I watched The Entity before I went to bed last night: bad idea. I generally don’t get frightened by horror films (The Shining is an exception), but this one kept me alert all night. The sounds around my home lost their industrial vibe and had me guessing whether somebody, or some thing, was out there inhabiting my haven. When I woke up this morning, the thoughts I had the night previous were still at the forefront of my mind. The film sticks with you, for better or worse, but it’s a striking testament to the power of raw horror. This is a film you do not want to watch alone.

The story takes flight quickly as it’s only a matter of minutes before Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) is attacked by a violent phantom. The only precursor to the attack is Charlie Bernstein’s eerily thunderous score, and when juxtaposed to Carla’s muffled screams the scene becomes deafening. There is no rhyme or reason to the attack, and bearing witness to it sent chills down my spine. To complicate the matters, this was no mere spook: this force is out to sexually abuse Carla Moran.

At first she believes it was just a lucid nightmare, but upon her second and more threatening attack, she seeks the attention of a psychologist. Dr. Sneiderman (Ron Silver in a role so convincing you swear he’s graduated from Harvard medical school) listens to Carla’s pleas about the unseen entity, but redirects her energy to the demons that dance in her subconscious. He believes the attacks are merely the result of her repressed fear of sex, but we know better. Sure, she did have an abusive father and can’t maintain intimate relationships with men, but maybe this is what drew the incubus to her in the first place. Still, the dichotomy that plays out in the first half of the film, the “is it real or imagined” motif, is effectively unnerving.

Once it’s become clear that there is in fact a nasty ghost haunting her home, she calls in a group of parapsychologists. The film then deviates from horror slightly, and injects a little sci-fi flavor in for good measure. It never loses focus though, so the scenes where the team tries to capture the ghost on record are dazzling, wondrous, and scary in equal measures.

The film stumbles slightly at the end, coming to such an abruptly puzzling conclusion that you may ask why, but what precedes it is so provocative and powerful it is easy to shrug off. This film is likely to split audiences today just as it did in the early ’80s when it was released: Many audience members detested the sexual content of the film. I can empathize with these people and wholeheartedly understand why they feel this way: watching the rape of a woman at the hands of a sadistic, transparent evil is a little too topical for some, but it also should be viewed as an interesting allegory for abused women. Women who are raped occasionally struggle to recall the experience, and at times even cannot remember the name or face of the man or woman who committed the atrocity. Like Carla Moran, these women are violated by despicable, and sometimes transparent, demons. If taken in this light, as opposed to the glorification of horror at the expense of a hapless woman, the film carries a more profound weight and becomes more frightening than anticipated. I cannot award this film greater than a 3 star rating because I feel I may lead casual film goers astray. However, to those of you who go in with the knowledge that the writer and director intended this film to be more than just shock horror, you are in for an experience that will stick with you for a lifetime. You can’t lock the door on this ghost, but can only hope he chooses the next home.

Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.

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