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Sam Neill reveals "the most extreme film I've ever made"

@Russellisation

Now that the dawn of new technology and modern media have exposed the masses to violent films and sights they’ve never seen (nor would ever need to), audiences’ tastes for ‘extreme’ cinema are now hard to define. Once upon a time, James Wan’s Saw was enough to churn stomachs, though the release of Tom Six’s The Human Centipede changed this notion of bad taste entirely and has ever since turned the landscape of the genre into a Cesspit of grunge. 

Of course, this is not to say that the classics of horror cinema are not ‘extreme’ or shocking, with The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre still possessing the ability to terrify, thanks to directors William Friedkin and Tobe Hooper. One person you wouldn’t attribute to the terrors of 20th-century horror cinema, however, is Sam Neill, the star of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park and, more recently, Peaky Blinders. 

However, whilst Sam Neill is certainly better known for the Jurassic Park trilogy, he has also appeared in his fair share of creepy independent terrors, from Paul W.S. Anderson’s Event Horizon to Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession. Having since been both claimed as champions of cult cinema, it is Possession that is more celebrated, with the bizarre break-up movie inspiring filmmakers across the globe. 

Labelled as a notorious ‘video nasty’ upon its release in the UK in 1981, Żuławski’s Possession became known as an iconic genre film of 1980s cinema that well utilised atmospheric tension as well as Cronenberg-inspired body horror. Filmed in West Berlin, the movie is a co-production between France and West Germany that premiered at the 34th Cannes Film Festival where Isabelle Adjani would win Best Actress for her astonishing lead performance. 

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Having to totally commit her mind and body to the lead role of Anna, Adjani would later comment that it took her several years to recover from the torment of the performance. As Żuławski commented on the efficacy of the iconic subway scene, “This scene was filmed at five in the morning, when the subway was closed. I knew it was worth a lot of effort for [Adjani], both emotionally and physically, because it was cold there. It was unthinkable to repeat this scene endlessly. Most of what’s left on the screen is the first take”. 

So intense was the production that co-star Sam Neill noted, “I call it the most extreme film I’ve ever made, in every possible respect, and he asked of us things I wouldn’t and couldn’t go to now. And I think I only just escaped that film with my sanity barely intact”.

Combining the torment of lost love with the horror of such personal realisations, Possession is today recognised as a classic, sinister breakup movie, identified by modern master Ari Aster as one of the best of its kind. Whilst in discussion with YouTube channel Birth.Movies.Death, Aster noted that the film had a significant influence on his 2018 horror, Midsommar, explaining: “Zulawski’s possession, that’s a big one and that’s a big one that I return to again and again”.

Take a look at the trailer for the influential film right here.