Monday, August 6, 2012

Vital Viewing: The Entity (1981)

The Entity is another film from the banner year of 1981 and tells the (reportedly) true story of a woman battered, beaten, raped, and all-around terrified by a malicious spirit in her own home. The paranormal events that plagued her are supposedly well documented and are the basis - or perhaps a better word would be inspiration - for this shocker starring Barbara Hershey. 

Carla Moran (Hershey) is a single mother raising three children: a teenaged boy, Billy (David Labiosa), and two young daughters, Julie (Natasha Ryan of Amityville Horror fame), and Kim (Melanie Gaffin).  She has a boyfriend Jerry (Alex Rocco) who apparently works away and is absent for the first half of the film.

Almost as soon as we meet the family, Carla is brutally raped inside her bedroom by someone she cannot see.  After the attack she begins screaming, alerting her son, who thoroughly checks out the house but is unable to find the assailant.  Carla convinces herself it must have been a dream, but when it happens a second time she and the family bug out and stay the rest of the night with her friend Cindy (Margaret Blye).

The rape scenes themselves (which continue throughout the majority of the film) hold nothing back, with Charles Bernstein's thumping (and distracting, if I'm being quite honest) score violently alerting you to the attacks much in the same way that John Williams' (far superior) score tells us the shark is coming.  The effective musical cues are so loud and booming that it becomes nearly too much, but just like the attacks, it ends just as abruptly.
What's extra unnerving here is that as an audience we too, witness the attacks.  We can see the entity pulling Carla's legs apart, touching her breasts, ambushing her's almost too excessive.

Carla, thinking she is safe while out of her home, is shocked when the unseen force strikes again while she is driving to work, nearly causing her to wreck several times.  She seeks psychiatric counseling upon Cindy's advice and is a quivering mess when she meets Dr. Sneiderman (Ron Silver).  She tries to explain to him that she cannot see her attacker but she can smell him and feel him, and goes on to say that the room gets very cold and that the assailant smells foul. Dr. Sneiderman tries to convince her that the attacks stem from her subconscious recalling traumatic events from her childhood, that she is being raped emotionally and it is her imagination that causes her to believe that she is being physically assaulted.

But when others witness the merciless attacks (including her son, who is pushed away and injured by the entity when he tries to help his mother), Carla knows something must be done to try and stop the aggressive and relentless supernatural visitations. 
She enlists the help of a handful of parapsychologists from the local college, who have dabbled in paranormal activity before but have never seen anything of this nature before.
They begin experiments to see if they can somehow harness the entity, and when Carla's boyfriend resurfaces he is aghast at the lengths she goes to to try and rid herself of the supposed demonic spirit.  Naturally, Jerry doesn't believe one word of her story, until he is privy to an especially unsavory attack which unfortunately causes him to end their relationship.

With nothing to lose, Carla agrees to a dangerous experiment and complies with the scientist's request to somehow beckon the entity to come to her in a controlled environment.  Dr. Sneiderman shows up and tries to reason with Carla, but she's having none of it.  Her life has spiraled so far out of control at this point that she fears for her children's lives as well as her own.

Whether or not The Entity is actually inspired by a true event is not important here.  As in most films of this kind, viewers are asked to suspend their belief for a few hours and if you can just forget how ridiculous the premise appears to be, you are in for an effective story with great acting (in particular Hershey, who carries the entire film on her shoulders) and some unnerving and at times brutal scenes of terror.  Any woman not disturbed by the ferocious rape scenes is an unfeeling Stepford pod-person, as Hershey's portrayal of a woman in crisis is truly top-notch.  She holds nothing back, bringing a whole truckload of believability to a film whose main antagonist isn't even human. 

As stated, Hershey's performance is stellar, but also of note is the acting of a young David Labiosa, whose character of Billy is especially good as well.  His compassion for his mother is honorable as we see him struggle to be the man of the household and in turn protect his mother from her fears, whether unfounded or not.  Ron Silver also has a positive performance here, as a psychiatrist who may be getting a little too close to his unstable patient. 

While the film does lose a bit of its rhythm when they delve into the para-psychological experiments (a similar thing happened near the end of Insidious), and it did drag a bit for me at this point.  I guess I'm not a big fan of all the bells and whistles used to discover ghosts' existence - but that could stem from me not actually wanting them to be debunked or realized. I much prefer the old school 'what you can't see is scarier than what you can see': I don't want my ghosts uncovered, I want them firmly in the 'might be real' category.  Being scared is much more interesting than listening to a dissertation about their existence and the methods used to bring it to light. 

The Entity is vital viewing mostly due to Barbara Hershey's excellent portrayal of a woman losing hope and possibly sanity, but also because no one has yet to make a film on this particular subject matter as honest and direct, yet.  It doesn't really hide anything, and it sure the hell doesn't wait to scare the pants off you.  It just forces it right down your throat. And that lump you feel there,'s fear. 


The Film Connoisseur said...

totally agree, awesome movie, the rape scenes are tough to watch, and that pounding score makes things worse, but I guess it gets the job done. It wants us to feel what she's feeling.

My only problem with the flick is the Ghost busters like ending, with the paranormal investigators showing up to exorcise the demon with their just didnt fit the rhyme scheme for me. A spooky film, with a decidedly un-spooky ending.

Luis said...

This is an oft-overlooked gem of 80s horror and one of my personal favorites. I'm old enough to have seen it during it's original theatrical run when I was a teenager and it really freaked me out. The strange turn at the end with the scientists is rather odd but it serves to make the film original, if an exorcist had come we would have gotten yet another The Exorcist rip-off. I recently bought The Entity on DVD and am looking forward to revisiting it.

Christine Hadden said...

TFC: Totally agree with your assessment! The technical/scientific stuff got a tad bit boring for me, but the rest of the film is aces.

Luis: Absolutely correct, if they'd have went the Exorcist route it would have paled in comparison as every other film that attempts to hone in on the Exorcist's mood and story.
I had just bought it as well, it's lovely to pick up these old classics finally!