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Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Stephanie Brenek (Kyra Sedgwick) see little cause for alarm when their youngest daughter Em becomes oddly obsessed with an antique wooden box she purchased at a yard sale. But as Em’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, the couple fears the presence of a malevolent force in their midst, only to discover that the box was built to contain a Dibbuk, a dislocated spirit that inhabits and ultimately devours its human host. ‘The Possssion’ will be in cinemas on August 31, 2012.
Throughout history, one of the darkest and most relentlessly persistent of human fears has been that of possession – the blood-curdling idea that your body and mind could be overtaken by a hungry, inhuman force with a sinister will of its own. All manner of demons and phantoms have been rumored to prey on our souls, but unique among them is the Dibbuk.
Written about in Jewish folklore, one type of Dibbuk (which literally means “an attachment”) is said to be a malicious spirit wandering in limbo, which survives by fusing itself to a living person and inhabiting their very flesh. To keep their harrowing power at bay, carpenters built special arks or boxes to trap the Dibbuks – and the incomprehensible evil they represented — for all time.
There are stories of Dibbuks going back to the Biblical era. But heads were recently turned by an unexpected 21st Century emergence that made for chilling news headlines. In 2004, Los Angeles Times journalist Leslie Gornstein uncovered the story of a man who was auctioning a particularly disturbing item on Ebay: what he claimed was an authentic “Dibbuk Box,” one that had beset each of its owners, including himself, with so much unholy terror that he was desperate to be rid of it. His story recounted the box’s harrowing effects on its owners to date.
Hair fell out. Nightmares stalked entire households. Sudden illnesses struck some owners down, while others saw freakish visions and heard unexplained voices. And every single owner reported a string of horrific bad luck that the seller likened to “all hell breaking loose.”
The box drew interest from supernatural investigators around the world, and quickly sold to a university museum curator named Jason Haxton. Haxton then began to further document its macabre history of tormenting its owners and to examine the peculiar tokens and relics within, aided by Jewish mystics familiar with the myths and legends of the Dibbuk. Ultimately, the box was traced back to a 103 year-old survivor of the Holocaust, who had brought the sealed vessel with her to America after the war, warning her family (apparently in vain) to never, ever attempt to open it.
The real-life existence of such an accursed box frightened those who already knew about Dibbuks. One person was reported in The Los Angeles Times to have even begged Haxton to take the photos of the box off the Internet, lest the spirit find its way into someone through that portal.
But the spine-tingling true tale fascinated others – among them Sam Raimi, the filmmaker who has put his own original stamp on the horror film genre with storytelling that is all about the art of the unforeseen surprise. While going on to the blockbuster success of the ‘Spider Man’ series, Raimi has always stayed true to his love of a good, primal scare – and of stories that bring audiences face-to-face with the numinous mysteries that remain, even today, hauntingly inexplicable.
Because the Dibbuk Box was completely real – and scaring people out of their minds — Raimi felt the story had all the makings of a cinematic journey that would have audiences on the edges of their seats and haunted by frights that linger long after the movie is over.
“We always live with the fear of the unknown,” says Raimi. “And of course we want to know if ghosts and demons really exist or not, and what happens to your spirit when you die. So when someone tells a story like that of the Dibbuk Box and its terrible, terrible effects on everyone who got close to, it cuts to very core of our most immense fears and desires. In this real story, we saw a chance to explore some classic horror themes – and make them new for a new generation.”
Raimi’s production company, Ghost House Pictures, was ready to jump on the concept. “As soon as we read the article in the LA Times, we couldn’t believe this box was really out there in the world,” comments producer J.R. Young. “Sam said this is exactly the kind of movie Ghost House should be making. It had all the creepy, supernatural qualities to inspire something really special.”
Adds producer Robert Tapert: “The story had several new and intriguing elements that Sam and I had never seen before, especially the whole mythology of the Dibbuk. The fact that there was a horrifying, recent truth behind it that you could find on the internet made it that much more exciting. It really challenges your beliefs when you read about all the scary things that seem to be happening around this box.”
The box was so frightening that, even as they began development, the team at Ghost House maintained a respectful dread and kept their distance. “I never got close to the box, nor did I want to,” says Raimi. “The website itself was scary enough, so the last thing I felt I needed to do was to risk bringing it to my home or office. The price of finding out more was just too high.”