The Jewish 'Exorcist'? Sam Raimi on 'The Possession'

The producer's new horror flick starring Matisyahu is inspired by an account of a family fighting a Dibbuk.

Still from 'The Possession' 390 (photo credit: Courtesy Lionsgate Films)
Still from 'The Possession' 390
(photo credit: Courtesy Lionsgate Films)
LOS ANGELES - Film director and producer Sam Raimi, for the first time in a long career of spooking audiences with his horror films, has turned to real-life events for supernatural thriller The Possession, opening in the United States on Friday.
Raimi, whose credits range from directing 2002's Spider-Man to producing horror flicks such as The Grudge and The Grudge 2, produces The Possession. The movie, directed by Ole Bornedal, is inspired by a newspaper account of a family that fights a demon known as a Dibbuk in ancient Yiddish folklore.
The spirit, which resides in a Dibbuk box, is said to possesses the bodies of people with the intention of devouring them. In The Possession, the Dibbuk enters the body of a young woman and her parents must figure out how to stop it.
Raimi spoke with Reuters about his new movie.
Q: Is it true that you got the idea for this film from a story you read in the Los Angeles Times?
A: "Yes, my partner and I read the article entitled 'A jinx in a box?' by Leslie Gornstein about this Dibbuk box that brought horror to anyone in possession of it. Then I researched more online and thought that this could be a great script. There were so many stories of different people and their experiences. We decided to focus on one family that encountered the box. This newly divorced couple and how they have to put aside any animosity to overcome this evil. That fascinated me."
Q: I read that Ole Bornedal went a few unconventional routes during filming -- using real moths in one pivotal scene and casting reggae artist Matisyahu. Did you support the decisions?
A: "Yes, absolutely. He (Matisyahu) is not just an unusual choice for shock value, I think he's really right for the film and his performance was exceptionally true and original. Ole wanted to update the traditional view of the wise, old rabbi and Matisyahu goes against all expectations. Yet you believe in his faith and he made the idea of an exorcist new to me."
Q: As your first horror film based on actual events, was there anything more creepy about making The Possession?A: "It was really spooky to work on! This, however, also presented a whole set of problems unto itself."
Q: Such as?
A: "We had to secure a lot of rights to the original LA Times article, to the various people involved. When you're writing a screenplay based on real events, there are times when there isn't a good dramatic structure and that's what happened here...So, we ended up dropping some of the actual events to drive the story forward and that's why it's based on actual events. Thankfully, we had fantastic writers in Juliet Snowden and Stiles White. They really created these original characters that you connect with."
Q: What makes a good horror film in your opinion?A: "The needs of a horror film are the same needs as in any dramatic film. The audience has to connect. You have to have a solid main character that you can really understand and relate to. You have to know what they want. There has to be a set of believable obstacles that you watch them overcome, and there has to be an interesting resolution."
Q: You've focused a lot on horror films throughout your career. Why?
A: "It's funny. I never liked horror films as a kid! I was a coward and they scared me (he laughs). But, at the time that I was a youngster trying to break into the business there was no indie (independent film) scene. There was no Sundance Channel. The only way to break in at that time was to make a horror film for a couple hundred grand. I literally started in horror just to break into the business!"
Q: Do you have a favorite from your body of work?
A: "I don't actually. They're like children to me. I love them all equally."
Q: What's new on the Sam Raimi front?
A: "I'm currently working on a new supernatural story with my brother Ivan. We've just finished the treatment but I can't tell you anything about it just yet."