Cult Movie Retrospective: The Entity

Frank De Felitta established his career as a writer during the early ’50s, churning out intriguing one-off scripts for anthology television series such as Tales Of Tomorrow, Danger and Suspense. After honing his skills for the next few decades, he ultimately hit it big in 1975 with his debut novel, Audrey Rose, concerning the supposedly true story of the reincarnation of a young girl. The novel proved so popular a successful film version was produced by master director Robert Wise, released in 1975, starring Marsha Mason and Anthony Hopkins. From then on De Felitta was known as an author of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction novels, and rightfully so.

Another one of his books that got turned into a film was The Entity, directed by Sidney J. Furie and written by De Felitta himself. Despite being filmed and planned for a release in 1981, the movie was not released in worldwide theaters until September 1982 followed by the United States in February 1983. Based on “true” events, Barbara Hershey plays Carla Moran, a young mother who undergoes the terrifying experience of being raped and abused by an invisible being, an entity, if you will. Friends scoff, parapsychologists puzzle, but Carla knows what she felt. Or does she?

The original case that this film was based on centered around a woman named Doris Bither who lived in California. In 1974, two paranormal investigators – Dr. Barry Taff and Kery Gaynor – were approached in a book shop by Doris, who had overheard them talking about the paranormal. She said she had been repeatedly bothered by a ghost, or rather three ghosts, one of whom occasionally even raped her. They investigated, and with others saw lights and a green mist almost forming into a man. They also took many photos, which even skeptics find hard to explain. Obviously, claims that this is indeed a true story should be treated with caution… to say the least.

Similar to The Exorcist, Poltergeist, or more recently, The Conjuring, what makes this film effective is that it’s grounded in a reality that we can all relate to. Carla is an ordinary woman, living in an ordinary house, living an ordinary life.

The Entity Scene

Ron Silver The Entity

These attacks continue over several evenings, and the psychiatrist Sneiderman (played by Ron Silver) from whom she seeks help believes she is conjuring up the attacks from her own repressed sexuality and that her subsequent bruises are simply hysterical stigmata. He tries to convince her that her problems are psychological, the result of having hang-ups in regards to men and sex, because she was sexually abused as a child.

The relationship between Carla and Sneiderman, who simultaneously tries to get her to believe there is something wrong with her and to take him as her lover, is quite perceptive. It shows how males often try to give females the weaker inadequate position in relationships. At first it seems that Sneiderman will be the film’s hero despite playing mind games with Carla but fortunately, in a very well done scene, Carla permanently rejects him.

The Entity works best due to an outstanding performance from the brilliant Barbara Hershey. Her portrayal of Carla surely goes down in history as one of her most amazing pieces of acting, evoking huge audience sympathy for her plight, managing to stay strong-willed for the sake of her children, and eventually doing anything in her power to stop this evil thing from entering her life. It’s a shame that horror films are more or less ignored by the Academy, because Hershey really was deserving of a Best Actress Oscar nomination that year. Jane Fonda, Jill Clayburgh, Bette Midler and Sally Field were initially sought for the role; but it’s difficult to imagine anyone else filling those shoes in quite the same way.

The film’s score, courtesy of Charles Bernstein, adds a sense of tension which is used to great effect. The simplistic repeated drum beat of the attack scenes makes the subject matter all the more striking. The special effects employed are simple but are also done well as they aid the anxiety caused by the story and music. On a side-note: Bernstein’s music for the film (Bath Attack) was excerpted in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds in 2009.

Entity Scene

Barbara Hershey Entity

The great Martin Scorsese considers The Entity to be one of the scariest horror films of all time and it’s easy to understand why he feels this way. The film bluntly confronts the idea that is suggested by so many horror films but seldom spelled out – that the attack of the obligatory monster is willed by its victims, that the horrible being is an external manifestation of internal torments. Another good example of this is Jennifer Kent’s recent genre surprise, The Babadook.

In a rare interview with Rue Morgue magazine in July 2012, director Sidney J. Furie stated that he did not consider The Entity to be a horror film in spite of its extreme imagery, unsettling atmosphere and horrific plot. Instead, Furie said that he considers the film to be more of a “supernatural suspense movie.”

Also speaking with Rue Morgue in the same issue, David Labiosa (who plays Carla’s teenage son Billy), revealed that Furie dropped an entire dream sequence and plot thread from the film which featured Carla being forced by the being to have incestuous thoughts about her own son. Labiosa believes that this aspect of the film was too “controversial” and “sexually-charged” for audiences in the early ‘80s and had to be lopped. This was despite the then recently released Bernardo Bertolucci film Luna in 1979, which examined a mother-son relationship and also being from the same 20th Century Fox studio.

Overall, The Enity is a different type of horror film that puts character and emotional issues first, yet never at the cost of a disturbing or haunting fright. At the time the movie industry was throwing no-budget slasher films into theaters every quarter to make a quick buck. The Entity was (and still is) a rare breed that undoubtedly deserves to be championed.

Remember to leave your thoughts in the comment section below and never forget… “there is no escape from something you cannot see.”

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