The Entity: A nerve-racking horror wringer

The Entity directed by Sidney J. FurieThe Entity directed by Sidney J. Furie

The Entity directed by Sidney J. FurieAccording to the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey of 2016, a full 80 percent of all rapes in the U.S.A. go unreported. When asked to account for this staggering statistic, 20 percent of all victims surveyed said that the reason for this lack of reporting was a fear of retaliation; 13 percent said they felt the police would be ineffective at helping them; another 13 percent said that it was a personal matter that they wished to keep private; 8 percent seemed to feel that it was no big deal (!); and, stunningly, 7 percent did not wish to get their attacker into trouble with the law. The net result is that out of every 1,000 rape attacks in this country, only five of the perpetrators ever wind up going to jail. And these statistics, as I say, are from just four years ago. So one can only imagine the stigma that a rape victim might have endured 40 years ago, and the hesitancy that that victim might have had in reporting the crime back when. But what if – bear with me here – that rape victim of the early ‘80s just happened to be the prey of an invisible demon, a supernatural whatzit? What chance could that victim possibly have of getting help from the authorities then? Well, that is precisely the conundrum faced by the lead character in Sidney J. Furie’s absolutely grueling and horrifying film The Entity. Released in the U.S. in 1983, this film is based on the real-life story of one Doris Bither, a California woman who, in 1974, claimed to have been sexually molested by the ghosts of three men. Bither’s story had been the basis for Frank De Felitta’s 1978 novel, also entitled The Entity (readers may also know him as the author of 1975’s Audrey Rose), and his screenplay for the film is a terrific one, indeed.

In the film, the viewer is introduced to Carla Moran (superbly portrayed by Barbara Hershey), a single mother of three who, when we first encounter her, is holding down an office job by day and going to typing school at night. Carla’s life is given a completely unexpected jolt one evening when, sitting alone in her bedroom, she is given a resounding slap by an invisible hand; a slap that brings the blood out from her lip. She is then thrown onto her bed, raped and penetrated by this same invisible being. Afterwards, the hysterical Carla bundles her three kids into the car and spends the night at the house of her best friend Cindy (Margaret Blye). The next day, while driving to work, her car is taken over by the being (we see the gas pedal depressed with no foot on it) and Carla is almost killed. Desperate for help, she agrees to see a psychiatrist (curiously enough, the idea of calling in the cops is never even considered; but really, what law officer would believe her?), and thus meets a university intern named Dr. Phil Sneiderman (an excellent Ron Silver).

The doctor seems to feel that these happenings are merely Carla’s childhood traumas (paternal sexual abuse) and a history of bad relationships manifesting themselves physically somehow, but Carla is unconvinced … and neither is the viewer. The poor woman is later raped again as she tries to take a relaxing bath, and still again while she sleeps. In what is perhaps the film’s most stunning sequence, Carla is attacked in front of her two young daughters, while her teenaged son tries to help her, resulting in a psychedelic display of electrical discharges emitted by the invisible demon, and a broken wrist for the unfortunate lad. At the end of her rope, and despairing of getting any kind of real help from the medical profession, Carla is overjoyed when she bumps into a pair of parapsychologists in a bookstore, who believe her story of an invisible attacker. These two occult researchers bring in an entire team of like-minded folks from the university, and plans are made to photograph, study, and ultimately trap the rampaging monstrosity … not an easy proposition, as things turn out…

The Entity, I should say right here, is an absolutely harrowing, nerve-racking film that puts the viewer through the proverbial wringer. It is often quite frightening and always suspenseful, and the main reason for those frights and suspense is that the viewer can never tell when another terrible attack on Carla might commence, to the accompaniment of Charles Bernstein’s horrifying (but quite apropos) pile-driver music. The viewer is thus always in a state of edgy readiness, as is poor Carla. This viewer can always tell when a horror film is doing an effective job by the number of times a cold tingle goes down his spine – most horror films, I should add, do not give me a single shiver – and The Entity managed to do that job any number of times. The fact that this film is supposedly based on a true story only adds to the frissons to be had. Thus, I was not that surprised to read that no less a film authority as Martin Scorsese has listed The Entity as his 4th scariest film of all time. There are numerous factors that combine to make the film the horrifying thrill ride that it is.

First, of course, is the very fine work from Canadian director Furie (I had previously enjoyed two of his other horror outings, both from Britain and from 1961, those being Doctor Blood’s Coffin and The Snake Woman), who keeps the viewer firmly gripped for the entire length of his two-plus-hour film, utilizing off-kilter camera angles and effective close-up shots. Cinematographer Stephen Burum, who had worked on the film Apocalypse Now three years earlier, also turns in some very fine work here; his shots of Carla’s face as she lies in bed, with the shadows of the trees flickering on her face, are truly artful and beautiful to look upon. And then there is that truly unsettling score by Bernstein, whose pounding, relentless, raucous quality perfectly matches the horrors we witness on screen. Effects in the film are surprisingly successful, especially those involving Carla’s body being manipulated and caressed by the entity (Hershey did not appear nude in the film; a body double was used, and images of her nipples being played with by the horror were brought about using a latex dummy).

But best of all is Hershey herself, who gives us a tremendous performance here in what must have been a very difficult role. She is fully invested here and thoroughly believable. This is practically an Oscar-caliber performance, and really should have been nominated for that prize; too bad that Academy Awards were never even considered for performances in horror pictures until The Silence of the Lambs shattered that convention in 1991. Her fellow actors also turn in fine work here, especially, as I mentioned, Silver, whose doctor character is seen by the viewer as both well-meaning but ultimately wrongheaded; we eagerly await his realization that Carla has been telling the truth about this invisible demon all along. Kudos also to actor Alex Rocco (who most will recall as Moe Greene from 1972’s The Godfather), who plays Carla’s current, older boyfriend, and who is given several very well-done scenes toward the film’s end.

The Entity was hardly a box office success when first released here in the States, pulling in $13 million in ticket sales after being produced for $9 million. It was greeted with inevitable protests from various women’s groups, which were understandably appalled at the picture’s subject matter. In retrospect, however, that outrage seems misplaced. The rape sequences in this film are hardly eroticized, and are all shown to be truly terrifying in nature. Plus, the film features a very strong female lead in Carla Moran, whose grit, smarts and determination are shown in a much better light than the obtuseness of most of the males who surround her. This is hardly an exploitative film – at least, I do not view it as such – but rather, one that is guaranteed to stun and frighten even the most hard-core horror fan. As the film fades out, we are told that Carla, like the real-life Doris Bither, was ultimately forced to leave her home and relocate to another state, where the attacks on her continued, although with diminishing frequency and severity. It is a horrifying thought to wrap up an already horrifying film.

Throughout the picture, the viewer is constantly bombarded with the notion that all the terrors we are privy to might just be delusions coming from Carla’s mind, with no outside, objective reality. Dr. Sneiderman and others keep telling her that over and over. But we viewers never quite believe it. From that very first slap, to the homicidal car ride, to the repeated attacks and body manipulations, and all the way to the chilling sound of the demon’s voice in that very last scene, we know that we are in the bona fide presence of some eldritch evil here, as does Carla. And the knowledge is a chilling one … as is the sure knowledge that aid from both the law and the medical profession will be unavailing. All horror fans really do need to pounce on this one. “A Story So Shocking, So Threatening, It Will Frighten You Beyond All Imagination,” the film’s original advertising poster had proclaimed, and for once, the ballyhoo was not far from the truth…


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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3 comments

  1. Oh, I’ll pass on this one. I’m sure it’s well done, but nothing I want to see.

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