I really love to be surprised by movies, I think we all do, but I love to be really thrown off right from the get-go. For example, back in the summer of 2013 when The Conjuring was released, I knew nothing about it. I hadn’t seen any trailers, reviews, nothing. Just the poster. Walking into the theater on that Friday afternoon, I thought I was going to see Insidious set in the 1800’s. No bullshit, I walked in thinking that it was going to take place in the early-to-mid 1800’s. After realizing that it took place in the 70’s, I very vividly remember being in the theater watching it and at about the 10-minute mark, I thought to myself “Oh, This is about Paranormal Investigators??” From there on out, I was surprised on how the film was a very cool, grounded study in the paranormal. It still had the jump scares and such, but it was genuinely a cool story with good characters before it was a scary haunted house movie. Just recently watching 1983’s The Entity for the first time had a very similar effect on me. Well…sort of….
Based on a true story (take that as you will), the film follows Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) a single mother who is suddenly tormented by an invisible attacker, a spirit of some sort. Each night, the spirit enters her room and violently rapes her. She tries to explain to people and make sense of it all, but everybody thinks that she’s crazy, especially her Doctor Phil Sneiderman (Ron Silver) who thinks that she needs extreme psychiatric attention. Desperate to escape her attacker and have people believe her, Carla seeks the help of local Parapsychologists to catch the entity.
When I started the film, I thought I was going to be watching some Poltergeist haunted house knock off. Much like I was surprised with The Conjuring, this film really surprised me with the first hour being a very dark, but grounded look at a supernatural terror. I really bought into how every character reacted to the situation, it helped make it all feel very real. Mind you, this was all before I knew this was even “based on a true story”, which I didn’t know until the closing credits. What surprised me even more was finding out that this was directed by Sidney J. Furie, who has a filmography made up of B-grade action movies and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. This film felt like it was directed by Brian De Palma. It doesn’t get quite as weird as De Palma’s stuff, but it was very intelligent, honest storytelling style with a very bold, dark edge to it. This movie is VERY well directed, probably the best thing in Furie’s filmography.
It helps that he’s working with a pretty solid screenplay by Frank De Felitta, who also wrote the novel from which this film is based. The dialogue here is all very natural, with the characters all feeling like real people, which is important for a horror film like this. When the characters feel real, you relate to them, which is what makes the horror elements that much more horrifying. That’s why haunted house movies and home invasion movies work, because they are things that happen in real life, so putting you in that situation makes it horrific. It’s not something outlandish like Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger. I mean, obviously home invasion stuff is a bit more realistic than supernatural stuff, but paranormal occurrences are something that happen or claim to happen almost every day.
This film also manages to wrangle in an awesome cast. Barbara Hershey is fantastic at playing the tormented character so perfectly, in a very human way. She doesn’t just run around and scream, she’s not just a Scream Queen. What makes a lot of the attacks so horrifying is her performance, where you see realistic pain and terror in her. She portrays this layered, fractured character like nobody else could. Ron Silver is also great as this university Doctor, who is a total douche bag, but goddamn it’s a surprisingly powerful performance at times. Silver plays it quiet very well, but when he has to get angry, he commands the screen. Hell, even the late Alex Rocco has a minor role here as Carla’s boyfriend and he even gets some great, powerful moments. This film is an example of how to direct actors. It can’t be a coincidence that everyone in here is as great as they are, I have to give Furie credit for directing his cast very admirably.
Earlier I mentioned that I was surprised by the first half of this film. It’s important to know that this film sits at a runtime of 125-minutes, which is way too long for this movie. I have no problem with a film being as long as it needs to be, but this film does not need to be two fucking hours. The film feels so stretched out for no reason, with things happening at the 1-hour mark that feel like they should’ve happened 30-minutes ago. The whole plot with the paranormal team coming in to help felt so out of place with the film’s first hour. What I really liked about the film was that it was a dark paranormal drama. The second half feels like a completely different movie. Not only does it drag on, it gets very silly.
When the film began, I was appreciating how it was a more human, character based story and not some special effects extravaganza like Poltergeist. I’m not insulting Poltergeist, I was just really digging the different approach that this film had. But what does that second half become? It basically just becomes another Poltergeist film. It becomes exactly what I didn’t want, a big special effects spook house extravaganza. We have green orbs, green lasers, blue electricity effects, giant exploding ice sculptures, all complete with a finale that involves the entity taking control of giant liquid nitrogen guns and chasing Barbara Hershey around with them. This movie gets straight-up dumb. It broke my heart, because the movie had set itself up as being a very different supernatural film, but then it just sabotages itself with that ending. It also doesn’t help that in the final scene we have the entity saying it’s one and only line “Welcome home, cunt.” which had me rolling my eyes.
Man, I really LOVE the first half of this film. Not just like it, I fucking adore it. Thankfully, although I think that the whole last hour of this gets a bit silly, it wasn’t until the last 25-30 minutes when it got flat-out bad. This film does a lot right, it has genuine terror with characters who you care about and have performances that are fantastic. It’s an enthralling, dark, intelligently put together horror film. Sadly, that second half drags it on for way too long just to take it to a place that’s way too stupid. The things that work about this film work so well though, that I still have to recommend it and give it a solid score. I think that you should still give this film a shot. It’s aged very well and although you should be wary of that last hour, it’s worth it just to see that first half. If anything, just watch up until the 60-minute mark then turn it off. You don’t miss anything, and you get to watch an incredible horror flick.