[review by JA Kerswell]
A sleazy, cheesy Canadian slasher that, despite being released in 1987, might have felt more at home during the subgenre’s hey days a few years earlier.
Frankie (John Johnstone), a young psycho with a mother complex (sound familiar?), keeps a closet full of dead women in lacy negligees at his home. He captures another young lady, Madeline (Sharlene Martin), in an underground parking lot, and takes her back to his house and forces her to dress up in his mother’s red dress and haphazardly applied lipstick.
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His mother, a woman in slippers and a pink dressing gown with a face like an angry pitbull in a poodle wig, waddles into frame and tells Frankie that she’s no good and to get rid of her. However, Madeline manages to give them both the slip and escapes into the night and flees home. Angry that his mother didn’t stop her, and convinced that Madeline is ‘the one’, he strangles Mom and dumps her decoratively on the shag pile carpet.
Whilst still sporting the clown make-up Frankie made her wear, Madeline tells the police what happened; but despite running home on foot she can’t remember where his house was. So, she and her four flatmates decide it would be a swell idea to play at being Nancy Drew and go looking for him in their station wagon. But he finds them first and a chase ensues whilst they scream and guitar screams on the soundtrack. All the while he stabs the passenger seat with a carving knife. The car chase gets especially confusing, as although he’s chasing them he manages to give the girls the slip before accosting them at a pay phone before being scared off by the cops. The subsequent cop chase resurrects that squealing guitar and he makes sure to drive through a load of empty cardboard boxes for good measure and stunt value. Frankie abandons his car and flees by foot and then by rowing boat across a small pond. Police unload a gazillion rounds of ammunition at him; laser-sighted on his mustard yellow chunky knit pullover, which acts as a convenient target. The boat explodes (despite seemingly having no engine) and Frankie goes up with it. Or does he … ?
Presumably well recovered from their ordeal, Madeline’s flatmates go to a male strip joint whilst she stays at home. As the clothes fly off and the jockstraps jiggle, the girls talk about “Gorgeous men!” as a funk track throbs on the soundtrack for what seems like an eternity. They then decamp to the mountains to spend the weekend in a remote cabin in the woods. Two of the male strippers follow them up whilst discussing how horny they are and rubbing their crotches (I kid you not). They all get drunk, throw a party and throw off most of their clothes whilst gyrating to a song that goes: “Doing it right on the wrong side of town.” What could possibly go wrong?
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Of course, Frankie isn’t dead. He isn’t even singed! So, he goes to visit his mother’s grave and headstone (which looks like it’s made from polystyrene and drawn on with felt tip pen). Frankie smears his face in dirt from the grave and what looks like a moisturising avocado face pack (hey, a psycho needs to look good!) and heads out for his revenge grinning like a loon …
POSSESSION: TILL DEATH DO YOU PART has something of a frenetic energy and is blessed with a high body count. It isn’t totally horribly made but is often a tad incoherent; with seemingly random characters appearing and disappearing without being missed. It is clearly a freshman project for Mazo. Madeline and her friends are difficult to tell apart with their hard rock hair and fists in the air screeching about boys AND booze. The soundtrack is all over the place from cock rock, to country to funk – and even pan pipes every time we see a tree!
The film tends to grind to a halt every half an hour or so for a topless shower scene, which is great if you like that kind of thing. It’s the kind of movie where a woman dresses in pink lingerie and heels for a power nap! Perhaps if Doris Wishman remade THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982) in a parallel universe (complete with topless girl taking a bath being interrupted by the pizza delivery guy), it might have looked like this.
POSSESSION: TILL DEATH DO YOU PART is, at least, more-or-less equal opportunities when it comes to naked flesh – as the two male strippers spend most of their time in their posing pouches (although they inexplicably vanish during the closing act). The last half an hour is an admittedly fun, if cheap jack, game of cat and mouse, as Frankie chases the surviving girls around the forest and log cabin. Recalling a bargain basement version of FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) and SATAN’S BLADE (1984).
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It perhaps isn’t surprising that, as Frankie the psycho, this was John Johnston’s only acting role (he went on to be a successful TV producer for a spell). Here he looks a little like the love child of Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman and The Dead Boys’ Stiv Bators. All bug-eyed faux intensity, but with little real gravitas. In one scene he pops up in a camera viewfinder and barks: “Cheese!”. The silliness, however, is partly offset by an occasional, incongruous streak of mean-spiritedness as the camera sometimes lingers a tad too long on the victims-to-be’s suffering. But, to be honest, the hairstyles and outfits on display here are more likely to give you the only genuine fright.
Also, perhaps unsurprisingly, for most of the cast this was a one-time acting gig, too. The notable exception being Sharlene Martin as Madeline (here listed as Melissa Martin). She went on to be a bitchy victim on Crystal Lake Cruises in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN (1989). Her last small screen role was in 2008, but her son, Alexander Ludwig, was the lead in the mega fun 80s’ slasher throwback THE FINAL GIRLS (2015).
Don’t let the production company details fool you. The North American Pictures production was lensed North of the Canadian border in and around Vancouver, British Columbia. Directors Michael Mazo (he even made a documentary about ice hockey) and Polish born Lloyd A. Simandl collaborated again the next year on the post-apocalyptic EMPIRE OF ASH (1988). Simandl’s first directing credit was in 1979 for AUTUMN BORN starring the ill-fated Dorothy Stratten (whose infamous real-life murder was fictionalised in 1981 with DEATH OF A CENTERFOLD starring one Jamie Lee Curtis). He went on to co-direct the slasher sequel RIPPER 2: LETTER FROM WITHIN (2004).
The back of the video box for POSSESSION: TILL DEATH DO YOU PART optimistically claims it is a “powerful psychodrama” that “… is a chilling thriller that deals with the evil forces that lie within one man”. Not to be outdone, the front of the box has the sensibly unattributed quote breathlessly declare: “The Sensuality of BODY HEAT and JAGGED EDGE … the psychological terror of PSYCHO”. Someone get the Trades Description Act out pronto! Ultimately, it is a hotch-potch of straight-to-video sleaze, cheese and a pinch misanthropy thrown in. Fun for the not very demanding.
10 / male: 5