Miriam Oliver is bored. She has nothing to do all day but oversee the gardener and maid at her husband Greg’s large estate, and wait for Greg to come home from his big important lawyering job so she can hand him a cocktail at the door. He wants her to concentrate on having a baby, although he doesn’t seem to be doing anything in that department himself; even 70s TV would let you kiss your wife on a bed and roll around a little bit or something before fading out, Greg! But nada. Nope, she just has to sit home alone all day and think about what she’s done, which is not spontaneously getting pregnant, evidently. Now that really would be a strange possession!
Miriam wants to get a job, but Greg flat out refuses for her to do anything outside the home, not even volunteer work or going back to school. Understandably, since this is 1977 and not 1947, her frustration builds until she starts having nightmares. Then she begins to take on the fashion sense, dance moves, and blonde wig of a mysterious woman named Sandy.
What? You don’t turn into another person when you’re feeling trapped? Anyway, Miriam’s nightmares are creepy, centering around a funeral where someone, either Greg or a man she doesn’t know, is forcing her to look at the body in the casket, and it’s her! Fun fact: I had recurring nightmares from age 7 until about 30 of someone trying to force me to look at a body in a casket, but at least I know what caused mine, namely someone trying to make me look at a body in a casket when I was 7. Miriam has no clue what’s causing hers, and although Greg does try to help her by sending her to a shrink, she would rather run off to a nearby beach town and set up residence as her alter ego, “Sandy.”
It turns out that the shrink would have helped in this case, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as entertaining for the viewer. Some of the folks in the beach town recognize Miriam/Sandy, and one in particular isn’t happy to see her. But she does meet a very nice dog who remembers her, and that would have been enough for me. It’s up to the rest of the movie to reveal whether this is a case of possession or a psychiatric problem. As it turns out, the explanation is fairly satisfying, although a little lacking in details since it’s revealed in a murky flashback.
If I have any complaints about The Strange Possession it is that Greg’s misogyny is heavy handed, like an after school special on sexism. I know people like him did exist, but he’s not evil! He seems to love Miriam and just wants her to get better; also, more time could have been spent on creepy dreams and trippy coincidences if there hadn’t been a focus on making a clunky statement about feminism. But it’s too easy to laugh at old social mores, like Greg’s horror at Miriam’s new tight red blouse, which looks like something you see every day now. At least she didn’t go to the grocery store with half her ass hanging out of a pair of cut off jeans! But I have no right to complain about the story since it was written by one of the all-time great storytellers Richard Matheson and I’m just some idiot who got caught by my 13 year old yesterday mixing up the different little lies I’ve told him to make him think I still believe in Santa Claus.
What I do believe in, though, is Karen Black’s 70s filmography. Man, it’s easy to forget her best work because she was so prolific in B movies later on, but horror fans did not deserve her! She carried this movie as Miriam, especially since she was working alongside a very tan piece of wood in George Hamilton’s Greg. The entire thing is mostly her acting out to her internal thoughts, without cheesy voiceovers for the most part. Very little dialogue, just her emotions on her face. Karen Black seems to be most remembered for Trilogy of Terror, but she was in some heavy films such as Nashville and Five Easy Pieces, and I suppose what makes Mrs Oliver work for me so well is her similar role as a woman who takes on someone else’s personality in the earlier film Burnt Offerings. In that she played another Mrs. Oliver, a woman who was married to Oliver Reed! Coincidence?
Also, I just realized that Miriam’s dance partner when she starts dancing as Sandy is Asher Brauner, who I just encountered last week as the main villain in PM Entertainment’s Wings Hauser vehicle Living to Die. And according to IMDb, Herschell Gordon Lewis favorite William Kerwin is in Strange Possession somewhere as “Old Man.” Imagine what the neural pathways in my brain look like from all the B-movie connections I make every day! The streetlights are disco balls, post apocalyptic motorcycle gangs in high concept fashion ensembles compete in drag races with various incarnations of David Carradine, and all the pimpmobiles are driven by men called Ramrod.