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.
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
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:
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
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
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.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson