AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: NOW, from EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT
RUNNING TIME: 119 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Carla Moran lives in Los Angeles with her three children. One night, she is violently raped by an unseen being and leaves the house in terror with the kids. They spend the night at her friend Cindy’s house, but in the morning leave and return home when Cindy’s husband objects. When the attacks continue, she goes to seek counselling from Phil Sniederman, a therapist. He believes that the attacks are imaginary and a result of Carla’s troubled past, especially her sexual history. However, they carry on, and Carla is in total despair until she encounters two paranormal researchers who are only too keen to get involved with the case….
Though it doesn’t often seem to appear in lists of the most frightening horror films, The Entity is to me one of the most genuinely scary of cinematic ghost stories, and it’s pretty disturbing: a grim, harrowing tale that is all the more grim and harrowing for being based on a true story which has elements which really are very hard to disprove. It delves into the murky waters of ghost rape, and does it well because it’s backed up by a strong script that is very good on characterisation and psychology, and features an outstanding performnance by Barbara Hershey which is one of the very best in a film of its type, the kind of performance that may well have garnered an Oscar nomination from those snobs at the Academy if it hadn’t been in something so low as a horror film. For the first two thirds it really is very good indeed: gripping, uncomfortable but very convincing and believable. Then, as it begins to deviate further from the real events, the film weakens a little, and features a rather pointless climax of a sort, though it’s never less than compulsive – well, as long as you can take it of course. If you haven’t seen this movie, don’t take the fact that it’s from the early 80’s as a sign that it’s tame stuff: it certainly isn’t. You may not see a drop of blood, and if you really think about it the ‘attack ‘ scenes take up very little screen time, but there may be times, especially I think if you are female, where you may feel a bit violated by the intensity of what you see on the screen.
The original case begun in 1974, when two paranormal investigators Barry Taff and Kery Gaynor were approached in a book shop by a lady named Doris Bither, who said she’d been repeatedly bothered by three ghosts, one of whom sometimes even raped her. They investigated and with others saw balls of lights and a green mist almost forming into a man. Eventually the attacks decreased and the investigation rather mysteriously fizzled out, but poor Doris continued to be sometimes attacked, with the sprits seemingly following her from house to house, though the attacks did lessen in frequency and violence and some sources say that they stopped, though others don’t. A few years ago, I read an interview with Brian, Doris’s second son, who says that all three children still sometimes see the ghosts, which used to attack them too but which now don’t bother them much. Frank De Felitta’s 1981 novel based on the case changed names, made the heroine a bit more conventionally ‘likeable’, and added some characters and the afore mentioned climax. He adapted his book for the screen, but director Sidney J. Furie dropped a plot thread which featured Carla being forced by the entity to have incestuous thoughts about her own teenage son Billy [though this is obliquely referred to in one scene]. In an odd coincidence, actor David Labiosa broke his arm [which is why he later wears an arm-cast] whilst filming a recreation of a moment in which the character he plays, Billy, also broke his arm. Despite being filmed and planned for a release late in 1981, 20th Century Fox got cold feet about the movie, and it wasn’t released in worldwide cinemas until September 1982 and February 1983 in the United States. It was a moderate box office success despite – or maybe because of – feminist picket lines outside some cinemas.
Charles Bernstein’s excellent synthesiser [and occasionally guitar] score opens the movie very well, with harsh chords becoming what sounds rather like Tubular Bells speeded up, before finishing as a more conventionally dramatic theme. The film wastes no time in getting straight into the horror. Carla returns home in the evening, and as soon as she’s in her bedroom she’s suddenly pushed onto the bed and sexually assaulted by some invisible being who puts a cushion to her mouth so she can’t scream. “But there’s nobody there”, says Billy, but then the room begins to shake frantically, and, unsurprisingly, she flees the house with the kids to a friend’s, a friend who, in a interesting if very minor subplot, is subservient to her husband and says she wants to leave him but never does. Carla doesn’t feel welcome and goes back home the next morning, but the nasty spirit continues to attack her, even taking control of her car, though this particular scene doesn’t make much sense as it’s the only time it [or should I say ‘they’?] tries to actually kill her, and otherwise it remains inside buildings and doesn’t seem to venture outside. She visits therapist Phil and, despite her turning up to their second meeting with bruises on her that she can’t actually have made herself, he’s convinced that she’s delusional. Following Freudian thought, he thinks that her upbringing and sexual life have brought on her condition, with a preacher father who held her “in the way a father shouldn’t hold his daughter”, her running away from home at 16, an immature, heavy drinking, drug-taking first husband [and father of Billy] who died in a motorcycle crash, a second lover and father of the other two kids who was old enough to be her dad, and now a boyfriend named Alex who’s a “real man”, and is therefore something that Carla can’t take.
The Entity is a pretty intense experience for an hour or so, so it’s almost a relief when the mood lightens a little with the introduction of the paranormal investigators, though it doesn’t lighten for long. Supposedly Carla – or rather Doris – could see the ghosts – the ‘main’ one who attacked her, and two smaller ones – but the film keeps them mostly invisible, and even towards the end we only see some flashes of light and a blob-like thing briefly forming. I think that this was actually a wise decision – after all, the less we see and know, the scarier something often is, and the sight of unseen ‘hands feeling breasts [done by creating a hot air stream] is almost too uncomfortable to watch. The rape scenes, of which there are several, are short but are still strong meat today, and are backed by thumping guitar chords which are really unpleasant to hear – which was clearly the intention. Carla’s children sometimes being witnesses adds an extra nasty element. This isn’t ‘fun’ horror of the kind that makes so many genre films from the 80’s as entertaining today as they were when they came out. This isn’t even splatter where you go “ew” and try to figure out how the special effects crew did it in those great days before CGI took control. This is horror that is just plain horrible, perhaps at its peak [or maybe its nadir] when Carla is attacked standing up and it looks like she is on some horrid torture machine, though some may find the scene where the attacker actually ‘makes love’ to her and gives her an orgasm more disturbing. The ‘invented’ climax, which involves a frankly ridiculous plan to capture the entity[s], is not really suspenseful enough, teases us with the chance of seeing the monster and fails to deliver, and doesn’t really give us any answers. Of course there were no real answers anyway, and you could say that this was De Felitta giving us his reason for why the real-life investigation stopped.
Running alongside all this supernatural stuff is the human side of the story, much of which is based on the conflict between open-minded parapsychology and close-minded science, and it’s just as interesting. Although we see visual proof of Carla’s claims right from the offset, we can sympathise with virtually everyone, including at first, the two paranormal investigators she meets, not believing her. Phil’s claims of Carla’s past being responsible for her supposedly abusing herself do come across as being quite plausible. He’s wrong in his theory, but his increased liking – and possibly more [though the script is admirably restrained here] – for this damaged, seemingly fragile but actually very strong woman causes him to become convinced that he’s the person who can sort her out – and one can get behind his point of view. Their conversations are full of tension and a weird kind of chemistry. None of the men in this film seem quite ‘right’, as if we are seeing them from Carlas’ point of view – even her boyfriend Alex seems a little ‘off – and, though this leads to some inconsistency when we witness scenes Carla is not actually in, it works very well. Carla’s defiance becomes almost rousing, especially in the final scene, which could be one of the simplest but greatest images of human bravery in the genre.
The very inconsistent Sidney J. Furie directs with a firm grip and good use of some unusual angles [usually a sign that he was interested in a project], often to enhance Carla’s vulnerability like at the end of her first conversation with Phil where a shot makes him seem to tower over her. Barbara Hershey gives what is probably her best ever performance. You really feel her terror, her despair, and finally, her acceptance. Ron Silver is a little creepy as Phil [though this actor is best known for playing creeps anyway], something which didn’t sit right with me the first time I saw the film, but on my second viewing I realised that this was obviously the intention. I should also mention the convincing acting of Natashe Ryan, Melanie Gaffin andDavid Labiose as Carla’s three children – I always find it incredible how they get children to perform in scenes like the ones in this film, though Ryan had already been menaced by deadly arachnids in Kingdom Of The Spiders and other ghosts in The Amityville Horror so I guess it was nothing to her. In any case, you might think that the subject of a woman being constantly raped by a ghost would lead to tedium, revulsion or even laughs, but instead they somehow managed to make a minor classic from it, a film that deserves to be better known and seen. I guess you could still call it exploitative if you wanted to, but you could also say that about most horror films if you were so inclined. Despite certain minor problems towards the end, this movie is about as well done as it could be, and if you haven’t seen it yet it will stay with you if you. You won’t be able to get these three words out of your mind for days. “WELCOME HOME, C***”.
Eureka Entertainment haven’t provided any special features for their Blu-ray of The Entity – while I was able to find out a few things, this film cries out for an in-depth making-of documentary, and the Region 1 DVD had a featurette about the original case. However, I would still say that it’s well worth a purchase even if you already own the film on DVD. I compared some of it with my old disc and the improvement is considerable, with greater clarity, depth, and a layer of grain that is just the right thickness, though the makeup of some of the performers is now very obvious!
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