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December 2, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #48 - The Entity

I know this will sound silly, but lately I've been  experiencing some strange phenomena.  For the last two or three weeks there have been several times when I'm in bed, trying to fall asleep, and the door to my bedroom starts shaking as if some very weak force is trying to beat down the door.  I live alone and have no pets (RIP  to my beloved fish, Catherine Betta Jones), so I know there's nothing there...but the door rattles anyway.  I figure it's probably just a combination of the upstairs neighbors' movement and my building being an ancient hellhole (structurally, not spiritually), but it continues to happen even when I can't hear movement above me.  And part of me kind of thinks it's something like The Entity.
Yes, The Entity.  That 1983 chiller in which Barbara Hershey - she who melted the heart of Gene Hackman's Coach Norman Dale in the undefeatable classic Hoosiers - is terrorized and repeatedly raped by an unseen force.  It sounds ridiculous, but that's really what the film boils down to.  There are lots of hauntings and poltergeists and such in films that are out there, but this is the one in which Barbara Hershey gets raped a lot.  (Random Fact: Despite how silly it sounds, the film is based on the real accounts of a woman who claims to have gone through a similar ordeal in 1976, and family members have stated that the film is relatively accurate in portraying what they perceived.)

As I seem to be doing my best to diminish the film's plot, you might think that The Entity is an exploitative mess; the kind of film I would recommend only due to factors like ridiculousness and cheesiness.  I guess that's partially true - the film is full of ridiculous things like the overbearing score and the actor that plays Hershey's mongoloid eldest son.  I had kind of dismissed the film on these grounds as a younger Mike, but a recent revisit has me thinking a little more about the whole thing.
The largest factor in this dramatic reconsideration is Hershey's performance as our lead character, Carla Moran.  A single mother (Subtle reminder to join on FMWL's Mothers of Horror fun!) with children from two different fathers who can't seem to catch a break, Carla could easily have been portrayed as a whiny, terrified invalid by other actresses.  What Hershey does in the role reaches a fine balance by showing her terror and still empowering her as a strong-willed woman against the world.  She deals with a slew of different people from doctors (led by the awesome Ron Silver and his marvelous beard/hair combo) to researchers who don't know how to deal with the entity, and does so with as much grace is possible while repeatedly being victimized by something no one else believes in.
As Carla deals with these people, there are plenty of uncomfortable issues that come up.  Silver's Dr. Sneiderman wants to look into her past relationships while his colleagues blame masturbation.  At one point, it's even suggested that her oldest son - who the Doc calls a "good looking young man", despite the fact he's got a weird head - is somehow involved in her sexual dilemma.  Carla's sexual desires are a key part of her journey, and a surprise mid-film attack in which she receives more pleasure than she expects leaves her more terrified than ever.  The script, by Dark Night of the Scarecrow director Frank De Felitta, really fleshes out the character's plight as she deals with the intrusive side of her abuser.  And when this focus on human psychology combines with Hershey's strong presence (Seriously, I just love her) in the lead, The Entity overcomes most of its silly problems.
Since we're discussing a movie consisting of many rapes, it's worth noting that the film isn't very brutal by today's standards.  For the time, however, The Entity was a controversy.  20th Century Fox produced the film in 1981, but didn't release it in America until February of 1983 due to the content.  (I'm not sure what exactly changed during those two years to make shapeless rape acceptable, but I'm grateful it changed.) The effects involved include a latex "body double" for a couple of the most invasive scenes, and we certainly get a full shot of what Ms. Hershey's Stepford-self would look like naked.  It's no surprise that the great Stan Winston was involved in creating some of the film's effects, because they're effective and quite practical.  The effects wouldn't work without Hershey working along side them, however, which is another example of how she carries the film.

(Random Fact: A video game based on The Entity was made for the Atari in 1983, but never released.  I can't even begin to imagine how that game would have worked.)
At 125 minutes The Entity might just be the longest horror movie ever made (OK, slight exaggeration), and there are some lulls in the action.  But amidst all the silliness and the pounding music and that weirdly shaped son, there's Hershey and Silver being ridiculously human at the heart of the film.  As the film uses this grasp on humanity, there are plenty of moments that provoke both strong fear and intelligent thought during Carla's ordeal.  Despite all the times I want to laugh at it - including a final line from the entity that is unintentional comedy gold - I find myself consistently loving The Entity a little more with age.  It's a one of a kind horror film that only could exist at the crossroads of the '70s and '80s, and I think any fan of that era in horror should find it compelling in some way.


Malice said...

I remember this!

At one point, I think I described it as a Lifetime movie for Horror, but I meant that in a good way. It was rather intelligent and though it was long, it captivated me.
Barbara Hershey always floors me, and this role was no exception. She's fantastic.

However, the mention of a video game caused me to lose about 11 minutes of time in which I attempted to imagine such a thing.

deadlydolls said...

I loved Hershey in this film and was totally involved for that first hour, but once the paranormal investigators came in, the film just died for me. Very similar to Audrey Rose in that way, it seemed so much more concerned with showing how 'real' this was when really, the most interesting thing was Hershey's interactions with her psychiatrist. Really annoyed me, as I felt the film wasted some great potential and performances in favor of a ghost story.

Andre Dumas said...

I don't know The and really long movies don't really mix well...!!

The Mike said...

Malice - That's a great description of it! And yeah, the video game thing...that just boggles my mind.

Emily - I can definitely see that, and I totally agree that the best parts are when she's involved with the psychological side. It seems like all the stuff with the paranormal people was to set up the effects scenes.

Andre - The length is my biggest hurdle too, I actually watched it broken up over two days this time. Not saying my attention span's that bad, might be.

Soiled Sinema said...

I actually suffered chills from the first attack. That pounding soundtrack really does it for me.