Monday, June 10, 2019

THE ENTITY (1982) Blu-ray review

The Entity (1982) d. Sidney J. Furie (USA) (125 min)

Based on a documented case study from 1974, Barbara Hershey turns in a brave, harrowing performance as Carla Moran, a widow who is repeatedly raped by a trio of invisible forces, and then struggles to convince others that her plight is real. Her best friend (Margaret Blye), dubious about Carla’s claims, refers her to a sympathetic but arrogant psychiatrist, Dr. Schneiderman (Ron Silver), who attempts to explain away the attacks as a form of self-hating hysteria brought on by childhood trauma. As the spectral assaults continue and escalate, even occurring in front of her children, Carla finally recruits a team of parapsychologists who set out to document and ultimately vanquish the unseen foe.

I’ve often said that, in the same way that you can’t step in the same river twice, you can’t watch a movie again with the same eyes. The films don’t change, but we do, and revisiting this supernatural thriller in these days of #MeToo, that axiom seems doubly true. When I first encountered The Entity on home video, nearly two decades after its controversial 1982 premiere, I found it problematic both thematically and stylistically. Charles Bernstein’s (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Cujo) melodramatic musical cues that accompany the sexually voracious poltergeist encounters struck me as overheated, with the script by Frank De Felitta (adapting his own novel, as he did with Audrey Rose) teetering uncomfortably between realistic drama and stomach-churning exploitation material. I also found Stan Winston and James Kagel’s effects of breasts being mauled by unseen hands unconvincing if memorable, and the dialogue of the parapsychologists (played by Jacqueline Brooks, Richard Brestoff, and Raymond Singer) who finally come to Carla’s aid painfully stilted at times.

More importantly, however, I felt highly manipulated. The premise, by its very nature, is undeniably horrific, and I felt that, as a viewer, I had been placed in the position of waiting, even HOPING, for Carla to be attacked again and again for my viewing pleasure. After all, that’s what I came for, right? I had rented a film about a supernatural rapist – what was I expecting? While I suppose some viewers can distance themselves from the material, “enjoying” it on a purely escapist level, I could not help but question my own morality. Why was I here? Why had I chosen to watch this movie, knowing what it was about? Was I a not-so-secret sadist? What kind of sensational catharsis was I hoping to enjoy by watching a dramatization of another human enduring undeserved and unrelenting suffering? Despite the fact that my beloved genre has seen innumerable onscreen murders and mutilations committed in the name of entertainment over the decades, somehow fictionalized paranormal rape was on a different level.

In 2004, I justified my decision by saying that I was a “serious horror fan” and, as such, I had an obligation to seek out any and all genre releases of note. I duly recorded that I didn’t enjoy the experience, that I found the film equal parts offensive and repetitive, and I dismissed it as so many other critics had done upon its theatrical release.

Because it wasn’t fun.
Because it wasn’t scary in a traditional sense.
Because some of the effects were hokey.
Because it raised questions I could not answer.
Because I had other movies to watch.
And I moved on.

15 years after my initial encounter, Shout! Factory has released The Entity to Blu-ray. The world does not feel the same as it did in 2004, nor do I feel like the same person, or even the same horror fan. In the realm of cinematic consumption, my tastes and tolerances have expanded while the opposite could said to be true for my feelings regarding the real world. I possess infinitely less patience for the victimization, objectification, and subjugation of women, such that I have become a certified women’s self-defense instructor and have partnered with organizations dedicated to ending sexual violence and harassment. I actively seek to be an ally in any way that I can while openly acknowledging my privilege as a Straight White Male with Good Intentions.

So, in 2019, as I watch a woman being sexually assaulted over and over and over onscreen, in the supposed safety of her house, in her bedroom, in her bathtub, in her living room in front of her children, and then I watch that same woman disbelieved by doctors (several of whom are female) and authority figures and friends (again, some of whom are female), I can’t help but recognize the real-world allegory.

You see, Silver (Silent Rage, Blue Steel) is very convincing as the psychiatrist who believes that it is all in her head, but as strongly as he makes his case, I have already seen the entity in action, therefore Schneiderman’s frequent lengthy “logical” explanations fail to create doubt or tension. Instead, I hate him for not believing her, for being a “good guy” who “just has her best interest at heart” while mansplaining away her emotionally traumatizing experience. De Felitta invests an inordinate amount of time in their relationship and their sessions, and while Schneiderman becomes the ostensible villain for the piece, he still remains a well-drawn, three-dimensional character (the only other one in the film) who seems genuinely invested in Carla’s well-being. He just doesn’t believe her story.


We believe her. We know it is happening to her. Yet, as passive viewers, our voices cannot be heard. We are helpless allies. No reason is ever given for the attacks. They are seemingly random.

And the realization comes: This is already happening. Right now. In the world.

And then the other realization comes: If this is happening to her, it could happen to us.

Minus the supernatural trappings, women are regularly assaulted and disbelieved and told that, on one level or another, they are doing it to themselves or they somehow are at fault. Every Single Day. Because to believe their stories would mean admitting that there is a very real problem, one that seems insurmountable, one that requires a solution as opposed to a mere explanation, one that requires a shift in power and a true alliance with the survivors and a disruption of the status quo. And that’s not something we’re prepared to deal with today.

So we don’t. Instead, we sit and watch passively, knowing that eventually the credits will roll and we can stand up, dust off the popcorn crumbs, and try to think about something else.

However, the sheer realism, high-quality production values, and Hershey’s powerful, tour-de-force performance (her first major lead role since 1972’s Boxcar Bertha directed by Martin Scorsese and produced by Roger Corman) combined with today’s more “woke” environment only make the finished product more troubling and less easy to dismiss as mere escapist entertainment. While I seriously doubt that De Felitta and Furie were actively preoccupied with presenting an anti-rape/victim-blaming allegory, the fact remains that viewers are put in the position such that we cannot deny the attacks are happening and we are forced to endure them alongside Carla. Furie does not pan away to an open window or slam the door to shield us from the ordeal.

Now, Meir Zarchi, with his 1978 exploitation effort, I Spit on Your Grave, states that the reason he made the onscreen rapes of Jennifer so prolonged and frequent and center stage was to force the audience to watch, to accept their complicity in the act. (24 years later, Gaspar Noe would make the same claim regarding Irreversible’s unbroken nine-minute tunnel rape scene.) And it is here that we must question whether these claims are genuine or are they simply an attempt to justify the sensational material, to have their proverbial cake and eat it too.

I don’t know that these themes were in the mind of De Felitta and Furie when they created the movie over 25 years ago. I don’t recall any grand defense of their film and its sexual politics at the time, and my belief is that they were more intrigued by the notion of supernatural assault and the dramatic opportunities it presented. (Plus, there is also the claim that De Felitta was already following Doris Bither’s case – the California woman on whom Carla Moran is based – and simply recorded the incidents as they occurred… until he got to the “capture the poltergeist” conclusion, which he conceived wholesale along with parapsychologist Barry Taff.) Nevertheless, the resulting product is one that can be read as either high-profile exploitation material or a plea for assault-survivor empathy, depending on the viewer’s frame of mind, and should make for some interesting post-screening discussions. (I know it did at the Doc’s house.)

Turning the attention back to the creative team, Furie (who got his start doing two low-budget horror flicks, Dr. Blood’s Coffin and The Snake Woman, both 1961) and producer Harold Schneider (WarGames, Days of Heaven) managed to assemble a fantastic assortment of collaborators to bring the heightened scenario to life.

Production designer Charles Rosen (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Empire of the Ants) and editor Frank J. Urioste (Amityville 3-D, Die Hard, Robocop, Deep Blue Sea) join forces with Stephen H. Burum, De Palma’s go-to cinematographer from Body Double (1984) through Mission to Mars (2000). (Note the multitude of split-diopter shots employed throughout The Entity’s running time.) Burum, who lensed the underrated Scream Bloody Murder and Death Valley early in his career before working on such well-received Hollywood efforts as Rumble Fish, Uncommon Valor, and War of the Roses, perfectly complements Furie’s penchant for unusual camera angles, executing them with panache and confidence, creating a sense of unease in the most banal of situations.

Stan Winston is decidedly the better known name, but James Kagel shares equal credit in creating the special effects makeup effects (most notably the pneumatics operating on Hershey’s prone naked faux form). Kagel has been in the trenches on some the best (The Thing, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Child’s Play, Deep Rising) and, ahem, less successful (Parasite, Howling II) genre efforts, so it’s a little surprising that he is not more of a household name among fans. Meanwhile, William Cruse and Joe Lombardi shoulder a fair amount of the wow-factor with their animated ectoplasmic light shows and explosive special effects (soooooo many window and mirrors shattering), although the green blob finale has not weathered the years as well.

The Entity is a slightly overlong, technically daring (for the time), and frequently problematic horror effort that challenges viewers to emotionally invest in its fantastic premise, which, thanks to Hershey’s stellar turn and the cutting-edge special effects, is easier than not. Working against that investment are Bernstein’s musical cues; while dramatic, they almost push the episodes into camp, disconnecting us from the truth of the moments by overly heightening them. I’m optimistic enough to believe that modern-day viewers will be able to identify the underlying message of survivorship and empowerment through the simple message of “I believe you,” and that perhaps the film can be a means to starting important, valuable conversations as opposed to merely distracting us from the daily horrors of real life.

We shall see.

Trivia: David Labiosa, playing Carla Moran’s son broke his wrist while filming a scene where he attempts to defend his mother from the invisible force, and the injury had to be written into the script. Doris Bither’s son’s arm was also broken during one of the attacks.

Trivia: Jane Fonda, Jill Clayburgh, Bette Midler, and Sally Field were approached for the role of Carla Moran, all declining for various reasons.


NEW Audio Commentary with author/filmmaker Daniel Kremer (Sidney J. Furie: Life and Films)

NEW “Inner Strength” with actress Barbara Hershey (19 min)

NEW “Seeing Is Believing” with actor David Labiosa (13 min)

NEW “High Dread” with composer Charles Bernstein (17 min)

NEW “Spirits & Sprocket Holes” with editor Frank J. Urioste (12 min)

"The Entity Files" – celebrated parapsychologist Barry Taff discusses the real-life case study that inspired the novel and film (28 min)

Trailers From Hell - The Entity with audio commentary by Luca Guadagnino (2 min)

Theatrical Trailer

TV Spots

Radio Spots

Still Gallery

The Entity is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:


No comments:

Post a Comment