Rosebud: Possession (1981) and Angst (1983)


Possession (1981) | Directed by Andrzej Żuławski’s | Horror, Drama, Fantasy | Rated R | With Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill, Heinz Bennent, Margit Carstensen, Johanna Hofer, Carl Duering, Leslie Malton | No studio information | Runtime: 97 minutes | Box Office: $1.1 million | Rotten Tomatoes score: 83%

Angst (1983) | Directed by Gerald Kargl | Drama, Horror | No MPAA rating | With Erwin Leder, Silvia Rabenreither, Robert Hunger-Buhler | No studio information | Runtime: 75 minutes | No box office information | Rotten Tomatoes score: No consensus yet

Imagine it’s Halloween night, you’re sitting on the couch in front of your giant TV or computer, feeling too old to trick-or-treat like kids and too young to go nuts. You’re alone. Pathetic.

Then you start to realize that there are certain horror films can turn you on, the ones that have blood, screaming, and love. Possession (1981) gives you that joy. If young Isabelle Adjani was once the second most adorable thing to walk the earth, LOVE would have to be the most wonderful, yet disgusting, object given by God, and Possession has both.


“One mustn’t be afraid, and the other must speak honestly” seems to be Polish director Andrzej Żuławski’s definition of a harmonious relationship, but in reality things are always contrary to the ideal. Stubborn love generates manipulation; manipulation generates the fear of losing; fear generates mistrust, and all these finally tear the loved ones apart. Anna (Isabelle Adjani), the wife of the film, interprets love as two parts, as she says “It’s like those two sisters of faith and chance.…my faith can’t exclude chance but my chance can’t explain faith. My faith didn’t allow me to wait for chance and chance didn’t give me enough faith!” She is trapped in this dilemma. More uncertainties give her more desire to take control of the relationship she’s in: she cheats on her husband to prove love, to strengthen love, and to worship love.

When love has divinity assigned to it, evil naturally follows. In Possession, evil is tokenized and made religiously symbolic. Yet unlike the straightforward and brutal expression of The Exorcist, Anna’s transition to evil is slow and haphazard. Housing a demon within, she satisfies it with sex and human vitality. The demon ultimately dawns upon the world in human form, inciting slaughter, yet appearing as an angel with the face of Anna’s husband. We’re able to see the director’s thoughts, though as if through frosted glass: overly guided love is doomed to destruction, with only the ashes known as control remaining.  

The set of shots depicting Anna’s videotape, delivered after she leaves her husband in the film, left me deeply impressioned. In the tape, she’s instructing a young student in a ballet studio, but no matter how the student exerts herself, she’s unable to satisfy expectations. Anna, standing to the side, gives directions with hand gestures, orders with words, and her eyes pierce through the limbs of the on-screen dancer to look directly into the camera, as if the audience is merely another entity within her dominion. Eventually the student can no longer bear the torment, and rushes out the door. Left alone, Anna addresses the unstable camera, “From now on she’ll know how much righteous anger and sheer will she’s got in her to say: ‘I, I can do as well, I can be better! I’m the best!’ Only in this case can she become a success. Nobody taught me that. That’s why I’m with you. Because you say ‘I’ for me”.

Through her intense tone a roar of independence trickles through. The independence allotted by a mutually respectful relationship becomes the killer of the love that she believes in throughout the film: a relationship based on equality and emotional planning. The absence of transgression brings insecurity, guiding a selfish takeover of the partner’s’ emotions, and finally turning love into a high-stakes game. Possession’s surreal and dramatic-sounding thesis is what in reality underlies the nature of many a break-up: slaughter.

The theme of “killing for love” is similarly expressed in another film I happened to have recently viewed—during Halloween it’s always the more horror the better. Angst (1983) (or Schizophrenia), when compared to Possession, has a plot that’s simple and undiluted: it gives the account of a psychopath who, following his release from a four-year prison sentence, becomes responsible for the slaughter of an entire household. Based on a true story.


What makes this film interesting, and prone to being mentioned along with Possession, is its camera movement. Tracking shots with a human subject as the sole focus are widely used in both films. But contrasting from the more traditional camera language and logic of Possession, comprised largely of mid and short-distance shots, Angst analyzes the protagonists’ inner conflicts using a plethora of camera positions and angles: the objectivity and social standpoint of the long-distance shot, the objective mentality of the short-distance shot, and the subjective psychological response of the extreme close-up. With the addition of the protagonist’s mid-crime confessions, the film becomes a giant zoom-in, shifting focus from a societal black sheep, to a problem child that’s the product of a twisted family environment, to a simple desire for love in the protagonist’s heart.

The second point of comparison between the two films is thus the desire for love. To illustrate this point, I cite the following example: even as the protagonist speaks of the abuse and neglect of his pious grandmother in voiceover, he subdues and torments an elderly stranger with his bare hands, and only a twisted face is visible in the low angle shot. After the old lady loses consciousness, his expression relaxes, as he hugs the body, which has gone limp. The deficit of love in his childhood has been converted to an extreme urge for possession—not revenge, but rather rampant self-compensation of once off-limits sentiments by an insecure child. Love of this breed once again heralds destruction when expressed.

So what is love anyways? It’s impossible to erase from a relationship the urge to dominate another, as that urge becomes inseparable from the concept of love itself. Catastrophe seems to be inevitable, whether it takes the form of silence or storm. Why don’t we just chill on the couch and watch these horror films on TV? That stuff can’t become real right?

Don’t hurt me daddy!