"Based on a true story" is a tag line that is often added to movies - especially horror movies - to boost its street cred. The details that are adapted to film are often gross exaggerations because real life is never as glamorous or exciting as what Hollywood can dream up. Often times the actual event doesn't offer enough action to fill a 100 minute movie, so liberties are frequently taken. However, the Sam Raimi-produced, Ole Bornedal-directed The Possession seems to have an awful lot of material to draw from.
Full disclosure: I love horror, I love ghost stories, I love all that stuff. But I don't believe any of it. While I don't doubt that any of these occurrences actually happened, I think that linking them all to this evil spirit box is just a way to rationalize tragedy.
The Possession is about a family who buys a curious wooden wine cabinet at an estate sale. Inside, it contains a variety of fetishes, and a dibbuk - an evil spirit from Jewish lore. You can see where this story is going.
The real story of the dibbuk box came to light in the mid 2000s, with a curious eBay listing. A $1.00 starting bid on an old wine box containing locks of hair, a couple pennies, a wine cup, a slab of engraved granite, and a dried flower ended up selling for almost $300, with over 50 bids. This seller bought it from another seller, who was the first modern-day buyer of this box.
According to the original buyer, Kevin Mannis, this box was purchased at the estate sale of a 103-year-old Holocaust survivor. The elderly woman was the only person from her family to survive. When she came to the United States, she brought a steamer trunk, a sewing box... and this wine cabinet. The granddaughter, managing the estate, remembers that her grandmother was terrified of the box and insistent her family never, ever open the box. As such, she refused the box - and its contents - when the buyer offered it to her.
Before he could even get home with the box, Mannis received a frantic call from his employee at the furniture restoration shop he owned. The shop girl claimed someone was in the shop, trashing the place. When Mannis arrived, he discovered broken glass and lightbulbs everywhere, but no mysterious stranger. His employee quit that day, never to return.
Mannis decided to clean up the box and give it to his mother for her birthday. Within minutes of receiving the box, she had a stroke and lost the ability to speak. She was later able to point to letters spelling out HATE GIFT. Thinking nothing of it, Mannis tried to gift the box to various friends and family members. All returned it to him within days of taking receipt of it. Some said the doors wouldn't remain closed; others smelled jasmine and cat urine. Mannis sold it to a couple who left it on his doorstep two days later with a note: "This has a bad darkness." Mannis began to have horrible recurring nightmares about friends turning into a demonic hag and beating the crap out of him - he claims to have even woken up with bruises. The family members who had taken possession of the box at one time or another had also suffered the same dream. Mannis also discovered all 10 fish dead in his freshwater aquarium - on Friday the 13th.
So why not just throw away the box, or destroy it? Mannis claims that he was afraid that destroying it improperly would cause whatever evil spirit might be haunting the box to stay with him forever. And traditional wisdom would suggest that if an object is haunted, you must formally transfer ownership for the spirit to move on. He instead sold it on eBay for $140 to a college student named Iosif Nietzke (what college student do you know has $140 to blow on haunted curios?) who claims to have had similar bad luck.
Nietzke claims that in the seven months he owned the box, he and his roommates fell victim to various physical maladies (broken fingers, bronchitis, swollen red eyes, insomnia). Dead mice and decay plagued the house. Electronic devices and lightbulbs died almost daily. The last straw was when Nietzke, in his early 20s with a clean bill of health, started losing his hair.
The box is now in the hands of a university museum curator named Jason Haxton, who has experienced similar illnesses and smelled the strange mixture of urine and jasmine. His interest in the box is from a religious angle. Hebrew etchings cover the box, and it is believed to contain a dibbuk, a malevolent, misplaced Jewish spirit. Supposedly, "a soul that has been unable to fulfill its function during its lifetime is given another opportunity to do so in dybbuk form." Haxton has set up a website, DibbukBox.com, to handle the interest in the project. He has written a book about the box's history and its current mischief, which was used as the basis for The Possession script by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White (Knowing, Boogeyman).
Check out the website, read some of the accompanying articles and eBay auctions, and judge for yourself: is this dibbuk box real, or a grand hoax? Either way, hopefully it will make for a good movie.