A woman endures a series of sexual assaults carried out by an unseen presence.
Review by Eric Hillis
Directed by: Sidney J Furie
Starring: Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, David Labiosa, Alex Rocco
Just as most mainstream critics regard 1939 as Hollywood's finest year, genre fans hold 1982 in the same reverence. It was the year that gave us sci-fi and horror gems like The Thing, Blade Runner and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. The big hit of course was Spielberg's E.T., so big in fact that it severely damaged the profits of many of the other genre movies released in its immediate wake. As producer (and arguably as director), Spielberg scored another touchdown that summer with the supernatural thriller Poltergeist. Not quite so successful was the similarly themed The Entity, which just about turned a profit after its US release was considerably delayed to avoid clashing with Spielberg's dual juggernauts.
John Carpenter attributes the box office failure of The Thing to the general appetite for feelgood genre offerings sparked by E.T., and this could account for the poor reception of Sidney J Furie's film, a decidedly dark and adult ghost story.
The Entity is adapted by screenwriter Frank De Felitta from his own novel, based on claims by a Californian mother of three of repeated sexual abuse at the hands of the ghosts of a trio of men. In the film this character is Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey), a single mother who seems to be getting her life on track after a serious of relationships with useless suitors and having suffered the unwanted physical attentions of her minister father as a child.
One night while in her bedroom, Carla is attacked by an unseen presence which pins her to her bed and sexually violates her. At first she naturally assumes her attacker is human, but neither herself nor her teenage son, Billy (David Labiosa), can find any trace of an intruder. The same night, objects begin to fly around her room of their own accord. When the next day an unseen presence takes control of her car, Carla is convinced she is being harassed by an entity not of this world.
From this point on, Furie's film begins to serve as a somewhat on-the-nose but nevertheless worthwhile exploration of the secondary trauma experienced by rape victims, that of their allegations being questioned by those they seek comfort from. Carla begins to see a psychiatrist, Dr Phil Sneiderman (Ron Silver), who writes her off as simply emotionally unstable while attempting to worm his way into her affections. Dr Phil is as much the movie's villain as the titular presence itself, the classic creepy male who sees a woman in trouble as a chance to add a notch to his bedpost.
I'm unqualified to declare The Entity a feminist tract, but men don't come off too well here. Carla's current beau, Jerry (Alex Rocco), is as sleazy as they come, and bails on her as soon as he realises what his lover is enduring. Even the pair of nerdy young para-psychologists (Richard Brestoff and Raymond Singer) she invites to her home turn to jelly when the spooky sparks begin to fly, while their female superior (Jacqueline Brookes) holds it together. The only male of any use to Carla is her son, who suffers a broken arm while attempting to intervene in one of the assaults. Furie is said to have filmed a dream sequence in which Carla has an incestuous fantasy regarding Billy, and the character's role was cut down after actor Labiosa broke his arm for real while filming (the curse of The Entity at play?).
Of course, this is an early '80s horror movie, so it's not without its exploitative elements. Hershey's body double for the nude scenes is so endowed that it's all too clear it's not the star herself stripping down, and there's the famous sequence in which Carla's invisible assailant fondles her breasts, a Stan Winston effect that looked convincing on muddy VHS transfers back in the day, but in this 1080p presentation doesn't hold up quite so well.
Furie is regarded as a Hollywood journeyman, but he does some admirable work here, maintaining a tone of stark reality in a story-line that could have easily devolved into trashy softcore titillation. I'm a sucker for a split diopter shot (a technique that allows both foreground and background to appear in sharp focus), and The Entity boasts several that Brian De Palma, the king of the split diopter, would approve of. The climactic neon-lit sequence, involving an elaborate and hare-brained plan to trap the spirit in liquid helium, is staged with some aplomb, and looks fantastic on Eureka Entertainment's blu-ray.
James Wan is clearly a big fan of Furie's film. His Insidious series contains several nods to The Entity, chiefly the idea of a ghost that haunts a person rather than a physical space. He provided a role for Hershey in his film, and Insidious' trio of psychic investigators - a capable older woman flanked by two geeky young men - is lifted straight from the 1982 movie. Poorly marketed and misunderstood at the time of its release, The Entity is ripe for rediscovery by a new, more socially informed generation of horror fans.
Disappointingly, all we get is a trailer and optional English subtitles.
The Entity is released on blu-ray May 15th from Eureka Entertainment.