Last October, Arrow in the Head presented a column called UNSEEN HALLOWEEN, in which the staff recommended movies that are by and large very obscure. This year, UNSEEN HALLOWEEN RETURNS! But with a twist! Each writer is now tackling a very popular horror movie that has somehow eluded them throughout the years. Yeah, we expect to hear it from you guys, but so what! It's Halloweentime, baby!
PLOT: A single mother of three is the target of repeated sexual assaults by a vicious supernatural entity.
REVIEW: Like everyone else contributing to UNSEEN HALLOWEEN, I don't have a really good reason for only just now getting to my pick for the column. I had seen bits of THE ENTITY in the past, but somehow, someway, a front to back viewing never actually happened. While it doesn't necessarily sit alongside classics like THE EXORCIST or THE HAUNTING in terms of notoriety, it is highly revered in many horror circles, with even Martin Scorsese calling it one of the scariest movies he's ever seen. (Why THAT wasn't enough to get me to watch it, I'll never know.) But now I've corrected my mistake and discovered that THE ENTITY is pretty scary alright, and not necessarily in a feel-good way.
THE ENTITY wastes no time getting to its terrifying central idea, that an apparition would be so sinister as to not only torment a helpless woman (Barbara Hershey), but to rape her as well. She doesn't know why it's happening, and the film plays around with the idea, for a small while, that it's all happening in her head, but as we, the audience, watch as Carla is set upon time and time again by an unseen attacker, it's clear that this is no mind game. Featuring attack sequences that are extremely unsettling, accompanied by oppressive music that hammers home the evil nature of the incidents, THE ENTITY is as provocative as it is frightening. This isn't "fun" supernatural spookiness in the vein of POLTERGEIST; this is a perverse nightmare where the shocks aren't thrilling, but cringe-inducing.
What makes THE ENTITY, like some of the creepiest paranormal horror stories, so very spine-tingling is the unknown identity and motive of its villain. (Or, as it's suggested at one point, villains.). These are antagonists you can't run away from. As is such a popular idea in horror movies today, it's not the house that is haunted; the terror has zeroed in on one person in particular and is determined to ruin their life, no matter where they go. Of course, attempting to get help from psychiatrists is of no use, but refreshingly the film makes it so most of Carla's close family and friends believe her - especially when they start seeing this weird phenomena for themselves. (One of the movie's more grotesque sequences involves Carla's children bearing witness to one of her rapes. Yuck.)
So much credit must be given to Hershey, for her performance is brave and uncompromising. It could potentially look so ridiculous to document a person struggling against an unseen adversary, but Hershey's committal to the situation - as well as Sidney J. Furie's expert direction - allows us to believe every second of her anguish. In fact, THE ENTITY has several sequences that, if not played just right, might have been silly (I think of one moment where the ghost is fondling Carla's breast as she sleeps). But the film's dour tone, combined with Hershey's intensity, guarantees that we're never less than grossed out by what we're seeing and sympathetic to our tortured heroine's plight.
The film does tread in familiar waters once the third act arrives, with a team of parapsychologists joining Carla and attempting to understand and document the eerie assaults. This section is the least effective in THE ENTITY, but perhaps only because it brings to mind so many other films, new and old. There's still some wild stuff to be found in this act, however, like an attempt to "freeze" the ghostly assailant within a set made up to look like Carla's home. (The climactic visual effect of this is, I must say, a little cheesy.) While it's not quite as nastily engaging as what came before it, some of the more clinical, dialogue-heavy stuff toward the end of the movie actually comes as a welcome respite from all the brutality.
FAVORITE SCENE: Because of the extremely ugly nature of what happens in the film, it's hard to call any one scene a "favorite." But in terms of pure execution, the sequence where Carla is assaulted in her bathroom is so powerful that you won't be able to shake it anytime soon after.
DRINKING GAME: Make a drink disappear every time...