As The Entity begins, we watch a single mother named Carla Moran waiting for her shift as a receptionist to end. Then, she rushes off to night school and enters her typing class after it has already begun. Frustrated, she makes a few errors on the machine. Much later, she comes home to her modest house in the suburbs, where the lights are out. There are dirty dishes on the table, which she proceeds to wash. Her younger daughters are already asleep, but she argues with her teenaged son about the mess. Soon she is getting ready for bed. A mundane start to a horror movie? Perhaps, until we soon realize that we are not the only ones watching Carla Moran.
The unseen voyeur makes itself known with a slap to Carla’s face. Stunned by the blood and the pain, she is soon shoved onto her bed, pillow over her face, and sexually violated by this malevolent, invisible being.
The Entity has been falsely described by Rotten Tomatoes as a film concerning a “libidinous invisible presence.” There is nothing libidinous about rape, and to dismiss The Entity as a horny poltergeist movie is to do a great injustice to the film’s quality, the subject matter, and Barbara Hershey’s powerful performance as Carla Moran.
Although the film—directed by Sidney J. Furie from a novel by Frank deFelitta—was initially scheduled for a 1981 release, it did not reach theaters in the United States until February 1983. At the time it received a poor review from Richard F. Shepard of The New York Times. While this might not be a surprise to horror fans who are used to genre films being misunderstood and dismissed as trash, one senses that it could be the subject matter itself that was misunderstood and dismissed.
In the film itself, no one takes Carla seriously at first. Oh sure, they believe that she believes she was raped but they also think she might be crazy. Only when the invisible attacker disables the brakes on her car, does she go to a psychiatrist. It cannot be overstated how marvelous Hershey’s performance is in The Entity. The portrayal of a rape victim takes an actress into difficult, possibly treacherous, territory. The fact that there is no actor to play against makes it even more challenging. Hershey convinces the audience that what we see happening is actually happening. There are good special effects from Stan Winston that provide genuine scares, and absolutely disturbing music accompanying the attacks composed by Charles Bernstein, but most of the success of the film rests on Hershey’s beleaguered shoulders.
Visually, The Entity is more carefully composed than many other horror films of the time. Due to the popularity of John Carpenter’s Halloween, slasher movies were de rigeur in the early ’80s and it was a challenge to find a good one in the onslaught, much less a film that was bold enough to tackle another subject. Cinematographer Stephen H. Burum worked on Brian De Palma’s Body Double in 1984 and the deep focus shots that De Palma was so fond of in the ’70s are used in The Entity to convey a sense of paranoia and unease, as are canted angles, reflections, and things viewed through mirrors and glass.
The supporting cast is also believable, particularly Ron Silver as Carla’s psychiatrist Phil Sneiderman. Rather than portraying him as all good or bad, he imbues him with complexity and subtlety. The profession of psychiatry is shown to be much less forward thinking than one would expect from the time period, particularly in the reliance on outdated Freudian theories and the proliferation of stereotypes of rape victims and sexually liberated women. Even the parapsychologists who try to help Carla rid herself of the demon have their own agenda, and in the end, Carla can only rely on herself.
What’s most fascinating about The Entity is that even if the rapist were a flesh and blood attacker, the responses of others would likely not be much different. The feeling of shame from which rape victims commonly suffer instead infects Carla’s friends, family, and most significantly, her lover Jerry. This makes The Entity a compelling, provocative, and frankly terrifying film about not only the supernatural, but also the way society views rape and rape survivors.
Anchor Bay reissued The Entity on DVD and Blu-Ray on July 3 and both the picture and sound quality are impeccable. If you have not yet seen the film or if you haven’t seen it since it was available on VHS, it is worth your time to check out this reissue.