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TV Terror Guide: The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver (1977)

Air Date: Feb. 28, 1977 (NBC)

Production Companies: The Shpetner Company

Running Time: 78 min.

Available on: YouTube

Written by: Richard Matheson

Directed by: Gordon Hessler

Cast: Karen Black, George Hamilton, Robert F. Lyons, Lucille Benson, Jean Allison

Rating: 6 vintage televisions (out of 10)


Man, oh, man, I wanted to like this movie! The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver (1977) stars Karen Black. It was written by Richard Matheson. It was directed by Gordon Hessler. (If you’re unfamiliar with any one of those names, just peruse any number of reviews on this website.) Despite its credentials, it commits the cardinal sin: it’s… just… too… slow.


I’m not knocking the tone and atmosphere, of which there is plenty. It opens with a car slowly driving through the thick fog of a cemetery. Miriam Oliver (Black) sits in the passenger seat in mousy librarian mode, hair pulled back and wearing glasses. Her husband, Greg (George Hamilton) leads her by the hand into…


…a mausoleum with the longest, narrowest aisle I’ve ever seen. There’s room for only one chair on each side of the aisle. (I expected a silver sphere to come flying at them with its blade aimed at their foreheads.) As they approach the coffin, Greg suddenly becomes a different man and Miriam stares at the dead body of… herself.


I can think of neither a better opening for a 1970’s TV thriller, nor one that has done one better. Although shaken, Miriam doesn’t seem terribly interested in solving the mystery of her dream. She’s preoccupied with a personality starting to emerge: Sandy, the opposite of a mousy librarian. Miriam is torn between enjoying her other persona or being terrified of it.


There’s a theme here that I really liked: identity. Who are we, really? Do we accept ourselves? What happens when we change; are we afraid or do we embrace it. In a very nice scene, Miriam apologizes to Greg at the dinner table that she impulsively rented a beach house for them. “But I’m not a different person; I’m the same.” He hadn’t yet accused her otherwise.


The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver could also be viewed as a women’s liberation film. Greg wants her to stay home and have a baby; I mean, literally not leave the house. However, she longs to get out and do something, even if it’s to shop for a tight-fitting red shirt at the mall. In a dramatic moment, we learn that she hasn’t stopped taking the pill.


Finally, there’s one heck of a twist… one I didn’t consider until we were at that point where you pat yourself on the back for figuring out, yet are delighted about how clever it is. With so many good things going for it, it’s too bad there are so many actionless scenes of Miriam/Sandy staring into mirrors. On any other day, I may have embraced the deliberate pace, but not on this one.


Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver and other great movies from this series...

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