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DVD SAVANT

The Entity


The Entity
Anchor Bay
1981 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 115 125 min. / Street Date May 3, 2005 / 19.98
Starring Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, David Labiosa, George Coe, Margaret Blye, Jacqueline Brookes, Richard Brestoff, Alex Rocco
Cinematography Stephen H. Burum
Production Designer Charles Rosen
Film Editor Frank J. Urioste
Original Music Charles Bernstein
Written by Frank De Felitta from his novel
Produced by Michael Leone, Andrew Pfeffer, Harold Schneider
Directed by Sidney J. Furie

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This horror effort is frequently lumped in with the various clones of The Exorcist, when it more closely resembles a return to the Hooper/Spielberg Poltergeist made the previous year ... with a little sex added. It holds the interest mainly due to a superb performance by Barbara Hershey. The success of the film can be attributed directly to her, along with the underrated Ron Silver, not to mention the almost completely-ignored talent of Sidney J. Furie.

Just a couple of years later, The Entity's R-rated premise would be sent up like a balloon in the goofy Ghostbusters. That adult-oriented comedy was accompanied by a massive marketing push aimed at little children.

Synopsis:

Single housewife Carla Moran is attacked/raped several times in her bedroom by an unseen force which also attempts to wreck her car. Caring psychiatrist Phil Schneiderman (Ron Silver) works to convince Carla that the problem is within her own mind, but she takes another path after a chance meeting with two parapsychologists from UCLA. When they investigate, they witness some of the same phenomena Carla does. Their boss Dr. Cooley (Jacqueline Brookes) okays the deployment of a massive research effort, giving Carla hope that her demon will be defeated. But convinced that the parapsychological researchers are doing Carla no good, Phil works to have them called off.

The Entity proceeds in fits and starts, clearly trying its best to reconcile an interesting but far-from-conclusive true case history with screenwriter Frank De Felitta's wildly extrapolated script. The high concept hook here is to see all of the Exorcist and Poltergeist tricks - levitation, invisible forces, flashy electrical disturbances - presented in a sexual context. A battery of effects and makeup artists treat the sensational material with a relish previously reserved for sordid exploitation fare. Body doubles and even entire prosthetic torsos are employed to show the invisible hands of Carla Moran's non-corporeal rapist grasping her body and groping her breasts. The malevolent force is repeatedly associated with Carla's house, despite evidence that it appears free to follow Carla anywhere. It demolishes the living room of her friend Cindy Nash (Margaret Blye) and tries to kill Carla by jamming down the accelerator of her car in the middle of traffic.

The progression of events is methodical but perplexing. Ron Silver's sympathetic medico Phil is genuinely concerned but remains convinced that Carla's "phenomena" are psychosomatic, long after all the other characters have seen unequivocal proof that the haunting is real. The geeky parapsychologists and their female guru Dr. Cooley observe 100% unambiguous spook activity from the start, and Carla's ghost rapist makes no effort to conceal itself. Carla's kids and eventually her doubting best friend see the "weird stuff" as well, which makes us wonder why Dr. Phil wasn't asked to hang around and watch the light show. The script treats poor Phil like one of the clueless doctors of The Exorcist, set up as bozos to be dismissed (along with their rational approach) so the Catholic priests can by contrast appear wise and knowledgeable.

What this really points to is the possibility that the Entity's manifestations might have been made less ambiguous during production. Dr. Phil's reactions would be more credible if there were less obvious proof that Carla was being attacked by a sick ghost, as opposed to being sick herself.

Barbara Hershey makes the hocus-pocus plot work like gangbusters. Her terror during the attacks is as credible as her trepidation when trying to describe them to doubting doctors, and she keeps Carla Moran's experience on a plane much higher than the voyeuristic peep-show around her. Movies may have become much more crude, but gratuitous nudity has all but disappeared from mainstream films these days, and modern actresses would never do these scenes. That makes Ms. Hershey all the more exceptional as an actress-daredevil. She began in high-profile sexy roles (Last Summer, The Baby Maker) and kept her dignity through a time when full nudity was almost a requirement (Boxcar Bertha). Yet she persevered as a respected top-caliber actress.

Hershey has one emotional payoff scene that we've been waiting to see for decades: Just when Carla is convinced she's crazy, her best friend sees a window explode on its own. Carla didn't break it herself; the outside force is real. When Carla realizes that Cindy believes her and understands, her relief is overwhelming. Nobody can tell her that she's hypnotizing her own children or otherwise creating a mass deception. The strength of her character helps overcome unsatisfying gaps in the story, such as the lack of a scene showing Carla's reaction to her boyfriend Jerry's (Alex Rocco) inability to deal with her problem.

Critics have been dissing Sidney J. Furie's directing style ever since Billy Wilder and Andrew Sarris first took potshots at his tilted camera and fussy angles. Furie handles the all-important acting scenes with ease and his odd angles do not seem obtrusive when setting up the psychic attack scenes. Fan magazines frequently give the film a hard time for not having cutting-edge effects, and The Entity consistently goes for quiet subtleties or erotic details in favor of oversold fireworks. If anything, the attack scenes are somewhat repetitive. Charles Bernstein's music follows the same pattern for each, progressing from an ethereal tone to a pounding rhythm that gets in the way of experiencing what's happening to poor Carla. Personally, I think the effect of the attacks would have been much higher without music. Does every lightning bolt or zooming ball of green light require a deafening blast of audio, or stomping, pile-driver music?

We're informed that the investigation of the real Carla Moran just sort of petered out, and she moved away to Texas. But to create a socko ending The Entity mounts a flashy Ghostbusters- like scientific attempt to capture the "monster," almost as Robert Stephens did in the gothic chiller The Asphyx. Giant tanks of liquid helium are prepped to freeze the ectoplasmic thing in an elaborate experiment that, naturally, goes haywire. This leads to a Quatermass-like finale with the Entity commandeering the scientists' controls and causing the helium tanks to explode. A giant blob is momentarily imprisoned in a block of frozen goo.

An insulting line of text over the last scene lets us know that the film is "a fictionalization of a true story." That's double-talk for "fiction."


Anchor Bay's DVD of The Entity is a quality special edition of the film, licensed from 20th Fox. The enhanced widescreen image looks brand-new and the audio is in DD 2.0 . The Entity Files is a long-form interview docu with Dr. Barry Taff, a UCLA parapsychologist and one of the investigators of the real case on which the movie was very loosely based. He points up the differences between the movie's heroine and the woman he investigated, and doesn't try to disguise the fact that the reality was much less dramatic. Although he insists there were real psychic phenomena, including fist-sized yellow-green blobs of protoplasm flying around, the best evidence that appears are photos showing unconvincing streaks of light. Yet the well-produced show (by Crest's Perry Martin) is a fine companion piece to the main film.  1

There are also stills, posters, a trailer and, as a DVD-ROM extra, the original script.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Entity rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
Supplements: The Entity Files - All-New documentary about the true-life "Entity" case, Theatrical Trailer, Poster and Still Gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 1, 2005


Footnote:

1. One of Savant's friends at the UCLA film school was Clark Dugger, a student interested in fine points of camera technique. In 1972 or 1973 he was approached by UCLA's Dr. Thelma Moss, the controversial head of the real Parapsychological department, the researcher who corresponds to "Dr. Cooley" in The Entity. Clark would accompany Moss and her investigators on visits to people claiming haunting situations and/or psychic powers, and filmed what they found. He said that what he saw was frequently suspicious in nature, although he kept an open mind. Some of the people seemed very sincere, it was just that the investigators never saw anything. No matter if the claim was levitation or bending spoons, etc., whenever the UCLA crew arrived the phenomena would not repeat itself, although some claimants did their best to convince the investigators that 'the ghost' was going great guns only a few minutes before, like the dancing, singing frog in the Chuck Jones cartoon. Dugger also helped Moss take the first photos of what came to be known as "Kirlian photography." Clark's UCLA student film project ended up being about a houseplant that becomes a witness to a murder, and gives evidence during a trial. It was intended to be completely absurd. Clark was therefore rather perturbed when a feature film with the same concept was made just a couple of years later.

In the late 1970s much of what Clark filmed began to appear in those Sunn Classics- type bogus documentaries, the ones that took Chariots of the Gods as a template. Shots of Clark himself setting up a camera or just posing by a piece of equipment would routinely be misrepresented as high-tech scenes of classified research. In the stock footage used for The Entity Files, the blonde-haired, smiling Clark can be seen at about the 18 minute mark, setting up a camera. The shot implies that he was documenting the 'famous' case referred to by Dr. Taff, but Clark never mentioned witnessing anything so dramatic.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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