Supernatural horror is a tough thing to get right. You’d figure it would be pretty easy; all you need is some spooky offscreen sounds for most of the picture, and toss in a “ghost” or two during the climax, either with some moderately done makeup effects or half-assed CGI (it’ll be in the dark, after all…right?). Unfortunately for a lot of cheapie filmmakers, the reality is that we Fellow Fans are a bit smarter than that; we demand more from our flicks…and as the tools to make bigger and better supernatural horror films grow, so does our knowledge and, most importantly, our expectations.
That said, one of my all-time favorite “ghostly” flicks comes flyin’ outta the past from 1982 in the form of a little picture called The Entity. Starring a young Barbara Hershey (in a pretty damned brave performance) and Ron Silver, the film proved to be a bridge between “unseen” paranormal flicks like The Haunting and The Amityville Horror and later works like Poltergeist and even on up to modern stuff like the Paranormal Activity movies. It did this by dialing up the terror, showcasing violent physical interaction between the “spirit” and the characters instead of simply scaring the hell out of them.
The film brings us into the life of Carla Moran, a single mother trying desperately to make ends meet. We see her taking some typing classes, obviously seeking a better life for herself and her kids. That evening, after dinner and the kids have headed off to bed, she’s sitting in her bedroom brushing her hair, unwinding a bit before slumber. The camera moves into a close-up, and we see the tension draining from her face…when suddenly she’s struck across the cheek…hard. We see the blood bubbling from her lip as our eyes whirl about with hers, seeking the assailant, when she’s struck again, flung down by the force of this blow from nowhere. This is the beginning of a series of frightening experiences, and she’s dismayed that she may be losing her grip on reality. She seeks out the help of university psychiatrist Phil Sniederman, but his assertions that all of her experiences are psychosomatic responses to suppressed daddy issues (this guy must’ve loved his Freudian studies) fall short of ‘curing’ Carla. On the contrary, the attacks grow more fearsome, including prolonged sexual assaults (goddamn harrowing to watch, I might add; my hat’s off to Hershey for her skills in these scenes) and the breaking of her son’s arm. Finally convinced that she’s not crazy, Carla turns to local parapsychologists, who after some skepticism arrive at her home to see what they can see.
The rest of the film follows the efforts of both these early “ghost hunters” and the young psychiatrist as they all try to aid Carla in her plight; but is she haunted, or simply fucking nuts?
The first two thirds of this movie scared the living shit outta me when I first saw it as a young man somewhere back around ’85 or ’86, and that first hour still provokes some chills even after many watchings. Much of this is owed to the absolutely rock-solid performance of Barbara Hershey; we sympathize with her character as she copes with her hidden nemesis and struggles with those around her believing she’s off her rocker; we watch Carla grow in strength as fear moves to defiance, and it’s very, very well done. Another element that made this film relevant, what really put the “oh shit” factor in, is that we also have some of the simplest, yet most terrifying special effects I’ve seen in a horror movie, even unto today. The late great Stan Winston can be thanked for his work in this film, in particular the scene where we see invisible hands groping and caressing Carla’s bare body. I won’t tell you how it was done, but it’s probably the best damned effect I’ve ever seen between a “ghost” and a living person on screen. Sidney J. Furie’s direction makes maximum use of the claustrophobic feel of Carla’s tiny house and how it becomes a place of torture. His use of close-ups, coupled with Hershey’s acting chops, provide us with a terrifying experience without having to resort to exploitation (although the one scene I mentioned is a lengthy nude scene; there was really no other way it would have been as effective).
Unfortunately, late in the film there are some very dated “spiritual” graphics (seriously reminiscent of “Space Invaders”) that will really pull you out of the film, and the story completely derails during the last twenty minutes or so. Again, I won’t spoil anything, but by today’s standards, the ending is pretty damned laughable. Still, I like the flick. I’m able to respect the film for what it is and when it was made, and despite its shortcomings I find it a fun watch; granted, the pitfalls I pointed out slap me in the teeth, but I find the genuinely spooked-out feeling that the rest of film gives me worth it; the movie just has that unnamable something that I really like about it, despite the fall from the wagon at the end. I don’t blame anyone for not being a weirdo like me. =)
The film is based on the book by Frank D. Felitta about an allegedly true story; I have my own opinions, but I will never debate them here. I’m reviewing a film, and only the film. That said, if you’re the kind of person that digs ghost movies, older horror flicks, or both, you should definitely put this one on your watch list, if for no other reason than Hershey’s display of talent and Winston’s earlier work…but if you’re really one of the above kinda folks, I think you’ll find more value to it than just that.
And that’s my fifth of a dime for this one.
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