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The Possession might look like an average horror thriller, but there's a reason it leapt to the top of the box office over Labor Day weekend-- it's got a horror powerhouse behind it. Sam Raimi, the director of The Evil Dead as well as the original Spider-Man series, produced The Possession through his Ghost House Pictures, and used the film as an opportunity not just to champion emerging Danish director Ole Berndal, but introduce audiences to a demon sadly underused in most horror films: the dybbuk.
What's a dybbuk? Even if you were raised Jewish, like Raimi was, you might not know. Though not a part of typical synagogue teachings, the dybbuk has been part of Jewish legend for centuries, an evil spirit that can attach itself to an innocent host to accomplish some goal, but can also be hidden away in a dybbuk box… unless someone is unlucky enough to open it. That's what happens in The Possession, and I talked to Raimi about why so few movies have used dybbuk, what kind of horror movies he's trying to get behind with Ghost House, and why he thinks his upcoming "reimagining" of The Evil Dead will shock audiences.
Why have so few horror movies used a dybbuk?
I don't know why. I guess people are unfamiliar with them. You never see old fashioned horror short stories with the dybbuk, mostly they talk about the devil or New Testament demons.
Had you encountered them in stories as a kid?
I was afraid of the more new testament demons, or the Hollywood monsters. I'd never heard my rabbi or my shul talk about old testament demons, it just wasn't talked about.
When you get to see the Jewish exorcism at the end of the film, it really looks nothing like any other exorcism seen on screen.
It was cool to see-- I wish we had more details even, still, about the uniqueness of what was really going on. Now that I saw it, I wish we could even open it up more. That's the most interesting, thing, what's different about it how it's unique, how would a Jewish exorcism take place.
Was there a challenge in making this a PG-13 film and having it be scary, but also having all these scary things happen to a child?
It was always based on the supposed true article by Leslie Gornstein of The Los Angeles Times, and the website she based her article on. And none of those events were R-rated violent type events. They were more like weird, scary, freaky. I don't think we ever had to, except in this final ratings, process, had to make any change to fit into the ratings box.
It's been a while since Ghost House got behind an original film. What made you guys settle on this one?
I really wanted to do something original, and we all did at Ghost House. I think that's why it took a little while at Ghost House to find something of good enough quality to put our name on. This one we did believe in, and we got the best director we could find. We don't want to make a bunch of pictures, we want to make some that are original or different or affect the audience in a new kind of way. We don't make a lot of them right now. What we're working on-- Evil Dead just finished shooting, [director] Fede Alvarez did a fantastic job of it. It's original, it riffs on the original, but it's a completely original thing unto itself. It's really intense, it's got great performances from all the actors, even though I only saw a really early cut of it.
And how close to the original film is it sticking?
It's not the same characters. It is a about a group of 5 characters who go up to a cabin and find a book of the dead. Even thought it riffs on the original material, it's a completely different thing unto itself.
So would you describe it as a reboot? A remake? A reimagining? A prequel?
I guess it's a reimagining. I've always hated that word.
Why did you choose to redo The Evil Dead now? Do you feel like people aren't make those kinds of scary movies anymore?
That's exactly right. They aren't making this kind of movie right now. I think the audience likes to see something different, especially the horror audiences. They're hungry for things that are new. To make another found footage movie wouldn't be good for me. Horror works in trends, which is fine. I just want right now Ghost House to make a different, original type of pictures, and I think Alvarez's take, even though he's seen the original Evil Dead, is totally original. I think it's going to shock the audience. I haven't seen anything like it in a while.
(Sam Raimi photo via cinemafestival / Shutterstock.com)
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