Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) is a working single mother who takes night classes to learn better secretarial skills, all to provide for her three children. But tonight, she will have more than the usual money worries to concern her as without warning she suffers an attack. It had been like any other weekday evening, she had returned home, checked on her two sleeping daughters and gone into the garage to admonish her teenage son for not doing more around the house. Then she had retired to her bedroom to sleep, but getting ready for bed she was suddenly slapped by an unseen force, then thrown across the room onto the bed where her worst nightmare came true...
Mistaken for yet another trashy horror in the wake of The Exorcist, which even by 1981 was influencing chillers, and in the middle of the slasher craze that caused much scorn for the genre, The Entity was criticised and even picketed by feminist groups who believed that Carla's situation, that was being repeatedly raped by an invisible presence, was the lowest of exploitation notions. And it doesn't sound like an especially appetising prospect for a film, but were the critics to look a little deeper they would find a story which unexpectedly celebrated female empowerment in the face of violation and abuse.
At the heart of this was an exceptional performance by Hershey who took what could have been an insulting victim role and brought it to a different level. Her Carla is no doormat for both men and evil poltergeists to walk over, she has some fight in her and although the first attack leaves her shaken and horrified, the fact that it was visited on her by something supernatural might have made her too embarrassed to speak out, though the film has an unspoken acknowledgement that shame in actual rape cases is a major reason many attackers are never arrested. She actually begins the film as that terrified casualty, and after she stays the night at a friend's apartment with her confused kids she ventures back home only for another attack to occur.
She even has her life placed in danger when the entity possesses her car and nearly crashes it with her inside, so Carla goes to the doctor, not sure of the reaction. The psychiatrist she sees is Dr Sneiderman (Ron Silver) who immediately thinks that she is suffering from delusions, but crucially the point of view of the film is always Carla's and we never doubt her or the truth of her ordeals. There is something from another place, beyond our ken, putting her through this which is why Sneiderman, who is obviously interested in starting up a relationship with her once he gets to know her, may be doing more harm than good. Indeed, the sense of sisterhood with Carla's best friend (Margaret Blye) and the parapsychologist (Jacqueline Brookes) who do believe was purposefully stronger than any of her connections with males, even her teenage son.
None of the men in the film are much help, and so it's up to Carla to take back her life from this formidable might of masculinity that threatens to overpower her, and Hershey brings all this to the surface in a cheering depiction of a woman who refuses to be beaten down. If there's a problem, it's that we're supposed to accept this was a true story, based, like screenwriter Frank De Felitta's novel, on a case that presumably lost something of its veracity in the translation. I have no doubt that the case is at least partly authentic as presented here, but when it gets to the grand finale with parapsychologists being foiled by the light beam-throwing baddie (based on the famous photo of the "entity") which they almost successfully freeze into an iceberg, credibility is strained somewhat. Still, the dread of utterly ordinary life being invaded by a violent disruption was highly effective from director Sidney J. Furie, and if there's no neat resolution, you do take away the impression of Carla's strength, knowing that she will eventually cope, which is all down to the skill of the star. Music by Charles Bernstein, whose unsettling, pounding rock in the attack sequences was reused by Quentin Tarantino.
[Eureka's Blu-ray is a big step up in quality from the DVD, though the sole extra is the trailer in SD, plus subtitles.]