The Entity is one of those wonderful films from the era of big-budget, mainstream horror filmmaking based on popular novels – following on from the venerable likes of The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, through to Demon Seed and beyond. The film in synopsis sounds, now, like that kind of film that would struggle to get made in such a mainstream setting, or at least would result in a myriad of hot-takes before it even hits a big screen (probably from myself included). The film is inspired by the true story of Doris Bither, a woman who claimed to have been repeatedly assaulted and tormented by supernatural entities. In the film, Barbara Hershey plays hard-working single-mother Carla Moran, who is, one evening, raped in her home by an unseen assailant. The attacks continue, threatening her life and her sanity. When the doctors trying to help her insist on uncovering a rational explanation for what’s happening to her, Carla turns to parapsychologists she meets at a book shop. Finally finding support from people who believe her, Carla agrees to take part in a dangerous solution: luring and entrapping the entity.
That slightly uncomfortable feeling of wondering just how appropriate an early-80s depiction of spectral rape could be is underlined by the hideously exploitative full-body version of what I think is old VHS artwork for the film being used on this Blu-ray menu screen; which is a damn shame because, although The Entity sure sounds like it could be arch-exploitation, it’s far from it, and continuing to use artwork to promote it as such (even within the confine of someone who’s already bought the disc, with a marginally more tasteful cover) seems a bit of a shame. I do wonder if, had Eureka released this on their Masters of Cinema label, the choice of artwork – and by extension the framing of the film – might have been slightly different.
The film is practically a masterclass on how to sensitively portray rape without shying away from the horror of it. The film is quite graphic on occasion and even then the emphasis is on the abject terror of what’s happening. Hershey’s role is one of those that would be described as ‘brave’ if a modern actress took it on, and she is wonderfully sympathetic as Carla. The film wastes no time in establishing her as a character through its opening montage, and that early sympathy is entirely carried by Hershey the rest of the way. Although Carla faces disbelief from many other characters, and even though some might be inclined to agree with the more rational approaches to her experiences, the film never once allows us to be anything less than sympathetic to what’s happening to her.
As a film depicting the repeated trauma of a vulnerable woman, the film does a wonderful job of showing the incessant disbelief that she might face, without ever over-egging the point. Her best friend questions her, the psychiatrist questions her – although they might be dubious of the seemingly supernatural element of what she describes, it makes for a wonderful stand-in for the sort of repeated explanation and questioning an assaulted woman often has to make. Naturally there’s a strong sense of the Freudian to the film, overtly with Carla’s discussions with Dr. Sneiderman (Ron Silver), but as a whole too. Although Sneiderman is, ultimately, patronising and dismissive of Carla’s genuine experiences, right ‘til the last, that’s not to say that the formative traumas of Carla’s life that he uncovers aren’t partly the reason the entity has attached itself to her.
The paranormal element of the film is of course what makes it memorable, and the presence of the entity (or entities?) is presented subtly and effectively. The wonderful score by Charles Bernstein certainly helps add menace to the unseen presence. While most of the attacks on Carla are filmed in very tight close-up, with a strong emphasis on her face, some of the film’s most distressing sequences make use of incredible visual effects. Overall, though, the film’s emphasis is very much on the psychological terror of Carla, and the film is hugely successful in portraying her fear and horror. There are some wonderfully subtle nods to the issues touched on in the film – Carla’s friend Cindy (Margaret Blye) has an unsympathetic husband, George (Michael Aldredge), someone we hear, off-screen, more often than we see him on screen, only revealed during a pivotal sequence in which Cindy witnesses an attack on Carla. Further underlining the general failure of men in Carla’s life is her boyfriend Jerry (Alexander Rocco), who runs away as soon as he realises the extent of what’s wrong, because it makes him feel bad. At least Dr. Sneiderman appears to care for Carla, but, ultimately, he doesn’t believe her. It’s Carla’s final ability to believe in herself that saves the day, even if Sneiderman might seem to get to do the heroics.
The Entity is a great film to revisit, impressively un-aged even 35 years after release. This release only features a trailer as a special feature, but the Blu-ray transfer looks and sounds wonderful, so it’s worth the upgrade if you’re so inclined. Something that’s been reassuring to find out in revisiting The Entity is that at least three other people I know tend to confuse it with Demon Seed, even having seen both films. Taking the idea of a haunting but placing on it a relatively modern – or at least secular – spin, The Entity is an effective exploration of human psychology as much as it’s a terrifying depiction of the supernatural.
The Entity is released to DVD and Blu-ray on 15th May, from Eureka Entertainment.