directed by Luigi Bazzoni
starring Peter Baldwin, Virna Lisi
Although generally classified as a giallo, Luigi Bazzoni’s The Possessed is a far cry from the gender-bending, black-clad, slasher films the genre would become in the 1970s – it actually has more in common with ghost stories and film noir than what would become known as giallo. While there are no supernatural elements, the film is still a story of a man chasing a ghost in a nearly abandoned tourist village. The ghost is not supernatural, but the lingering memory of a woman from his past and his inability to bring closure to the memory. The film is staggeringly beautiful and is far more thoughtful than thrilling.
Bernard (Peter Baldwin), a writer returns to a village by a large lake during the off season in order to research a new writing project. He requests to stay in the same room he used in his previous time at the hotel and it quickly becomes clear he is less interested in the town’s picturesque views than in rekindling his past affair with the hotel’s maid Tilde (Virna Lisi). He is instead informed that the pregnant Tilde has died, committed suicide, and no one in the town wants to talk about it. Bernard, haunted by his memories of TIlde tries to uncover the truth about her death and instead awakens dark secrets in the town and in his own subconscious.
Luigi Bazzoni’s story is told through past and present, reality, fantasy, and dreams all told in lush black and white photography. The delineation of these different phases are created by differing contrast levels of the photography. The effect is subtle but quite effective and helps create the dream like, almost surreal feel of the film that could easily be likened to Carl Dreyer’s 1932 Vampyr. At times it can be difficult to distinguish the real from the unreal, but that is to be expected with a film with such a troubled and unreliable narrator.
Few things in home video look as good as a great black and white Blu-Ray transfer, and Arrow Video’s work on The Possessed is exemplary. A lesser transfer could easily muddle the nuance of the shifting contrast levels during the film rendering them meaningless or unnoticed. Arrow’s disc offers the English dub and original Italian audio tracks. The disc also contains the expected (from Arrow) quality extras. Tim Lucas is on hand for one of his always superb audio commentary tracks. Lucas has built a great reputation as a writer, critic, and commentator, especially on Italian genre films. His commentary is always precise and manages to weave biographies of cast and crew with behind the scenes anecdotes, and deep dives into the themes of the film that have become required viewing for fans of giallo and gothic horror films from Italy. The disc also contains a lengthy, in-depth discussion on The Possessed with film theory writer and professor Richard Dyer. His piece drills down even deeper on the film that Tim Lucas. The few other interview pieces round out the extras on the disc.