Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Entity (1981)

Country: USA

In the wake of The Amityville Horror (1979) a ridiculous clunky haunted house film which purported to be based on true events, a number of horror films tried to use the same trick to sell tickets and add legitimacy to the sadistic events played out in the film. The Entity is one of the more sadistic poltergeist/haunted house films to see the light of day, but this hasn’t stopped its descent into cinematic obscurity. Unlike Poltergeist (1982) which revelled in and celebrated its fantasy elements (and is all the more enjoyable for it) The Entity is solemn and takes itself way to seriously - especially when you consider that the premise is simply suburban single mum gets raped and sexually molested by an invisible demon/poltergeist/spirit (the film is unclear as to what it actually is). The film is pretty unclear on just about everything, and the final message is confused. Unusually the film offers no clear cut answers to the paranormal events, but its position is clearly with that of the parapsychologists who emerge as unlikely heroes in the face of academic snobbery.

Carla Moran (played with grace and dignity by Barbara Hershey) is a hardworking single mother of three children, one of whom is grown up. By day she works and by night she studies at college. She struggles to make the payments on the house and spends her spare time pining for her lover, who is away on business most of the time. In other words Carla appears to be totally undeserving of the molestations she endures. The first attack is shocking, simply because it is so unexpected and so vicious and violent with the filmmakers leave nothing to the imagination. This entity is an abusive and violent rapist. The film never quite lives up to this opening, which establishes both Carla’s innocent and hardworking nature and her sudden status as victim. The screenplay is unable to resist the clichés of the form and we get plenty of shaking mirrors, broken ornaments and slamming doors. Unfortunately the impact of this imagery is destroyed by a thumping soundtrack which strikes up every time the entity is up to no good.

Naturally Carla is soon at the end of her tether and turns to the psychologists of a college in downtown Los Angeles to solve her problems. As with most films of this type the forces of rationality are totally sceptical of the events that Carla recounts and after some digging become convinced that she is merely exorcising a deep seated fear of sex she has repressed since childhood. The implications of a sexually abusive and deeply religious father is too much for the Freudian psychoanalysts to resist. The chief perpetrator of this scepticism is the bearded Dr. Sneiderman (Ron Silver) who takes an unhealthy and almost obsessive interest in Carla and dismisses the paranormal experts as little more than geeks. The divisions and snobbery within an academic environment offers an interesting layer to the proceedings, and shows that campus politics are a vital element of the running of such an institution. Carla is pretty much used as a pawn on this academic battleground, its quite clear that both sides are seeking to discredit the other to aid their own legitimacy.

The scepticism of the psychologists becomes wearying and tiresome and they are unwilling to believe even when numerous witnesses step forward. Even more stupidly they are unwilling to believe when they witness the phenomena themselves. The film revels in the failure of psychoanalysis, but indicates ultimately that the pig headed hypocrisy of self serving academic disciplines will result in the status quo being maintained. The finale is one of the silliest aspects of the film, as the parapsychologists create a mock up of Carla’s home and attempt to isolate the entity in liquid helium. But this is just one in a long line of absurdities. The special effects at the end are very unconvincing and crude, which is somewhat surprising considering a major studio was behind the film. In conclusion this is a mean spirited film and instead of offering explanation it uses the events to create more division. The human cost is quickly swept aside but a special mention must go to Barbara Hershey for a powerful portrayal of a pressured and fragmenting feminine presence that is able to absorb the slings and arrows of patriarchal ignorance.

© Shaun Anderson 2010


  1. Yeah, I remember this one, the rape scenes are schocking, specially with that pounding guitar riff we hear every time the ghost attacks the woman.

    The movie takes it self seriously like you say, but then dives into ghostbusters territory in the last frames.

    Not a bad movie. Im not religious, but this one had me hearing things at night after I saw it! I think this one came as a result of the success of films like The Omen, The Exorcist and Poltergeist. You know, that whole batch of films with heavy supernatural elements.

  2. I agree Franco - I'd also nominate THE AMITYVILLE HORROR as another major influence. Its the whole true story angle that became very popular in the wake of Jay Anson's AMITYVILLE novel. A friend of mine really likes this film (and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR)but I havent got a lot of time for either of them.

    In terms of truly creepy and scary ghost or haunted house films look no further than THE INNOCENTS and original Robert Wise's THE HAUNTING. I also have a soft spot for THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE.

  3. I always remember liking this one more than I really do, it has its moments but I really dont like the ending in the staged household, it removes the small look and feel for my taste

  4. Greg Stuart Smith20 May 2011 at 09:25

    Shaun -- Believe it or not, I'd forgotten all about this one. Well, I guess you never truly forget "all about" a film - when you least expect it, trace images of them will come roaring back into your mind's eye, like Technicolor snapshot of the nightmare you had weeks, or even months before...

    Okay, I agree, this movie, story and plot wise, is "mostly" forgettable. That said, I do remember two things: one, the opening rape scene was very shocking; it really threw me for I loop; and two, Barbara Hershey was very good in this one. When I started reading the review, I also remembered that Ron Silver, in my estimation, had done a pretty good job of portraying the jerky, self-serving psychoanalysts, too.

    Haunting films tend to scare more than other types of sub-genres within the over arching frame work of horror, so I do remember feeling uncomfortable while watching this one... I think I might of even pulled my shirt up over my nose once or twice (my usual stance to ward off the terror on the screen), so I guess that's something...

    Oh, and one more thing, I remember thinking this film was strange in that it was set in a thriving metropolis, and not just any metropolis, but LA of all places! In fact, I think I recall she lived near the beach, Santa Monica or Venice to be exact! Not the most apropos setting for a Haunting film, or any horror movie for that matter. It just didn't work for me to have it set in such a discordant environment. Horror is nothing, if not for setting. I know what I know, and unless the film is about flesh eating sewer freaks, serial rapists, or city smashing monsters, big cities (especially ones in Southern California) are not the proper setting for the genre in general. That said, because it's odd, it is one of the more interesting aspects of the film.

    My two cents...

  5. Your two cents is always valued Greg :-)

    I totally agree about Barbara Herhsey. She is easily the best thing about this film. Much of the power is derived from her convincing portrayal. I think the only genuine scare is the sequence for which the film will always be remembered - the first rape. It works because of its unexpected volatility, rather than the usual formal and stylistic tricks.

    I'd never really picked up on the implausability of the location. But a city with a university is essential for the plot to carry out the academic battle that lies at the heart of the film. I guess therefore a large town/city is an appropriate setting. But I know what you mean, the film totally lacks the gothic atmospherics of a more rural and isolated setting - BURNT OFFERINGS, AMITYVILLE HORROR etc.

  6. Greg Stuart Smith21 May 2011 at 02:27


    I agree with you about the setting, in that for much of the film's conflict to work, it needed to be set in a large enough town or city to service a major University, or in LA's case two of them: UCLA and USC, not to mention the lesser known colleges in the in the area.

    If I recall, I think they shot at UCLA; most films shooting in LA (that require a college campus) shoot there anyway - it's a beautiful campus and that's state affiliated. I suppose I may be wrong about them using UCLA, though, so I'll stop while I'm ahead...

  7. If I'm ever in the vicinity, which I'd love to be at some point, I'd like very much to take a stroll through such a beautiful setting. I'm not 100% sure myself which location THE ENTITY used, but I felt it worked well.

  8. Shaun, I'm glad that you have taken time to review this film as I've alway's enjoyed this movie! I agree Barbara Hershey portrayal of a suburban mother who un-wittingly must battle both a malevolent force plus the obvious ignorance of the Academic's that she has inlisted to help her, is great to watch. I also like the extra level that The Entity takes the Haunting genre by making the attacks more intimate (Rape) and therfore making it all the more horrifying to watch. Yes the movie at times is a cliche and the ending is poorly costructed both in story and effect but this will always be one of my favourite haunting Horrors. Also I believe at one point the story illudes to the fact that there is actually more than one force at work, (3 I believe.) leading the experts at one point to assume that Carla's own family are behind the attacks / rapes. This opens up an opinion that Academics would rather believe that your own family can attack & rape you, before conceding to the possibility of a supernatural force being at work! A truly scary thought....


Related Posts with Thumbnails