“The Entity” (1982): Misogyny and the Paranormal
The early 80’s was a golden age for horror. Many films from this time became classics that went on to help define the genre. Sidney Furie’s THE ENTITY is one film that doesn’t get talked about enough. This is hard to understand since, without THE ENTITY, we wouldn’t have the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies. James Wan is reportedly working on a remake – fitting, seeing how it was the impetus for THE CONJURING and INSIDIOUS, which also stars Barbara Hershey. The camera work and practical effects make it one of the seminal horror films from that era. I find it difficult to believe it can be improved upon.
It is no mistake that a great deal of the horror genre revolves around the victimization, rebellion and eventual liberation of women. Women are assaulted physically, sexually, spiritually and psychologically. They are forced to fight back, as the Final Girl in slasher films or in revenge films like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. Sometimes, victimization twists the female character into the monster in films like THE EYES OF MY MOTHER and AUDITION. In other films – THE ENTITY, ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE LORDS OF SALEM- there is no escape, only acceptance or transformation.
THE ENTITY, written by Frank De Felitta based on his novel, follows the story of Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey). Carla is a single, hard-working mother of three who suddenly finds herself trapped in a nightmare of physical and sexual assault by an Entity in her home that she can’t see or defend herself from. The Entity stalks and terrorizes her, raping her in front of her children and boyfriend; causing her to wreck her car, and following her to other locations. She seeks help from the medical community, namely condescending psychiatrist Dr. Sneiderman (Ron Silver), with no success.
After the Entity follows Carla to her friend Cindy’s (Margaret Blye) house and destroys it, the friends decide to go on the offensive and do research at the bookstore. Carla meets a couple of parapsychologists who she convinces to come to her house, and after seeing the activity, decide to help her. They begin an investigation and confrontation in which they trap the Entity, but their success turns out to be temporary. Carla comes to the realization she is on her own and there is no clear end.
THE ENTITY is based on the supposed true story of Doris Bither, who suffered attacks for years, even after several moves. In the film, Hershey’s performance is the anchor. Most of the pivotal scenes are her reacting to this invisible presence. The rape scenes occur mostly in the bedroom and bathroom, and Hershey’s vulnerability and raw terror make the brutality even more visceral and terrifying. We can’t see the Entity but we see its fingerprints, produced by concentrated air compression on Hershey’s body. Her masterful body language and expressions help create one of the most anxiety-producing films ever. Even more horrifying is a scene where Carla is raped in front of her kids and again in front of her boyfriend. They are unable to help her. No one can help her. It’s Carla against the Entity.
The music and camera work create a mood of fear, violence and control. The score, created by Charles Bernstein, is a relentless pounding assault. Cinematographer Stephen Burum uses skewed angles to show Carla being watched and stalked, and not just from the Entity. She is off balance in her own world. There is no safe haven anywhere, and the Entity isn’t the only predator.
From the beginning of the film, Carla is uneasy, hurriedly walking to her car after class in the dark. The violence starts early, without warning, when she thinks she is safe in her bedroom, and then a few days later in her bathroom. No one believes her, even when she goes to the hospital with bruises. Dr. Sneiderman focuses on her troubled past of sexual and physical abuse by her father and first husband. The camera angles with the Entity and Dr. Sneiderman are invasive; taken from above or below Carla, up close or right behind her. She is not on equal footing with anyone.
In a key scene, Carla is interrogated by Sneiderman and a room full of his colleagues. When she leaves, they coldly and sarcastically dissect her, concluding her story is simply a neurotic expression of sexual repression. The colleagues are mostly men, maybe one or two women, but they are all smoking and the more they laugh and talk the thicker the smoke cloud gets and the more they are obscured. The scene is also shot from above looking downward.
As the paranormal investigation begins, Carla starts to feel empowered. Dr. Sneiderman comes to the house to find it filled with and cameras and his reaction is more of a jealous lover than an objective doctor. The camera now shows Carla as an equal in her conversation with him, and it is clear he has overstepped boundaries. Dr. Cooley (Jacqueline Brooks) is the leader of the investigative team, and briefly becomes Carla’s ally. They conduct a strange experiment in which they create a replica of the house in a gym and monitor Carla as she moves around. Again, she becomes the observed, a rat in her own maze. Dr. Sneiderman shows up, still convinced this is all in her head and that he is her only salvation, and ends up seeing the Entity for himself. The Entity escapes, however, and Carla moves out of the house, knowing it will most likely follow. She is no longer helpless. She accepts that this is her life, but on her terms.
THE ENTITY came out in a time still coming to terms with the Women’s Movement of the ’60s and ’70s. Carla (and presumably Doris) is a character who has had to navigate misogyny and violence her whole life. She cannot escape it, although reports do say that, for Doris, the attacks finally stopped after many years and frequent moves. Carla is forced to accept that this is part of her life and she moves forward prepared for a long fight. She is no longer a victim.
(The Entity is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment.)