The Possessed (1965) Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: October 26, 2021 (Giallo Essentials: Red Edition) /February 9, 2019 (original release)
Video: 1.85:1/1080p/Black & White
Audio: English and Italian LPCM 1.0 Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 85:06
Director: Luigi Bazzoni & Franco Rossellini
Note: This Blu-ray has been re-released as part of Arrow’s Giallo Essentials: Red Edition three-movie set, which also includes Luigi Bazzoni’s The Fifth Cord (Italian: Giornata nera per l'ariete, 1971) and Flavio Mogherini’s The Pyjama Girl Case (Italian: La ragazza dal pigiama giallo, 1977).
Bernard (Peter Baldwin) is a depressed novelist who sets off in search of his old flame Tilde (Virna Lisi) – a beautiful maid who works at a remote lakeside hotel. Bernard is warmly greeted by the hotel owner Enrico (Salvo Randone) and his daughter Irma (Valentina Cortese), but Tilde has disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Bernard undertakes an investigation and is soon plunged into a disturbing drama of familial secrets, perversion, madness, and murder… (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
While it is nearly impossible to track the precise inception of any film genre, Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (Italian: La ragazza che sapeva troppo, 1963) is usually cited as the first in a long line of Italian thrillers colloquially known as giallo films (plural gialli). There were other Italian-made thrillers before it, but, in the end, The Girl Who Knew Too Much works as the chain link that connects Hitchcock, Hollywood noir, and the German krimi tradition to the black-gloved killers, luridly colorful photography, and extended murder set pieces of Bava’s own follow-up, Blood and Black Lace (Italian: Sei donne per l'assassino, 1964). Still, it took until the end of the decade for the genre to solidify and become a full-blown fad, leaving room for directors of all stripes to take their shot at the formula. Dino Tavella’s The Embalmer (Italian: Il mostro di Venezia, 1965) was informed by Gothic creature-features, Massimo Dallamano’s A Black Veil for Lisa (Italian: La morte non ha sesso, 1968) focused on the police procedural side of the equation, Umberto Lenzi’s Orgasmo (aka: Paranoia, 1968) delved into chic fashion and sex, and Luigi Bazzoni & Franco Rossellini’s The Possessed (Italian: La donna del lago, 1965) took an arthouse approach.
There are other gialli and gialli-adjacent Italian arthouse films, such as Elio Petri’s A Quiet Place in the Country (Italian: Un tranquillo posto di campagna, 1968) and Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Italian: Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto, 1970), or Michael Antonioni’s Blow-up (1966). Bazzoni & Rossellini’s film differs in that it is more concerned with exploring film noir tropes and styles from a dream-like point-of-view. The filmmakers aren’t particularly interested in political satire or scrutinizing social tradition, and, unlike Petri, they take the drama of the situation very seriously. Given its character types, hard boiled narration, structural mysteries, and stark black & white photography, The Possessed may even be more preoccupied with classic Hollywood noir than any other giallo – a statement I make while also acknowledging the scope of both genres. In addition, its illusory tone and tragic romance also evokes Hitchcock’s postmodern noir classic Vertigo (1958), though it does not directly adapt plot elements from Alec Coppel & Samuel A. Taylor’s script, like Lenzi’s So Sweet… So Perverse (Italian: Così dolce... così perversa, 1969).
The Possessed was co-written by Bazzoni, Rossellini, Giulio Questi, who redefined the idea of an arthouse giallo a few years later when he wrote and directed Death Laid an Egg [Italian: La morte ha fatto l'uovo, 1968), and Ernesto Gastaldi, who co-wrote early Italian Gothic horror films and gialli for Antonio Margheriti, Umberto Lenzi, Sergio Martino, and Romolo Guerrieri. The film was adapted from Giovanni Comisso’s La donna del lago (Longanesi, 1962) and based upon an actual murder case known as The Alleghe Killings. Other Italian true crime thrillers, like Flavio Mogherini’s The Pyjama Girl Case (Italian: La ragazza dal pigiama giallo, 1977), magnified the sensationalism of its source material, but The Possessed’s melancholy recalls the contemplative approach of later true crime epics, namely Bong Joon-ho’s seminal Memories of a Murder (2003). The relative lack of bloodshed and the small body-count will no doubt turn off viewers looking for the salacious brand of gialli that grew out of Lenzi and Dario Argento’s work, but few films offer this broad of a view of what the genre could have become, had trends shifted during the 1960s.
Rossellini (nephew of Roberto, cousin of Isabella) was almost exclusively a producer whose achievements were mostly tied to spaghetti westerns, rather than gialli, beginning with Sergio Corbucci’s Django (1966) the year after The Possessed. Bazzoni also briefly dabbled in westerns, namely a Carmen adaptation called Man, Pride and Vengeance (Italian: L'uomo, l'orgoglio, la vendetta; resold as With Django Came Death, 1968), but returned to giallo twice more with The Fifth Cord (Italian: Giornata nera per l'ariete, 1971) and Footprints (Italian: Le orme; aka: Footprints on the Moon, 1975). The former embraced new traditions, while Footprints bucked established trends.
The Possessed was never released on North American video tape (as far as I can tell) and DVD versions were only available from Italy (Sinister Film), Spain (Filmax), and Germany (Koch, part of a double-feature set with Footprints), but none had English language audio or subtitle options. Arrow’s Blu-ray was first released in the UK in 2018, followed by a US disc in 2019 (both were region R/A). The 1.85:1, 1080p transfer was made using a 2K scan of the original camera negative. Leonida Barboni’s brilliant black & white photography, which skews super-high-contrast during flashbacks, is wonderfully represented, from its rich, deep shadows to its delicate highlights. The important edges are sharp, but not to the point that the soft blends or natural grain are muddied with haloes and such. Print damage is limited to minor scratches and white dots, but you’ll be hard-pressed to notice any significant artifacts, source or compression related.
The Possessed has English and Italian dub options and both are presented in uncompressed 1.0 mono LPCM. As per usual, the film was shot without sound and, despite the actors appearing to be speaking Italian on set, there is no original language track. The lip-sync and vocal performances match better on the Italian dub, though the overall sound quality of the English dub is better, including higher volume levels, more rounded dialogue, and slightly more discernible effects. It’s an old enough production that there isn’t a lot of dynamic range, so neither dub is spectacular, but there are a number of stylized moments in the mix that simply sound better on the English track. Co-director/producer Franco Rossellini’s father Renzo supplied the occasionally intense, though rarely utilized score, which borrows musical ideas from Bernard Herrmann’s most evocative work.
Commentary with Tim Lucas – In typical fashion, Video Watchdog co-creator (with Donna Lucas) and author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark (Video Watchdog, 2007) explores The Possessed’s place in the giallo and Italian melodrama canons, its narrative and thematic intricacies, the novel and true stories that inspired the source material, the greater careers of the cast & crew, and other films that may have influenced it or been influenced by it.
Richard Dyer on The Possessed (25:12, HD) – The former Film Studies professor at King's College London and University of Warwick, and author of Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society (St. Martin's Press, 1986) discusses the idea of The Possessed being an art film, Italian noir, and/or “up-market drama,” from its stylistic choices and (possible) influences, through the career trajectories of the cast & crew. In all, a really nice, off-the-cuff companion piece to Lucas’ commentary.
Youth Memories (16:20, HD) – Assistant art director Dante Ferretti recalls a section of his early career and the creative people he worked under and alongside with emphasis on The Possessed.
Lipstick Marks (11:52, HD) – Make-up artist Giannetto de Rossi, who was later known for the groundbreaking gore he created for Lucio Fulci, speaks briefly about his contributions to the film.
The Legacy of the Bazzoni Brothers (30:36, HD) – Actor/director Francesco Barilli, who was a close friend of Luigi and Camillo Bazzoni, closes things out with a lengthy and intimate chat about the brothers, their family, and the films they made.
Italian and English trailers
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.