The Entity 1982

entity

In 1982 a horror film about poltergeists came out that was in equal parts funny, scary and a great time at the movies. That film was, of course, Poltergeist and a few months later when The Entity arrived perhaps audiences thought they were going to get more of the same knockabout thrills. They would have been very, very wrong. The Entity begins with single mother Carla Mason (played by Barbara Hershey) coming home to her three children. She checks the two little girls are asleep and that her teenage son is still playing hard rock in the garage, as American teen sons did in the 80s. Then as she settles into her bedroom, preparing for sleep, she is punched hard enough to bleed, thrown onto bed and brutally raped, seemingly by an invisible force. It’s a shocking start to the story, and for a long while this horrific tone doesn’t let up. Of course it’s the old cliché: if you were in a house haunted by ghosts you’d just pack up and leave. Well, once Carla works out what the hell is going on that is exactly what she does. We’re about ten minutes into the film at this point by the way. However, this is a poor woman living in a country not know for helping those on the breadline. Initially she goes to stay with her one friend, Texan gal Cindy, but she and the kids can’t stay living on their couch, especially when Cindy’s disembodied voice of a husband complains bitterly about them from the next room. For the first half of the film most adult men are only half seen or half heard characters, not unlike the poltergeist itself; useless selfish figures merely interested in their own needs. Only Ron Silver’s doctor is seen fully and even he thinks Carla is making up the rape. Cindy, on the other hand is the kind of best friend everyone should have. While she doesn’t believe Carla is being repeatedly attacked, she still gives total support, all smiles, jokes and sleep-overs, even though there are hints that her own life is a deeply unhappy one. So financial circumstance and an inescapable need to provide a roof over her children’s heads forces Carla back to the house, where the malevolent force is waiting for her. The camera sticks close to Carla throughout this part of the film, sometimes only a few feet away like it’s waiting to pounce, at other moments it floats above her head as if looking down at her. At one point she’s alone in a psychiatrist’s office and she jerks sideways as if she’s just caught something out of the corner of her eye, not aware of the camera watching her from the floor. Barbara Hershey gives an absolutely amazing performance. In what could have been a hysterical shriek-feast of a role, Hershey makes you believe every bloody, horrific moment of this woman’s ordeal. There is an incredible scene when she talks about her past-life. Often actors will tell you that they are trying to find the “truth” of a character. If that’s what she was looking for, Hershey certainly found it. It’s one of the most profoundly sad monologues I’ve ever heard in a film and utterly heart-breaking. So The Entity sounds amazing right? I mean, horrible and intense but smart too, dealing with sexual violence and abuse with intelligence and a blinding performance from Hershey, yeah? So why isn’t everyone always talking about this film as a horror great? Or at least why isn’t it being rediscovered as a forgotten classic? Well maybe they would if the film had ended after the first hour and a half, because this is riveting cinema at its best. From the director of Superman IV and The Young Ones with Cliff Richard, who’d have thought it? However, around 90 minutes in Carla and Cindy bump into two Paranormal Scientists and from this moment the whole film goes to shit in a basket. Suddenly the dialogue plummets to nonsense, trying to explain everything scientifically with talk of “crossing across from a different plain of existence”. The two nerdy ghostbusters are pure cinema characters and could have stepped out of the other poltergeist film. There are lots of lab coats and recording instruments and it stops really being about Carla as we have scenes of men discussing her case which seem to serve no purpose to the plot at all. Then the visual effects team start getting carried away and the thing totally falls apart. There’s some early FX stuff involving Hershey’s breasts being moved about by the entity and it’s really freaky. But they do it again and it looks too fake and hokey and loses all impact. Then laser bolts start flying about like they’ve shot out of Nuclear Man’s eyeballs and we’re supposed to be impressed. We end with a truly diabolical ice effect which would have looked bad in 1982, and all this just doesn’t fit. It’s like someone else directed the last act. Such a shame. Anyway, we’re still left with a great two thirds of a movie with an unbelievably good central performance. And while as a horror film it has its faults, as a study on the effects of sexual violence and one woman’s self-belief and defiance of it, it’s terrific. Just stop the movie when the nerds show up okay?

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