When legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese says something about movies, people listen. So when Scorsese ranked his scariest movies of all time, horror fans took notice. It’s an impressive list that includes noted classics like The Haunting, hidden gems (Night of the Demon), and one surprise entrant – The Entity. Ask horror fans to cite their favourite haunted house movies and they might say The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, The Conjuring, or The Innocents. Though it’s not obscure, The Entity has slipped through the cracks since in its release in 1982. Like The Amityville Horror, The Entity bases its story on the allegedly true case of Doris Bither, a woman who claimed an invisible entity repeatedly sexually assaulted her in the 1970s. Maybe its subject matter – or perhaps its approach – has deterred audiences. Critics have certainly been historically lukewarm to the movie.
Carla Moran, a single mother of three kids in Los Angeles, is struggling to get her life back on track. Her life takes a terrifying turn one night when an unseen malevolent entity brutally assaults her. Night after night, the same supernatural presence attacks her. When Carla turns to a doctor for help, her claims are dismissed and she’s subjected to second-guessing and blame. But a change encounter with a team of parapsychologists offers Carla a glimmer of hope.
The Entity Boasts Early – and Uncomfortable – Shocks Before Slowing Things Down for Jargon
Maybe its not amongst the ten scariest movies of all time – sorry, Martin Scorsese – but The Entity packs some shocks. Just the subject matter itself prompts extreme discomfort. Director Sidney J Furie efficiently sets up these scares as he lulls audiences into a false sense of security. Quiet, seemingly benign moments take abrupt turns. In this regard, The Entity creates more unease past its upsetting premise that keeps you on edge, at least for the movie’s first half. A Nightmare on Elm Street composer Charles Bernstein contributes a score that adds a handful of its own jumps. But when The Entity moves into its second act Furie’s scares become more explicit, bordering on exploitative. Many viewers will question the tastefulness of these scenes.
…Charles Bernstein contributes a score that adds a handful of its own jumps.
Yet The Entity’s biggest problem isn’t its subject matter or how Furie treats his subject. Instead, The Entity suffers from pacing problems and a bloated runtime. Specifically, Furie never slow burns the source material. In fact, The Entity, and its jarring score, waste little time shocking audiences. As the second act kicks in, however, Furie introduces increasingly longer lulls between the scares. While some of these scenes build character, much of the time feels wasted on psycho-babble that contradicts a basic horror tenet – less is more. In addition to making a poor substitute for character and drama, the pseudo-science raises questions that introduces logic problems. And there’s nothing here that justifies the need for just over two hours of movie.
The Entity Grounds Its Supernatural Premise With Barbara Hershey’s Winning Performance
While its later scenes border on exploitative, The Entity’s story occasionally flirts with something that feels like feminist horror. Much of Furie’s movie focuses on Carla’s struggles to be taken seriously by her own doctor and the larger medical system. It may be 1982, but Frank De Felitta’s screenplay – intentional or not – sometimes feels ahead of its time. Carla’s exchanges with her doctor and his persistent infantilizing of her with psychodynamic babble would be called gaslighting today. Whether Furie and De Felitta’s intent was to skewer a patriarchal medical model, however, is questionable. Oftentimes The Entity actually feels more focused on a familiar theme in religious horror – science versus spirituality.
Certainly, her performance outreaches the movie’s now dated special effects and its more uncomfortable moments.
Whether The Entity is serious drama or exploitation thriller, Barbara Hershey’s performance is unquestionably stellar. She carries the movie through its lulls and convinces you that an invisible presence is truly attacking her. Certainly, the performance outreaches the movie’s now dated special effects and its more uncomfortable moments. Playing opposite Hershey, the always reliable Ron Silver (Silent Rage, Time Cop) has made a career playing unscrupulous or sleazy characters. Not surprisingly, Silver makes a good de facto villain for audiences to hate since the supernatural entity never really appears per se. Of course, Silver’s Dr. Sneiderman isn’t so much a villain. Rather he’s more aptly described as misguided – his physician reflects on a system made and controlled by men. One of The Entity’s more interesting – and under-explored – ideas is Dr. Sneiderman’s desire to control Carla.
The Entity’s Holds a Murky Place in Horror History
Judging The Entity’s place in horror history isn’t easy. It’s difficult to imagine this movie getting made today – it certainly would be approached differently. Whether it embodies the transgressive nature at the heart of horror or exploits the subject matter will depend on one’s perspective. Much of its story, however, takes on heightened relevance today in a post-#MeToo world in spite of its more uncomfortable scenes. Even if this commentary wasn’t intentional, Carla’s gaslighting in the medical system may be the movie’s most compelling aspect. Arguably, what makes The Entity less compelling is Furie’s clunky arrangement of scares and parapsychology jargon. But 80s horror fans who maybe saw this one for the first time on VHS may appreciate its scares in spite of its paper thin parapsychology underpinnings.