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Thriller - Possession

Review by: David Dent

Back in 1953 in a remote country house, Elizabeth Millington, a wealthy single woman, is murdered and dumped in the cellar by a callous killer who whistles Greensleeves while he works and has an annoying habit of clicking his fingers when, the, er, urge is on him, so to speak.
Police assume she's done a runner (rather than suffering a more sinister end) and close the case, but the house lies empty until, twenty years on, newlyweds Ray and Penny Burns move in and restore the pile to its former glories - well, to a kind of chocolate and beige coloured gloom. If you've seen a reasonable amount of 70s genre TV you'll be familiar with this couple - Ray, considerably older than Penny, with an accent resembling Todd Rivers from Garth Marenghi's Dark Place, seems to be (or at least act) drunk a lot of the time, when he isn't being condescending to his wife (like making comments about her being silly, frightened, and a bad driver to boot). Penny is a simpering, sensitive sort, blonde, chained to the kitchen making horrible looking pies, unless otherwise engaged in idly flicking through magazines or walking aimlessly around the house.
However, all's not well at the Burns residence. Filson, the handyman working on the central heating, digs up the cellar floor to discover the skeleton of, yep you guessed, Ms Millington herself. Worse still, Ray's started whistling Greensleeves, and when rooms start mysteriously getting trashed Penny, who's started to pick up bad vibes, calls in her friend and psychic Cicely, who's the antithesis of Ray's wife - curt, business-like, big dark hair - a strong woman, and not likely to make it through to the end, in other words (ever noticed on these shows that women with dark hair are usually portrayed as either frigid or oversexed, nuts or just plain headstrong?). Cicely calls a séance but is unable to successfully exorcise the spirit of the killer, leaving its restless soul, she explains, to wander free.
Ray starts to get worse, spending much more time than is absolutely necessary in the cellar, clicking his fingers like he's an extra in West Side Story, and generally being a bit possessed. Penny begins to suspect Ray of being less than the caring if sozzled husband she married, after he sneaks up behind her with a blade, but manages to discourage himself from doing her in by battling down the demon inside him in a feat of supreme overacting. Before long, there are more gaps in the kitchen knife set than in Shane MacGowan's smile (ain't that the tooth? - Ed), and when Cicely the psychic comes back to put right what she thinks she did wrong, she leads Ray down into the cellar for exorcism: the rematch - only it doesn't quite go as planned.
One of the more successful Thriller episodes from the first season, this seminal TV series has rightly gained itself the mantle of the Crossroads of Brit TV horror. The acting is usually patchy and there's always one really bad/hammy performance - Ray's slurry psychopath, lurching from one poorly handled prop to another, is definitely this episode's highlight, which is a surprise, as he's played by Brit horror stalwart John Carson (The Night Caller, Plague of the Zombies, Taste the Blood Of Dracula, Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter). 'Possession' is a bit shaky in terms of what it's supposed to be - whodunit, psychic chiller, or kitchen sink drama (sorry, couldn't resist)? It still has lots to enjoy. Filson the handyman looks like a cross between Benny Hill's Fred Scuttle and Bobby Grant from Brookside. In the midst of all the histrionics, there's an hilarious scene of supposed great tension, where Filson's smashing up of the cellar floor is intercut with scenes of Penny chopping up a carrot as the suspense mounts and the vegetable gets smaller. The séance sequence is, however, genuinely suspenseful - six minutes of moodily lit, incidental music-free acting that manages to send a genuine chill down the spine. That the clothes and décor are horrendous is a given, although particular attention should be paid to Ray's with-it dressing gown, which looks like it was made up of leftovers from an abandoned Ziggy Stardust costume project.

All in all, what you get out of any Thriller episode depends largely on your age (nostalgia is a very powerful weapon for sapping critical faculties), a healthy suspension of disbelief in the hokey storylines and groan inducing twist endings, and your ability to cope with both the pedestrian pacing of 70s TV drama and the range of fashions and wallpapers on display without searching your TV manual to see if it's still possible to adjust the horizontal hold. If you're still up for the ride, don't say you haven't been warned.

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