THE TRUE EVENTS BEHIND THE HORROR MOVIE “THE POSSESSION”
In the upcoming horror, The Possession, a girl buys a box at a garage sale and is taken over by an evil spirit. Sounds like a typical story for a chilling thriller but what makes this movie go from scary to seriously terrifying is that it’s based on true events.
When L.A. Times writer Leslie Gornstein wrote an article about mysterious events surrounding individuals who claimed they were experiencing bad health and luck when in contact with an old wooden box, the secret of its origin and what was inside of it, a malevolent spirit, was blown wide open.
The origin of the story of the box started with Kevin Mannis, owner of a furniture re-furbishing business in Portland, Oregon. Mannis bought a box at an estate sale of a deceased Jewish woman named Havela—a concentration camp survivor. Inside were two locks of hair, one granite slab, one dried rosebud, one goblet, two wheat pennies, one candlestick and, allegedly, one “dibbuk,” a kind of spirit popular in Yiddish folklore.
Upon hearing that he may have bought a box that was an heirloom, Mannis offered it back to the deceased woman’s granddaughter who adamantly declined it calling it “Dibbuk Box”—a box that contained an evil spirit. Not thinking much of it, Mannis took the box to his story and planned to give it to his mom as a gift. In a note Mannis wrote, he claims that within five minutes of giving his mom the gift, she had a stroke and demanded he take back the box. Mannis later found himself plagued with dreams of an old hag beating him, and awoke with bruises and welts.
Mannis then gave the box to his sister who immediately gave it back. He then gave it to his brother who gave it back saying it smelled like cat urine. Next, he sold it to a couple who, after three days, gave it back. All who encountered the box had the same dream of the old hag beating them. Mannis then decided to sell the box on ebay in which part of the ad read: “I would destroy this thing in a second, except I really don’t have any understanding of what I may or may not be dealing with.”
The box was then purchased by a student in Missouri for $140 who claimed he was also experiencing bad dreams and loss of hair. Having heard this story a man named Jason Haxton was intrigued and bought the box for $280 and brought it to his museum. While inspecting the box, Haxton described the wood as feeling warm and felt a pain erupt in his stomach. That night Haxton dreamt of disfigured faces that formed into the image of a white-haired hag. Later, the staff at Haxton’s museum started to complain about things going bad around them. He then packed up the box and brought it home and placed it in a closet. His family then began to experience the same reported problems with Haxton’s health beginning to decline rapidly.
Haxton then tracked down Mannis in Portland and later found out from Havela’s cousin that while in ‘30s Poland Havela attempted to capture a spirit that would help the Jews against the Nazis but instead conjured a malevolent entity. Havela’s cousin then told the men that she later managed to capture the entity in the box. Upon going home, Haxton decided to perform a Wiccan ritual to contain the spirit. He later stated that his symptoms improved. Haxton later wrote a book called The Dibbuk Box that tells the real-life horrors that many people encountered when in contact with it. He still has the box in which he stores in an “undisclosed location.”
Whatever the cause or explanation, there was no debate that these true-life events would make a great movie. Sam Raimi had no problems producing the story but when Haxton offered to send him the box, he declined. “I didn’t want anything to do with it,” Raimi told Eweekly. “I’m scared of the thing!”
While The Possession is based on aspects surround the real-life events, the story is different. The movie follows Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Stephanie Brenek (Kyra Sedgwick) who become alarmed 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.
As Em becomes increasingly obsessed with the box her behavior grows darker and darker, even dangerous. Yet try as he might, Clyde cannot separate Em from the box, not even when Stephanie begins to believe it is causing their daughter to lose her mind. Plagued by one disturbing and inexplicable event after the next, the family is about to unearth the truth of what is really happening to them: they have opened a Dibbuk’s Box . . . and the dislocated spirit warned of in ancient Jewish folklore that had been trapped within now seeks to devour its human host.
Morgan says he was drawn to the film’s original approach to a story that would scare any parent down to the bone. “It didn’t really interest me to do something that has been done before,” he says. “What was interesting to me is that surrounding this supernatural horror is a story about a family trying to survive. That makes all the jumps and scares add up to something powerful.”
While Morgan admits that he doesn’t really believe in the supernatural, he admits the story of Dibbuk Box unnerved him. “I’ll tell you this: I won’t sit around mocking the box,” he declares. “If so many people believe in its power, there might be something to it. If you just go on the computer you can figure out where the story is traced to this box that was sold on eBay, and you can dig a little bit deeper…we take some creative freedoms with this to make it probably scarier. That being said, however, though the people that have had this box and the stuff that’s happened to them…I’m not going to risk that! I’m not going to play with that. So I remember at some point the guy that owns the box wanted to come to the set and bring the box and I was like, ‘Absolutely not!’”
Director Ole Bornedal also said he had no interest in seeing the real box and the fact that they were filming a story about it caused some weird events to happen on the Vancouver set.
“Some really weird things happened,” he told Eweekly. “I’ve never stood underneath a neon light before that wasn’t lit, that all of a sudden exploded. The worse thing was five days after we wrapped the movie, all the props burned and the storage house in Vancouver burned down to the ground and the fire department does not know the cause. I’m not a superstitious man, and I would like to say, ‘Yeah, it’s just a coincidence.’ It’s so difficult.”
The Possession opens Friday, August 25 and stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Madison Davenport, Natasha Calis, Grant Show, Matisyahu.