31 Days of Hell: The Entity

Don't be scared. It's only Barbara Hershey.

The Entity is one of those movies you can look back on and say, “Man, that could’ve been great.” It’s a film so immaculately constructed and impeccably acted for its first two-thirds that, in a way, it’s admirable when it simply tries to top itself in the third act, even if it nosedives and face-plants into a 55 gallon drum of 80s cheese. Seriously. What were they thinking?

"Mirror mirror on the wall, who's
the scariest bitch of them all?"
The film is supposedly based on a true story that took place between 1974 and 1976, when a young mother by the name of Carla Moran was repeatedly and viciously sexually assaulted by a supernatural entity. You heard me correctly: A rapist ghost. Not a ghost rapist, because then you’d be talking about a person who lusts for ghosts, and we already have the blow job scene in Ghostbusters, so I guess you could say we have that covered. You can see where I’m going with this. The premise by itself sounds silly immediately. It’s to the film’s credit that the first two acts are some of the scariest and most disturbing cinema of the 1980s, a feat even more remarkable when you consider that the poster art for this could truthfully say, “from the director of Superman 4: The Quest for Peace”. But then it becomes—most unfortunately—every bit as silly as the words “rapist ghost” would suggest, because we wouldn’t want to give Sidney Furie too much credit.

Barbara Hershey plays Carla as a sweet, beautiful, typical MILF. There’s nothing outright special or even slightly abnormal about this woman that would make someone think she’s nuts. The opening scenes work very well at establishing her life with her children as one that most of us can identify with, and tosses in a little grieving widow bonus for added sympathy points. So when the assaults begin, sometimes even while she’s asleep, the feeling is very unsettling and genuinely creepy because this setting feels like it could be our home. As the frequency and intensity of the rapes increase, so do the emotional stakes; Carla goes from being attacked largely when alone, to one full on arm-breaking scene of assault in front of her children.

"Eat your heart out, Palpatine.
I have full control of this here
Force lightning!"
There has to be a rational explanation for this, right? When you walk into your mother’s bedroom at night and see the imprints from invisible hands and fingers pressing into her breasts and thighs… SCIENCE! Enter Ron Silver’s beard as Dr. Sneiderman, a psychiatrist who is convinced Carla is delusional, possibly stemming from childhood trauma, abuse, being widowed, all the usual stuff. This is one aspect where the script drops the ball. Despite concrete psychological reasoning fleshed out by the doctor, there’s never any real doubt whether or not Carla could simply be manufacturing these attacks on her own head. A true battle of metaphysics and practical psychology could’ve made for an even deeper mind game of a narrative. That’s a minor quibble, however. What’s here certainly works amazingly well: The scenes of rape and assault are absolutely horrifying, and some of the effects work on display here is truly inspired.

I wish I could say the same about the closing act of the film, which abandons all of the viscera and suspense built up in the first two-thirds in favor of a special effects ending. I won’t say any more than that. It’s all smoke and mirrors, shows a lot, and accomplishes nothing. It leaves the audience with the feeling of witnessing something “almost great,” topping off a potential masterpiece with a great big WTF cherry on the melting remains of a ghost rape sundae. In the end, this is Hershey’s movie, and it’s her empathetic performance that hooks us in the beginning and takes us through to the end. Missteps aside, The Entity is one worth checking out, and Martin Scorsese lists it as one of the ten scariest horror films of all time.

-Blake O. Kleiner