Ghosts are big business right now. Aside from The Possession, which is rounding out a highly successful theatrical run, the Paranormal Activity franchise has supplanted the Saw series as horror fansí go-to viewing for the Halloween season. The excitement building towards the fourth installment with the release of the teaser trailer suggests that the seriesí popularity isnít going to abate any time soon. While the Paranormal Activity films have their good points, two things theyíve never been particularly adept at is strongly grounding the ghostly proceedings in reality and giving the audience something a bit more confrontational than doors closing on their own. Viewers looking for something edgier than your average, run-of-the-mill late summer/early fall haunting movies would do well to check out The Entity, back in print and making itís Blu-ray debut just in time for its 30th Anniversary.
Adapted by Frank DeFelitta from his novel of the same name (which was itself inspired by an alleged true life case) The Entity is a solid, occasionally brutally effective, attempt to tell a traditional ghost story grounded in the trappings of modern science. While not as successful in this regard as Poltergeist, The Entity still manages some legit scares thanks to some effective direction by journeyman director Sidney J. Furie and a strong lead performance from Barbara Hershey.
Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) is a single mother of three burning the candle at both ends: by day, she works as a receptionist and at night she takes typing classes in hopes that improving her professional skill set will lead to a higher paying job. At the end of an exhausting day she comes home to a dirty house that she gets no help running from her surly teenage son, Billy (William Labiosa) or her boyfriend, Jerry (Alex Rocco), whose occupation requires him to spend most of his time on the road. As if Carla didnít already have enough on her plate, a new threat has entered her life. While preparing for bed Carla is attacked and raped by an unseen assailant. Billy comes to the aid of his screaming mother and searches the house only to find the doors and windows securely latched and no intruder hiding in any of the closets or cupboards. Later the same night another paranormal event causes the whole house to shake. Carla packs her son and two daughters into the car and they flee, spending the night at her best friend Cindyís (Margaret Blye) apartment. Greeted the next morning by an angry welcome from Cindyís boyfriend and, with no other options available to her, Carla returns home with her kids.
As the attacks continue and even escalate in intensity, including one instance where Carla is attacked in front of her children and Billyís wrist is broken by the entity when he tries to intervene, Carla seeks the help of caring but skeptical Dr. Phil Sneiderman (Ron Silver). At first heís convinced that Carlaís suffering from a sexual hang up about masturbation and an oedipal complex with her son. Frustrated that sheís not being taken seriously, Carla decides that itís time to start looking into an explanation of the paranormal phenomena thatís been tormenting her. While Carla and Cindy are in the occult section of a local bookstore, they overhear two paranormal researchers, Gene Kraft (Richard Brestoff) and George Nash (Michael Alldredge) discussing their latest case. Carla volunteers information about her ďhaunting.Ē The skeptical researches agree to investigate and when the malevolent spirit physically manifests itself to them in the form of a plasma entity, they agree to help her. They devise a clever way to trap the incubus: lure the ghost into a lab where theyíve constructed mock-up of Carlaís home, document the phenomena and then, using liquid helium, freeze the spirit and destroy it.
The Doris Bither case from the early 70s on which The Entity was (loosely) based is considered by Dr. Barry Taff the ďMount EverestĒ of paranormal investigation. Taff was the lead researcher in the Bither case and served as technical advisor on The Entity. While Iím highly skeptical of parapsychology in general, and ďDr.Ē Taff specifically, the scientific trappings add just enough plausibility to give the film an eerie verisimilitude. Even in fiction, impartial observers are always a good way to establish the truth of a situation. The Entity never makes my skin crawl more than when the researchers are staring, mouths agape, at manifestations that they have never actually seen before.
Barbara Hershey deserves kudos for throwing herself completely into an uncomfortable role that she reportedly didnít even want to begin with. The continual assaults even though simulated, must have taken a physical toll. Still she grounds Carla with sense of pragmatism; itís all fine and well to shout ďjust leave the flippiní house!Ē at the screen, but how is a mother of three working a low level job and with no family supposed to manage to find a new home at the drop of a hat in one of the most expensive cities in the world? Hershey does a great job of conveying the anguish Carla feels at being trapped in an unthinkable situation, with no options available to her.
I canít even begin to imagine the deeper, more visceral level The Entity touches in women viewers. Men can intellectualize all they want about rape and what a violation it constitutes, but the simple fact is that we donít have to live day-to-day in a world where subtle sexual pressure bears down on us. From lecherous looks in elevators to catcalling construction workers, women, especially young and attractive women, are practically bombarded moment to moment by the implicit threat of sexual violence. When Carla seeks help from the legitimate medical community, sheís met with skepticism and condescension. I have a feeling that her experiences will be all too familiar for women who have been assaulted by aggressors entirely corporeal.
Workaday director Sid Furie does some interesting things with camera, placing it ways that help unnerve and disorient. Carlaís house sits on a fairly steep slope and in one scene Furie orients that camera so that itís level with the house, not the ground. The result it that looks as if the ground is slowly swallowing the house whole. The effect is disquieting. Mostly, however, Furie has the good sense not to get in the way of his subject matter. The Entity is predominantly shot and lit like any other dramatic film would be, which also helps to add to the authenticity of the piece.
If The Entity has an Achilles heel, itís the score by Charles Bernstein. The main theme is actually quite good, a lilting little piece that at first sounds like it could have been ripped from any domestic drama, before Bernstein layers in some portents of doom with some lower notes. When it comes to the attack scenes, however, the score almost undoes the hard work Hershey and the rest of the film is doing. The attack theme is a throbbing rhythm clearly and tastelessly meant to evoke each thrust that sheís enduring. Itís classless and crude and almost unintentionally funny. It doesnít ruin the movie but, at times, it comes close. Bernstein would do much better and more iconic work a couple of years later with A Nightmare on Elm Street, though even that film wouldnít be spared the throbbing synth rhythms The Entity was subjected to.
The Entityís Blu-ray debut is a marked improvement over the previous DVD release in every way imaginable. Color, detail, grain reproduction are all vastly superior to Anchor Bayís previous release. Where the video quality really shines, however, is in the final scenes during the experiment. The environment in these scenes is drenched in deep, strobing reds. This wreaked havoc with compression on the old disc; edges were blurry, large areas of the screen were blocky with pixels and the whole scene was a total disaster. The image on the Blu-ray is far more pleasing; the red is a deeper, richer shade, edges have true definition and there are no compression artifacts easily noticeable.
The 2.0 Dolby track from the 2005 release has been remixed and upgraded to a 5.1 TrueHD track, though the improvements are not as drastic as they are in the video quality. The mix is predictably front heavy and itís not going to blow your socks off, but itís definitely sharper and has more presence. Youíll definitely appreciate the sound when the picture concludes and the chilling final line of dialogue sounds like itís being whispered in your ear, though.
Iím at a bit of a loss to account for why Anchor Bay chose not to port over the special feature included on the 2005 DVD of The Entity. That release was hardly feature packed, but it did have a nice thirty minute documentary about the Bither case, a couple of cast bios and the theatrical trailer. This release doesnít even include a pop up menu, top menu or any way to select individual chapters other than cycling through them. The lack of care applied to this release just smacks of an apathy that this film really doesnít deserve.
Although it came out in early 1982 The Entity has been overshadowed in peopleís memories by the flashier (and PG rated) Poltergeist, which was released during the summer that same year. Itís a shame this film didnít get more recognition or respect when first released, but that is also what makes it ripe for rediscovery. Even though horror films focusing on paranormal phenomenon are big right now, I donít think anybody making them would have the balls to release something as hard edged as The Entity. Itís impressive feat that The Entity has lost little of its impact, even after thirty years.
The upgrade in video and audio quality along with the budget retail price means fans will definitely want to pick up this release even if they hold on to their copies of the 2005 DVD. Itís just too bad this disc doesnít represent the full upgrade that it should.
"The lack of care applied to this release just smacks of an apathy that this film really doesnít deserve."
Agreed!! Thankfully the transfer is good, but Anchor Bay are idiots otherwise.
They should've gotten an actress that was willing to do the nude scenes. Watching Barbara Hershey's head with that rubber body just makes the rape scenes ridiculous.
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