Most definitely the dark side of the coin for 1982 ghost movies, The Entity features numerous similarities with its family-friendly competitor Poltergeist, minus the success, critical acclaim, and common sense. Based on a presumably true story, The Entity features a malignant ghost putting a mom and her kids through hell. Unlike Poltergeist there's no goofy dad to anchor things, nor spookhouse goblins for young horror fans to enjoy. There is, however, plenty of raping.
That's the basic set-up; a struggling single mother finds herself repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted by a ghost, in her own home, while her horrified kids try to cope. Mom has a goofy friend to turn to, who convinces her to get help from a psychiatrist, escalating into a team of psychiatrists battling skeptical paranormal investigators to find a solution.
As afflicted mom Carla Moran, Barbara Hershey rolls expertly with the punches the screenplay throws her way, while other major players don't do quite as well. Psychiatrist Phil (Ron Silver) is a strange presence, equal parts callous, caring, and casual, it's hard to draw a bead on his motives or methods, which, I guess, Silver expresses well, as most of the time he seems prepared to devote about 65% of his energy to the role. Carla's very helpful friend Cindy (Margaret Blye) meanwhile appears to be a cast-off from the sit-com Designing Women; an out-sized, breezy, southern caricature who, while essentially saving Carla's life, invests as much energy in affairs as one would offering guests a refill of iced tea. By design The Entity seems poised to fly off the rails at any moment, with near-universally lackadaisical performances saved only by Hershey's heroic efforts, and those of David Labiosa, who portrays Carla's son Billy with naturalism and sincerity lacking from most everyone else.
When The Entity came out I was 12, and I think learned more about the realities of rape from the movie's coverage than from any other source. If I recall correctly, Siskel and Ebert touted the film's terrorizing qualities, too. That's all wrong though, as the truly harrowing rape sequences, during which Hershey leaves it all on the floor, are book-ended by comic relief in the way of: the skeptical investigators, Carla's goofy friend, a generally casual air that belies everything, and the tragic mistake of using a sixty-five-thousand dollar animatronic rubber body to double Hershey during some of Carla's supernatural violations. Though Hershey and the script do quite well representing the uncertainty and fear women and single mothers encounter in daily life, the legitimately unsettling scenes of Carla's horrified children watching while she's raped by a ghost are tempered into complete submission by the tone of the rest of the movie.
The Entity represented a shocking conceit back in 1982: a single mother of three graphically tormented by a rapist ghost. However, despite a heroic performance from Barbara Hershey, director Sidney J. Furie seemingly sought to soften his movie's shocking blows with lots of casual comic relief, and (unintentionally) some critical special effects that are laughable today (and probably were then). Numerous parallels with the superior, contemporaneous movie Poltergeist don't help matters, meaning The Entity, in this decent Blu-ray upgrade, can only be Recommended to serious ghost movie collectors. Those with casual curiosity should just Rent It.