Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sidney Furie, "The Entity" (1981).

During the lead-up to Halloween, both M. and I believe it's only appropriate to watch as many "scary movies" as we have time for. Sadly I am quickly running out of quality horror that we haven't already seen. Although it's always an option to choose from among the numerous titles we have previously watched, there is just something special about seeing one for the first time. The fear of the unknown is a dominant factor in the horror genre, and that means that most of these films are going to lose their impact upon repeat viewings. For the last couple of years I've collected anything along these lines that looked decent- most of what is left falls into the "B-movie" or low budget categories. I still have a lot of movies that were bundled into public domain packages, but many of these approach the unwatchable.

We did find The Entity sitting shrink-wrapped upon the shelf. The packaging made M. think that it was going to be especially frightening, so it seemed like the right selection. Sidney Furie has what is probably the best name for a director in this genre. Still I was completely unfamiliar with his work, besides whatever reviews I had previously read for this very film. It got mildly positive notices, so I had some reason to believe we'd enjoy it. With all the lights off and the volume high, we settled in with high hopes. It didn't take long to show its colors. Lead actress Barbara Hershey is quickly assaulted by an unseen presence. What could be ridiculous if accompanied by poor acting and bad effects was remarkably convincing. The brutal violence of the attack set us immediately on edge.

As the story progresses and the attacks continue, Hershey is finally convinced to seek outside help. While she is the only one to witness the activity of "the entity", her friends and family come to the conclusion that she is suffering from mental illness. Her visits to a psychiatrist (Ron Silver) seem to reinforce this viewpoint. Yet she continues to field visitations, and eventually her kids experience the phenomena firsthand. Her willingness to accept that these events are generated inside herself slowly dissipates, and she is forced to seek help from unconventional sources. This sets off a conflict between the establishment (represented by Silver) and the seemingly suspect academic world of parapsychology. Slowly other people in Hershey's life come to accept the truth of her reports. In the face of direct observation, it is hard to deny the reality of the situation.

What makes The Entity seem vaguely ridiculous is the lengths that paranormal researchers go to document the mystery. It's understandable that these folks would want to validate their work, but the extent to which they are allowed to pursue their experiments strains all credibility. It's fairly obvious that they are exploiting Hershey's sufferings, but she is so desperate that she will submit to extreme lengths to regain control over her life. The interactions between her and "the entity" are (after all) marked by sexual violence, and thus constitute a deep threat to her physical and emotional well-being. The various reactions people have to her plight are portrayed convincingly with the help of excellent perfomances all around.

Most intriguing of all is that its filmmakers claim that The Entity is a fictionalized version of actual events. Viewed in that light, it is quite entertaining to try to separate the embellishments from what could be the historical record. Much of the film is wholly unbelievable. But that's not to say that it's a waste of time. The scenes featuring the effects of "the entity" are quite well done and convincing during the first half of the movie. They are accentuated by odd camera angles in the interim. The resulting effect is the production of viewer disorientation and a high level of sustained anxiety. It's only when the cheesy light effects are introduced that it all seems a bit laughable- as if we stumbled into Spencer Gifts at the mall, or a concert featuring a bad 80's hair-band. Had Furie more confidence in his material and the audience- he might have been able to evoke a creepy fascination in this unusual story. As it is, The Entity remains an offbeat curiosity.

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