THE STRANGE POSSESSION OF MRS. OLIVER
The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver almost reads like a 1970s womens self-actualisation drama see other films of this period such as The Rain People (1969), Up the Sandbox (1972), Alice Doesnt Live Here Anymore (1974) and An Unmarried Woman (1978). It is the novel idea that possession which in every other film that followed The Exorcist was portrayed as something that makes people licentious, mouth obscenities and determined to shock instead becomes the fulcrum whereby Karen Black gets to escape from the thumb of her controlling husband and reclaims her sexuality. This represents a considerable watering down of the possession film for tv movie audiences where The Exorcist had vomiting, obscenities and crucifix masturbations, the most extreme this ever gets is Karen Black buying a sexy red dress with a low neckline and a blonde wig (and apparently throwing away her glasses).
I had problems with the dichotomy that the film creates here. Karen Black is initially portrayed as a meek housewife, bespectacled and conservatively dressed and not doing much to stand up for herself. After her apparent possession, she shucks this and starts to live. This creates a divide where you are entirely sure which side the film comes down on whether it sees Karen Black discovering her sexuality as a good thing or whether it considers that her rightful place should be being prim and proper and fulfilling her husbands wishes that she be a good breeder. By associating possession with her becoming more sexual and shucking the chains, the film invariably equates her repressed life with the side of good. Certainly, the thrust of sympathy in the film seems to be with her self-discovery. On the other hand, the ending has her back to her old self and seeking the comfort of her husbands arms once again. The films treatment of these divides is sufficiently ambiguous that you are not at all sure which way its sympathies fall.
In fact, everything in the film is so ambiguous that take the word possession out of the title and for much of the show you would not even have a genre film it would just be a work about a housewife who suddenly decides she is not happy with who she is and wants to change. There is never (until the end explanation) any agency given whereby Karen Black is supposed to become possessed.
The latter half of the film loses interest in the possession plot and traipses off along the lines of a typical ghost story of the era wherein Karen Black seems to be being guided by a vague supernatural force to solve a mystery in the past the disappearance of the girl whose personality now appears to be possessing her. The end explanation the film reaches is a major cheat. [PLOT SPOILERS] Here we learn that the title lied to us and there no possession at all. In fact, there does not even appear to be any supernatural agency at work either. Rather we learn that Miriam and Sandy were best friends (and improbably enough looked so identical that they could pass for one another), that Miriam was then killed by Sandys possessive boyfriend. This caused Sandy to go into the type of psychological fugue state that you only get in movies, mentally erased all knowledge of who she was and adopted Miriams personality and identity. (The flashback does not exactly make it clear what happened). Aside from ones annoyance about the fact that the film cheated massively in leading us to believe we are watching a possession film, this seems ridiculously contrived.
Gordon Hesslers other genre works include:- The Oblong Box (1969), Scream and Scream Again (1969), Cry of the Banshee (1970), Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971), the classic fantasy film The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), the tv movie Scream Pretty Peggy (1973), Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park/Kiss in the Attack of the Phantom (1978) and the ghost story The Girl in a Swing (1988).
Richard Mathesons other genre works include:- The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) based on his own novel, Roger Cormans Edgar Allan Poe adaptations The House of Usher/The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Tales of Terror (1962) and The Raven (1963), the Jules Verne adaptation Master of the World (1961), the occult film Night of the Eagle/Burn, Witch, Burn (1961), the Corman-produced morticians comedy The Comedy of Terrors (1963), The Last Man on Earth (1964) based on his novel I Am Legend (1954) concerning a world taken over by vampires, the Hammer psycho-thriller The Fanatic/Die, Die, My Darling (1965), the classic Hammer occult film The Devil Rides Out/The Devils Bride (1968), the historical biopic De Sade (1969), Steven Spielbergs first film Duel (1971), The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973) tv movies, the haunted house film The Legend of Hell House (1973), the tv adaptation of Dracula (1974), the tv movies Scream of the Wolf (1974), The Stranger Within (1974), Trilogy of Terror (1975), Dead of Night (1977), the tv adaptation of Ray Bradburys The Martian Chronicles (1980), the time travel romance Somewhere in Time (1980) from his own novel, Jaws 3-D (1983), Twilight Zone The Movie (1983), and numerous classic episodes of The Twilight Zone, Thriller and Star Trek. Works based on his novels and stories are The Omega Man (1971) from his I Am Legend, the afterlife fantasy What Dreams May Come (1998), the fine ghost story Stir of Echoes (1999), I Am Legend (2007), The Box (2009) and Real Steel (2011).