At first glimpse, the premise for The Entity seems so tacky that it could only be lurid exploitation: simply put, it’s a movie about a woman who becomes the sexual target of a poltergeist. However, if you’re brave enough to see the film, you’ll discover that there’s a humanity beneath the scares and a genuinely intelligent approach to the paranormal here.
The Entity tells the tale of Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey), a single mom whose attempts to better herself are rudely interrupted when she fights herself under periodic attacks from an unseen presence that sexually assaults her. Fearing her sanity, she turns to psychiatrist Phil Sneidermann (Ron Silver). He tries to convince her that her condition is rooted in her past romantic traumas – sexual abuse in her childhood and the bad relationships that followed – but such speculation is cold comfort when she lives in constant fear of being assaulted.
Carla’s luck finally changes when she becomes involved with a group of parapsychologists who see and believe the phenomena around her. They hatch a plan to trap the spirit tormenting her, leading to an unusually high-tech finale for a story like this (there’s an unusual coda, too).
The big surprise about The Entity is that it works hard to make the viewer take it seriously. Frank DeFelitta’s script – an adaptation of his novel, which took its basis from a real case – balances its shock tactics with believable recreations of everyday life. Credible characterizations and dialogue are used to anchor the story so that when the shocks come, they are doubly effective. It’s also interesting to note that the script has a surprising feminist bent to it: most men in positions of authority in this tale (especially husbands) are depicted as domineering types and the parapsychology school that helps Moran is the only one led by a woman.
The Entity further benefits from vigorous direction by Sidney J. Furie. This filmmaker has often been the whipping boy of film critics for his love of canted angles and other visual affectations but his oddball aesthetic fits this tale like a glove, echoing how the worldview of the main character has been set on its ear. Stephen Burum’s cinematography uses shadows to great effect and the setpieces are edited in a breathless, nerve-jangling style by Frank Urioste. The final piece of the stylistic puzzle is the driving score by Charles Bernstein: the attack scenes are scored with a thumping one-note piece guaranteed to jangle the nerves and the main theme has a Philip Glass-ish obsessive minimalism to it.
However, the key to the effectiveness of The Entity lies in the performances. Hershey is fantastic, using her earthiness and natural warmth to make Carla Moran a deeply sympathetic heroine. She plays the tale straight, never lapsing into melodramatics and making the character’s journey from fear to despair to self- generated strength all the more compelling in its subtlety. Silver also turns in a really great performance as a man who is sincere in his desire to help but blinded by the dogma of his own profession. The scenes where he verbally duels psychology vs. parapsychology with Hershey are the non-horror highlights of the film.
In short, don’t let the premise here turn you off. The Entity deals with its dark subject matter in an uncompromising yet thoughtful manner and it’s one of the overlooked gems of ’80s horror.
Blu-Ray Notes: your best choice for this title is the Scream Factory blu-ray. It looks and sounds great, carries over a great featurette from the old Anchor Bay DVD and adds an array of new extras including interviews and a commentary track.