfriend over the telephone. He’s haunted by something from his past that is unresolved and feels he must confront it before he can move on with his life. He decides to return to a lakeside resort where he often vacationed and exorcise his inner demons by writing a memoir of self-reflection.
When he arrives, Bernard is welcomed like an old friend by proprietor Enrico (Salvo Randone). Because it’s off-season, the hotel is practically empty, but Bernard asks to stay in a small room overlooking a slaughterhouse because doesn’t want his surroundings to be too comfortable.
He’s been drawn to the hotel by memories of an unresolved romance with Tilde (Virna Lisi), a beautiful girl who worked there as a maid. He is told that she committed suicide, though the circumstances of her death were suspicious. Tilde is seen only in photographs and in flashbacks.
Attempting to discover what actually happened to Tilde, Bernard talks to local residents and hotel workers. Suspense gradually builds as more and more puzzle pieces fit into place.
The film is punctuated by Bernard’s narration, a technique fairly common in crime dramas, most famously in The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity. Throughout the movie, there’s a clever disconnect of communication as information is imparted via memory, suspicions, hearsay, and photographs. There are also glimpses of a woman who looks very much like Tilde walking by the shore or on the street, always at a distance.
Bernard tries to make sense of what he’s seen and heard. When he succumbs to the flu, he has delirious dreams and the boundaries among reality, memories, dreams, and fevered imaginings begin to blur.
The film takes its time building to a climax, but once all is revealed, the conclusion plays out very quickly. The explanations put incidents in place and tie things together but as he drives away, the look on Bernard’s face suggests that he fears he still may not have gotten the full story.
The Possessed owes a lot to Laura, Rebecca, and Vertigo, since all three films revolve around a woman who is or might be dead. In each, suspense is created by doling out information gradually, providing small shocks along the way.
The Blu-ray release is a brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative with high definition 1080p resolution. Aspect ratio is 1.85:1. This is a beautiful-looking black-and-white film with deep, rich blacks and fine detail in patterns of clothing, Baldwin’s facial stubble, silhouetted actors against a projected film screen, reflections on glass bookcase shelving, a tree-lined dark street, and a rain-soaked funeral procession. A sequence of Baldwin walking through a long hallway casts atmospheric shadows intermittently over his face, throwing it into complete blackness.
Original Italian and English soundtracks, titles, and credits are provided. Soundtrack is presented in uncompressed mono 1.0 LPCM. Newly translated English subtitles are provided for the Italian soundtrack. The musical score is hardly subtle, as it gets louder and faster when something particularly dramatic is happening, and doesn’t enhance the quieter scenes when it should be contributing to suspense.
Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release include audio commentary, filmed video appreciation, interview with the film’s make-up artist, interview with the assistant art director, overview of the work of Luigi and Camillo Bazzoni, booklet with critical essay and photos, original trailers, and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork.
Commentary – Writer and critic Tim Lucas discusses all the major actors and provides brief career overviews. Peter Baldwin had been acting since 1952 and was in several American films including Stalag 17 and The Ten Commandments. He worked simultaneously in America and Italy, and was beginning a career as director on TV’s The Dick Van Dyke Show in 1964 and later directed episodes of The Partridge Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Brady Bunch, and The Wonder Years. He directed TV series until 2002, 15 years before his death. The Possessed is based on a journalist’s investigation of a death under unusual circumstances that occurred in a small village in Italy. The present and past are delineated by different levels of contrast. Bernard is shown in sharp focus, while his subjective viewpoint is softer and more vague. “The fractured composition toggles between dream, fantasy, and reality.” Lucas discusses The Possessed in terms of its role in Italian giallo, mentioning influences and how the film departs from the typical giallo template. The Possessed is “technically a giallo but doesn’t have many of the tropes associated with the genre.” It’s more of an intellectual murder mystery.
Richard Dyer on The Possessed – This lengthy (close to 30 minutes) making-of featurette by cultural critic and academic Richard Dyer covers a lot of ground, including discussion of the film’s literary origins, comparison to suspense films by Alfred Hitchcock, analysis of the movie’s structure that blends reality with dream sequences, its expressionistic look, and the performances. Dyer compares the story to the mystery novels of Daphne Du Maurier.
Lipstick Marks – The film’s make-up artist, Giannetto De Rossi, relates anecdotes about his career, which includes memorable work on three Lucio Fulci movies. An affable man, De Rossi matter-of-factly describes some of the grisly, bloody images he created, influencing other directors to be more graphic in their horror films.
Youth Memories – In this interview with the film’s assistant art director Dante Ferretti, he discusses his career and involvement in other films. His goal was always to have the visuals reflect the story, not to draw attention away from it.
The Legacy of the Bazzoni Brothers – Actor/director Francesco Barilli, a close friend of Luigi and Camillo Bazzoni, goes into considerable detail about the heyday of the Italian gallo, explaining how various directors pushed the envelope of what they would show on screen while establishing a new sub-genre of film. He and his friends had no idea that what they were doing was groundbreaking. One of his pals was filmmaker Vittorio Storaro, who went on to win three Oscars, including his first, for Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
Booklet – The 36-page booklet contains two critical essays: The Production of The Possessed by Andreas Ehrenreich and The Secrets of the Lake by Roberto Curti. Also included are several contemporary reviews of the movie, details about the restoration, cast and crew list, and 9 black-and-white photos.
Trailers – Two trailers from The Possessed are included, one in Italian with English subtitles and the other in English. Content is identical in both.
– Dennis Seuling