Writer: Frank De Felitta
Cast: Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, David Labiosa, Alex Rocco
Running time: 125 mins
What’s the story: A young, single mother begins suffering sexual attacks from a malevolent unseen force. How can she convince others she is telling the truth?
What’s the verdict: Easy to see why The Entity has avoided remake treatment, despite its name-recognition title. The premise, a working class single mother is repeatedly raped by an invisible spirit, requires characters to question her story. Putting any remake in the difficult position of not believing a rape victim.
Sidney J. Furie’s film, based on a book by Frank De Felitta (who also penned the screenplay), came from a period when based-on-true-events horror was big business. Kickstarted by The Exorcist, other hits included The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (tagline “It Happened!”), The Amityville Horror, and Audrey Rose, also based on a De Felitta book.
Like The Exorcist and Amityville, The Entity is unequivocal about the veracity of Carla’s claims. Meaning she endures attacks from the room-freezing, foul-breathed incubus and psychoanalytical battering from well-meaning but wrong-headed shrinks.
Uncomfortably, the film waits less than six minutes before depicting the first assault, and features two in the first twenty minutes. The Entity presents none of the sexual violence as titillation, unlike another notorious 1982 release, Death Wish II, but Charles Bernstein’s attack theme (a thrusting kick-drum, piano and electric guitar barrage) seems crass to modern ears.
Although that attack theme has left a cultural footprint, being re-used by Tarantino in Inglourious Basterds and paid homage in Disasterpeace’s score for It Follows.
As with The Exorcist, this film attempts a documentary like balance between science and supernatural. Carla (Hershey) endures long sessions in the office of Dr. Sneiderman (Silver), reliving childhood sexual abuse she suffered from her father.
Fascinating now are the archaic methods for handling Carla’s case. Ron Silver puts his trademark slimeball act on hold, but is still a man harassing a rape victim with no female attendee on hand. Sneiderman also attempts to prevent parapsychologists from helping Carla. This, despite numerous eyewitnesses to the supernatural assaults including her son (Labiosa) and silver fox sometime-lover Jerry (Rocco, The Godfather’s Mo Green).
Sidney J. Furie has one classic to his CV, The Ipcress File, but his long career is typified by the workmanlike anonymity of Iron Eagle movies and (gulp) Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
However, for the first hour of The Entity he provides an exemplary lesson in how to shoot widescreen terror. Assisted by De Palma’s regular cinematographer Stephen H. Burum, Furie delivers a visual whirlwind of extreme canted angles, off-kilter compositions, creepy reflections, and unnerving overhead close-ups. Plus, liberal use of the split diopter (that lens that keeps extreme foreground and backgrounds in focus to disorienting effect).
All this is in place to subject Barbara Hershey’s Carla to perhaps cinema’s most sustained supernatural terrorising ever. Testament to Hershey’s dedicated performance is that not even now-hokey effects such as her breasts being invisibly kneaded elicit a giggle.
When the ghostbusters rock up, the visual style turns into a less interesting supernatural light show as they attempt to capture the spirit. Still, we want to see a modern filmmaker shoot horror the way Furie does in those earlier scenes.
There is also an interesting progression from the adults only frights of this film, to the moderately tamer gore of the same year’s Poltergeist, to the family friendly thrills of 1984’s Ghostbusters (which featured succubi to this film’s incubus).
The Entity is flawed to be sure, but worthy of rediscovery.
DISC AND EXTRAS: Anyone familiar with the film only on DVD will be dazzled at the Blu-ray transfer. Furie’s direction and Burum’s cinematography shines, with strong colours and deep blacks and those striking compositions brought vividly to the screen. Experience it on the biggest TV you can find.
An exclusive Eureka Entertainment trailer is the sole extra. A shame as a film this contentious deserves deeper reappraisal.
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