The Possessed is a 1977 American made-for-TV supernatural horror film directed by Jerry Thorpe from a screenplay by John Sacret Young, and starring James Farentino, Joan Hackett, Diana Scarwid, and Harrison Ford.
Kevin Leahy, an alcoholic Catholic priest who has strayed from his faith, crashes his car and is pronounced dead at the scene. As penance, he is sent back to Earth to fight evil as an exorcist and returns to life.
At the Helen Page School, a Catholic all-girls college in Salem, Oregon, graduation season is near. The school is about to go coed. Ellen Sumner (Claudette Nevins), is a teacher at the school, which her daughter, Weezie, attends. One evening, the paper in Ellen’s typewriter inexplicably bursts into flames…
A hesitant and vacillating priest played sensitively by James Farentino, comes back from the dead as an exorcist; he’s forced to redeem himself by opposing a demon whose ironic proclivity for causing death by fire at a girl’s school has become a bit too flagrant.
Though a possession story, the arson element dominates, causing the film to bear a more than passing resemblance to Stephen King’s Firestarter, though the movie predates King’s novel by three years. If it has to be considered, perhaps consider it an inspiration.
Leonard Rosenman’s score wonderfully reinforces a mounting unnerving tension, and John Sacret Young’s writing is strong, with some very clever dialogue; the acting by most is of high quality, but impeccably so by Harrison Ford; it makes one wish he were in more of the film, if not the entirety of it.
The Possessed is highly compelling up to the final encounter, but then becomes a watered-down and unconvincing riff on The Exorcist and unfortunately fizzles to some degree.
Ben Spurling, HORRORPEDIA
This review is a re-edited extract from a chapter about satanism and the occult in 1970s made-for-TV movies in the book Satan Superstar, published by The Reprobate Press in 2018. Order Satan Superstar from The Reprobate Press
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“Short, sharp, creepy, it might still deliver some minor shocks. Not at all bad for TV. I remember catching it twice on TV, late 70s and again early 80s. Several scenes really stuck enough to make it a must-see when it rolled around again.” Mark Hodgson, Black Hole
” …almost no information is provided regarding the nature of the demon, and, the possession arguably arrives too late […] Nonetheless, it’s highly ambitious stuff for the small screen that offers up some risqué themes, a brilliantly game performance by Hackett and a couple of effective set-pieces along the way.” Kevin Hilton, Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium 1964 – 1999, Headpress, 2016
” …an air of mold and perversion and frustrated ambitions that gives The Possessed an edge over other Exorcist knock-offs. Terrific cast, effective atmosphere, and a genuinely scary finale. The little-seen The Possessed comes highly, highly recommended.” Paul Mavis, DVD Talk
“Director Jerry Thorpe tries to coast on the hothouse atmosphere of the all-girls school and indeed manages to create a claustrophobic air, but the ultimate ratio between build-up and payoff comes as something of a disappointment. The movie’s climax is truncated and abrupt. This is indicative that the exorcism angle and the character of the priest are the least satisfying aspects of the film, which seems to want to tell a more nonspecific ghost story.” Jeremy Heilman, Movie Martyr
“It would be a lie to say it’s scary, but it’s engaging. You care about what’s happening on the screen, which I rarely do nowadays. And this more or less without any spectacular scenes. Well, it’s not totally without them – there’s some cool stuff involving fires and when we finally understand who’s behind it all, it’s completely cheese-less. Bravo!” Fred Anderson, Schmollywood Babylon
“A good cast, including P.J. Soles, Dinah Manoff, and Ann Dusenberry in minor roles, a terrific setting, and a brisk showdown/conclusion…make this one worth seeing.” The Terror Trap
Cast and characters:
- James Farentino as Kevin Leahy – Aaahh!!! Real Monsters TV series; The Cradle Will Fall; Dead & Buried; Night Gallery TV series
- Joan Hackett as Louise Gelson – Dead of Night; How Awful About Allan
- Harrison Ford as Paul Winjam
- Claudette Nevins as Ellen Sumner – The Mask
- P. J. Soles as Marty – Grindsploitation; The Butterfly Room; Beg; The Devil’s Rejects; Uncle Sam; Alienator; Innocent Prey; Halloween; Blood Bath; Carrie; et al
- Diana Scarwid as Lane – Psycho III
- Eugene Roche as Sergeant Taplinger
- Ann Dusenberry as Louise “Weezie” Summer – Jaws 2
- Dinah Manoff as Celia
- Carol Jones as Alex
The film was shot on location at Reed College in Portland, Oregon in 1976.
Originally broadcast on NBC on May 1, 1977, the film aired just a few short weeks before Star Wars would make Harrison Ford a household name.
The Possessed was made available via a Warner Archive DVD-R on April 22, 2010.