Squarely belonging in the quirky, femme drenched filmic universe highlighted by cinematic historian Kier-La Janisse, The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver hits its magnitude of magnificence due to the wonderful complexities of Karen Black’s lead performance.
Without a doubt, Black will always be one of celluloid’s most unique performers. Universally brimming with intensity and a lush sensuality, she was at the height of her powers in 1977 when this television film was made. Relishing her many close-ups here, she, indulgently yet effectively, brings all of the title character’s confusion and discovery to life. Whether you are intrigued (as I am) or dismayed by her often-eccentric technique, there will never be another like her.
As scripted by I Am Legend’s prolific Richard Matheson, this 78-minute piece of Gothicism begins as the timid Mrs. Oliver tries, unsuccessfully, to break out from beneath her husband’s (George Hamilton) severe, limited expectations of her. Bristling beneath the demand that she revoke all her freedoms for motherhood, the mousy woman ultimately starts to transform into a liberated swinger after a shopping trip to a local mall. Encouraged by a sexy dress shop employee (Gloria LeRoy) to suggestively dress and enjoy the fantasy of masquerading in a blonde wig, she soon begins dreaming of fiery landscapes and a violent past. Catching the eye of a mysterious stranger (Robert F. Lyons) during one of her nocturnal romps, this transformative adventuress is soon facing death in the face. Thus begins a quick race against time to discover the truth about herself before that ghoulish threat catches up with her completely.
Directed with a languid smokiness by AIP horror emperor Gordon Hessler (Scream and Scream Again, Cry of the Banshee), this project belies the limitations of its running time by offering up a solid mystery and the excitement of watching its main performer work her singular magic.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!