Possession (1981) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

We both detest this movie, but grudgingly had to award C- scores based on the fact that it has a substantial following.

Scoop's notes in white

I like to think of 1981 as the year I lost my movie innocence. You see before then I wasn't really that familiar with French cinema, and possibly for that very reason, I held an abiding respect for it. After all, I had seen some of the very best French movies, and ... well, the French are good at artistic things, right? I mean, look at their paintings and architecture, and the way they prepare food.

I was disenchanted at the time with a Hollywood infrastructure that always seems to miss the point, and always awards the Oscars to the wrong people.

And then 1981 came along, and the French academy did something far, far sillier than Hollywood's all-time nadir of awarding Gershwin's Oscar to a Hawaiian novelty song. They gave Isabelle Adjani the best actress award for this film. Now here's how bad a decision that was - you know how you think it's silly when they give somebody like Lee Marvin an Oscar? Well, imagine something far worse than that. Imagine if they had given Bill Shatner an Oscar for Star Trek 2 - The Wrath of Khan. That could never happen, right? Well compared to Adjani's performance in this film, Bill Shatner is Lawrence Olivier, Ken Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Alec Guinness, and Dustin Hoffman rolled into one big ball of talent. I have never seen anything like Adjani's work in this film. Not in American films, not in grade-B films, not in Jean Rollin's films, not in Dinner Theater, not in high school musicals, not even in grade school holiday pageants. Her performance in this film is so far over-the-top she can't even see the top, with no hint of nuance. It is truly one of the most extreme performances ever recorded in a mainstream film by a respected actor or actress, far outstripping the best of Shatner or even Richard Burton's obviously besotted turn in "Exorcist 2". Any of you reading this, or any kids from a high school drama club, could have delivered the exact same performance. The entire schtick consists of screaming, opening her eyes extra wide and trying to look spooky, spinning around, and throwing herself against the walls in a frenzy. I guess we can understand why the French judges were befuddled, since the movie is in English, and they probably had no clue what was going on, but you'd think they would be able to spot the bloated caricature even in a foreign language.

On the other hand, Adjani seemed subtle and credible compared to the truly odd performance from Heinz Bennent as her lover. Given that she was not the only offender, and since Adjani is one of the more respected actresses in the cinema, I think we can look at the blame-o-meter and chalk up the craziness to the director. Zulawski (Sophie Marceau's husband) is into this anti-stasis thing, like a hyperkinetic child who can't stand silence and relaxation. Every scene is shot with crazy fast camera cuts, or camera revolutions around the action, maximizing the sense of hysteria. His favorite cliché is to have the actor spin in one direction, while the camera circles around him or her in the opposite direction. He used that one several times. I guess it didn't concern him that people don't stand in one place and do frenzied spins in real life, even in Europe, but I personally think any actor would look really silly doing this, possibly excepting Barishnikov. He also insists on having the actors constantly engaged in unnatural hand gestures: frenetic waving, kung-fu poses, guys holding hands with each other and touching each other constantly.

I did find it kind of amusing when Adjani's husband and lover, jealous of one another, discover that she is cheating on both of them with some kind of giant squid which may also be her own offspring. Ah - the old squid incest plot, how many times are they going to use that? For a while there, it seemed that Kurosawa used squid incest in every film.  I started out to write that Possession is the Citizen Kane of incestuous heterosexual squid-fuckin' films, and then I thought, "no - that's way too restrictive." There is no better film with human-squid sex scenes at all, hetero- or homo- sexual, irrespective of whether the human is related to the squid. Then I thought, "Hell, why stop at movies?" Let's face it, with the possible exception of Japanese Octopus Porn, there are no other media which have given the world squid-related sexual entertainment at this level. Gentlemen, for my money, this surely is the frutto de tutti frutti of squid-fuckin' entertainment. My only real hesitation about that statement is that the creature is not actually a squid. Since Adjani is his mom, he's really only half-squid, but I thought it would be too chickenshit to disqualify it on a technicality. I suppose their offspring will be only 1/4 squid, and 3/4 Adjani. If she screws enough generations of ever-diluted squid, she may eventually be able to reproduce herself. Set up the calculus and figure it as x approaches Adjani.

In fact, I wanted to stretch it still further, and say that there is no need to restrict the encomiums to squid sex. This may be the best darned squid-related entertainment money can buy, but then I realized there is some noteworthy non-sexual squid stuff, so I'm still undecided between this and Jules Verne's 20000 Leagues ... for the all-time championship of squid-related entertainment.

And this is one silly-lookin' squid monster, seen clearly in a scene where Sam Neill walks in on the squid screwing Adjani's socks off. Any director who knows his stuff knows that you can't film a monster too clearly in lingering close-ups. Any special effects monster, even the one in "Alien", looks silly if you give the viewer time to study it closely, but this one was especially cheesy, resembling the humorous seaweed monster in Corman's "Creature from the Haunted Sea".

Strange movie. Some scenes are very powerful and terrifying, while others will make you laugh out loud at either the cheap special effects or the sheer pretentiousness of the concepts. If you're a film buff you have to see it, because of all the controversy that resulted in cutting a full third of the movie for its U.S. distribution. An 81 minute version previously circulated in America, with the most offensive scenes removed, and with the remaining scenes re-ordered to make it incomprehensible. I guess the 81 minute version was a complete abortion. The DVD is the 123 minute version, so you can see the original uncut director's concept, and hear Zulawski's full-length commentary as well. The long version is comprehensible, and does have its merits as an unrelenting portrayal of what appears to be mass madness.

Mostly, of course, you have to see Isabelle Adjani fucking a squid.

By the way, the people who defend this movie say that the supernatural horror story is merely marvelous symbolism about the deterioration of the marriage, reflecting the psychological states of the partners.

This is where the Deltas file out and say "blowjob, blowjob, bullshit, bullshit".


DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic, 1.66:1

  • full-length director's commentary



Isabelle Adjani is seen topless in three different scenes.


I just got done listening to more than half of the director's commentary, hoping for something to like about it. It was clear that he was proud of it, and the French went wild over it. Commenters at IMDB mostly think this film is more important than the Second Coming and Lewinski's cigar fetish combined, although most of the enthusiasts admit that many people detest it. Put me solidly in the detest camp. My only explanation for its popularity in France is that the dubbing must have been a much better story then the original English version.

Scoop called it the Citizen Kane of Squid Fucking films. On the other hand, this must easily be worst squid-fucking film ever made, even though I have seen very few of them. Adjani started the film with an out-of-control shriek, and never deviated through the entire film - and she gave the most subtle and nuanced performance of the bunch.

The Critics Vote

  • Isabelle Adjani won the best actress award at Cannes and the Best Actress Cesar.

  • Rotten Tomatoes has this film confused with the Gwyneth Paltrow movie. Some of their articles refer to the 1981 Adgjani movie, but almost all refer to the 2002 movie

The People Vote ...


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Lovers of horror, psychological horror, and art films often defend this film. It is powerful in its own way - kind of like a frenetic international equivalent of I Spit on Your Grave - a fundamentally poor, cheap movie that can nonetheless generate some intense emotional involvement. Based on the definition above, this film is a C- as a horror story, and a C- as an art film, but a C+ as a squid-fuck film (not an A, on the presumption that squid-fuckin' has limited crossover appeal.) Tuna also said C-.

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