Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Entity

Doris Bither's modest Culver City home

Conjuring up the ghosts, an arc of light is photographed (Doris Bither sitting on the bed)

THE ENTITY              B                     
USA  (125 mi)  1982  ‘Scope  d:  Sydney J. Furie 

Welcome home, cunt!              —The Entity

Today, the biggest film at the Box Office is PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (2010), bringing in a whopping $40 million dollars in just the first week, while much of it resembles the paranormal section of THE ENTITY made nearly thirty years earlier based on a true incident in Culver City, California in 1974 where UCLA parapsychologists set up cameras in the room where a woman reported being brutalized by repeated sexual assaults from a powerful invisible being, including bruise marks all over her body.  The victim was Doris Bither who lived in a typically mainstream neighborhood, but whose life was substantially upgraded for the movie version.  In real life, Ms. Bither was a chain-smoking alcoholic who spent most days in a drunken stupor, continually abusive and belligerent to others, whose house was in such a state of squalor that it had been condemned twice by the city.  She was the single mother of three sons and a six-year old daughter.  The eldest son admitted seeing his mother being tossed around the room, claiming when he tried to intervene, he was thrown across the room by the unseen force. 

In 1974, paranormal researchers Kerry Gaynor and Barry Taff investigated the case, witnessing objects move about her house while capturing photos of a stream of lights, including an arc of light above Ms. Bither’s head, but never witnessed any physical attack.  Ms. Bither suffered abuse her entire life and appeared to have an intensely personal relationship with the “entity,” continually taunting the creature and screaming abusive language at the top of her lungs.  When she moved away, the entity apparently followed her, while future residents of the house report nothing out of the ordinary, where the house today remains ghost free and is in good condition.  Canadian director Sidney J. Furie attempts to recreate the victim’s altered mental state by telling the story virtually through a series of off-balanced camera angles, while creating a Stephen King-like CHRISTINE (1983) demonic possession effect. 

In the movie version, Carla Moran is played by Barbara Hershey, a beautiful, intelligent, and sympathetic woman who is inexplicably sexually attacked by a brutally aggressive unseen male creature on a regular basis in and out of her home, where the director always accompanies the rapes with aggressively pounding industrial metal music which feels like the blaring noise of some torture you can’t escape.  Carla seeks out immediate medical help, where Freudian psychiatrist Dr. Sneiderman (Ron Silver) believes it’s a classic case of suppressed trauma, which suggests these are delusional episodes, a figment of her imagination.  Yet they persist with even greater frequency and severity, where even her son gets injured attempting to rescue her, leaving the entire house traumatized by this poltergeist monster.  Purely by chance, she overhears a couple of guys converse on paranormal activity at a bookstore, so she invites them to her home to observe, where their initial skepticism is met with a rude awakening, as in their eyes, there was clearly an unseen force in the room, which gives her sanity a momentary reprieve. 

While there is a certain despicable factor to nearly all the men in her life, also a nicely developed ambiguity about whether the incidents are real or imagined, what’s most interesting is Hershey’s self-assurance throughout the entire ordeal.  Getting no help from science, alternative science, friends, fiancé’s, or family, she has to resolutely fend off this creature single-handedly, retaliating with a kind of feminist fury, bringing an apocalyptical Resurrection Day standoff between herself and this thing, where Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.  But what’s interesting is how, despite a dazzling architecturally designed, giant set piece fraught with potential life-threatening hazards where the paranormal scientists actually try to capture this thing, they’re met with their own puny human insignificance due to scientific limitations while she’s instead forced to internalize this standoff, which continues to wreak havoc in her life, even as in real life she moves from place to place.  The film predates POLTERGEIST (1982), produced by Stephen Spielberg, and GHOSTBUSTERS (1984), originally planned for a 1981 release, but the U.S. release followed a September 1982 international release three month’s after POLTERGEIST, opening in the United States in February of 1983, two years after the completion date.

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