Air Date: May 1, 1977 (NBC)
Production Companies: Warner Bros. Television
Running Time: 76 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: John Sacret Young
Directed by: Jerry Thorpe
Cast: James Farentino, Claudette Nevins, Eugene Roche, Harrison Ford, Ann Dusenberry, Diana Scarwid, Joan Hackett, Dinah Manoff, Carol Jones, P.J. Soles
Rating: 6 vintage televisions (out of 10)
If all the failed supernatural television pilots had instead received a green light, the 1970s would have been a remarkable era for the genre. As it is, it’s remarkable for the number of supernatural TV “movies.” Here, we have another, The Possessed (1977), about an ex-minister charged by God him/herself to seek out evil and fight it by whatever means possible.
Written by John Sacret Young, the creator of China Beach and one of the writers/producers of The West Wing, I’m tempted to say the screenplay for The Possessed is better than most. At times, it is. However, at more times it isn’t. For every moment of quiet character development, there are two moments of manic nonsense.
By the third time Kevin Leahy (James Farentino) answers a question about what’s happening, or what they should do next, with “I don’t know,” even he seems to be losing patience. On the other hand, there’s something terrifying in the simplicity of his response: evil strikes… with no explanation and no reason.
Lest we think the title is misleading and this is a film about an unattached entity roaming the Helen Page School in Salem, Oregon, someone is revealed in the final act to be “possessed.” Even though we weren’t expecting that to be the case, the film does a good job of planting red herrings about the identity of this person… so subtle they might be considered pink herrings.
To sell The Possessed to a modern audience, I need only say that it provided a pre-Star Wars Harrison Ford with a nice little role as Paul Winjam. He’s one of the characters given cursory development, at first appearing as a nice guy biology teacher, then exposing himself as a two-timing adulterer. Paul is perfect for Ford to demonstrate his sexy charm.
The plot unfolds at a deliberate pace, with a series of unexplained fires occurring at the girls’ school where the always terrific Joan Hackett plays Louise Gelson, the headmistress. Any goodwill sprinkled throughout the 76-minute running time is squandered, though, with a head-scratching conclusion that comes in with a bang and goes out with a whimper.
There's a lesson to be learned in this ending, though. Spoiler alert! When a compassionate hug seems to dispel whatever demon has possessed its victim, we’re reminded that all we need is love. Golly gee, if everyone would look into people deeper than their surface acts of evil and just give each other a big hug, the world would be a better place.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch The Possessed as well as all the great movies from this series. (It’s also available on DVD from Warner Archive.)