Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Halloween 2015: October 22

The Entity (1982)

When I first heard of “The Entity,” it was referred to as the “ghost rape movie.” That’s not the kind of capsule synopsis that does any film any favors. I wrote it off as a creepy exploitation flick. Over the years though, I heard more people talk about “The Entity” in a serious, thoughtful way. Martin Scorsese called it one of the scariest films of all time. Quentin Tarantino used part of its soundtrack in “Inglourious Basterds.” Though the content may seemingly be outrageous, the film has garnered the reputation of a hidden horror gem. It’s enough of a classic that there have been two attempts now to remake it. Now the time has come for me to actually watch “The Entity” and make up my own mind about it.

Carla Moran is a single mother, living in suburban California and attempting to scrap together a living for herself and her three kids. After a seemingly normal day, she is attacked in her bedroom by an unseen force, beaten and raped. The attacks continue, each one as brutal as the one before it. Her son doesn’t believe her, until he sees an attack himself. The psychologist she talks to is skeptical. Her boyfriend and her best friend think she was dreaming. To Carla, the Entity is real. When a pair of parapsychologists get involved, Carla has an oppretunity to convince others.

“The Entity” is frequently a difficult film to watch and doesn’t entirely succeed in its narrative goals. However, one element of the movie is consistently impressive. Barbara Hershey begins the movie with steely determination, working hard to find a better job so she can take care of her kids. The movie puts her through the emotional wringer. She weeps, cries, and is abused. Perhaps worst then the attack scenes are when she has to discuss what’s happen to her with disbelieving friends and professionals. Hershey is willing to go to extremely vulnerable places. She spends nearly the entire film traumatized. As the story goes, Carla develops a defiant streak. She confronts the Entity, determined not to let the abuse break her mind. It’s a brave performance.

To refer to “The Entity” as the “ghost rape movie” really isn’t very fair. However, there’s little doubt that the attack sequences are brutal and disturbing. The first one happens incredibly suddenly. Hershey is slapped hard across the face, her mouth bleeds, and she is tossed on the bed. The most extended and disturbing attacks occurs in the bathroom, her limbs bound, her face shoved into the shower curtain. During the attacks, the camera always focuses on Hershey’s faces, her fear and raw panic. This makes sure the sequences are never titillating or exploitative. (There's nowhere near as much nudity in the film as you'd expect.) Every time the ghost attacks, Charles Bernstein’s score features a bleating, shrieking siren. Even when there’s no sexual abuse, the violence is sudden and shocking, such as when a room is torn apart. “The Entity” attempts to examine the ramifications of guilt and trauma surrounding a rape. When the spirit takes her in her sleep, Carla has an orgasm, which makes her feel terrible. It’s obviously an incredibly difficult subject. It’s hard to say if “The Entity” says anything deep about the topic. However, it certainly makes the viewer feel Carla’s terror.

“The Entity” is reportedly based on a true story. (The real Carla was an alcoholic with a history of mental illness, no anomalous events were witnessed first hand, and most of the people who collaborated her story aren’t creditable.) In this vein, “The Entity” is also a film about science and skepticism. Ron Silver plays the shrink Carla runs to. He doesn’t believe in ghosts. Throughout the film, he makes the case that demons and ghosts are the result of beliefs, not fact. When Carla finds the parapsychologist eager to believe her story, Silver confronts them. He’s concerned that people are supporting her delusion. If “The Entity” kept things ambiguous, suggesting these events truly are only in Carla’s mind, maybe this subplot would have had more meaning. But the film presents everything that happens literally. The final act is as much devoted to convincing Silver’s character that the spirit is real as it is giving Hershey’s character resolution. The lengths the film goes for this – which involves liquid hydrogen and a reconstruction of Carla’s home – pushes believably. Overall, the “science vs. superstition” aspect of the plot is interesting but ultimately underwritten.

I wonder how “The Entity” would be receive by a modern audience. It’s not impossible to read the film from a feminist angle. After witnessing an attack, Carla’s boyfriend abandons her. Only after confronting the spirit on her own does she find solidarity. The film, interestingly, doesn’t conclude on a definitive note. The attacks continue after the story ends. “The Entity” is impressive as a powerful performance piece for Barbara Hershey and a shocking, disturbing horror film. It doesn’t lack raw power but never becomes exploitative either. With a slightly more focused script, it could’ve been an all-time grade. Taken the way it is, it’s a quite good horror film with many things worth recommending about it. [8/10]

Outer Space (2000)

One of the reasons I decided this would be the year I gave “The Entity” a shot is because I’ve been reading a lot about “Outer Space,” an experimental short film made entirely of footage from “The Entity.” Sounds like a great double feature, right? It should be emphasized that “Outer Space” is incredibly experimental. In black-and-white, different reels of film fade in and out of each other. There’s a lot of distortion and chaos. The screen rapidly flashes in black and white. Barbara Hershey’s face is reflected on itself, spinning in and around the center of the screen. Voices are heard speaking in reverse. It’s an exceedingly chaotic collection of filmic imagery, pre-existing footage spliced up and fed back through a projector.

So what the hell does one make of something like this? It’s not a movie in any traditional sense. “Outer Space” has no plot. It is merely a collection of flashing images. Occasionally, an interesting or poetic shot will appear. At one point, mirrored shots of a window fade into each other, the edges of the film reel passing over them like ghosts. Another shot has Hershey’s face multiply repeatedly, starring into itself. Mostly though, “Outer Space” is just noise, aural and visual static. A solid third of the short is composed of nothing but flashing lights, which should’ve prompted a seizure warning. It doesn’t comment on “The Entity” in any way. I’m not sure what the title means but this is sort of what I imagine traveling through a worm hole would look like. If it means anything, it’s about seeing how far the physical properties of film can be stretched. Does it produce a particular mood? Not much besides irritation. Is it all that interesting? Maybe more far-out space cadets can get something out of this abrasive audio/visual tone poem. It mostly just made my eyes hurt. [5/10]

Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957)

Monster kids the world over fondly recall the bug-eyed monster designs of the 1950s. Usually nuclear or extraterrestrial in origin, the creatures represent the half-way point between the little green men of World War II tabloids and the grays of modern ufology. Big brains, big eyes, shiny suits, and colorful skin were the usual attributes. Among these particular critters, there’s few more iconic than the titular threat of “Invasion of the Saucer Men.” Most every documentary I’ve seen about ‘50s sci-fi always featured the Saucer Men. This overlooks that the movie is actually a light-hearted horror/comedy that doesn’t take itself very seriously at all.

Johnny and Joan are newly-weds but still act like horny teenagers. They, for example, haven’t kicked the habit of parking at lovers' lane and making out. One such night is interrupted when a flying saucer lands in the woods. They strike one of the little green men with their car, getting the authorities involved. The cops don’t believe the teens. Soon, a pair of drunken con-men, the local military and a grumpy cattle farmer becomes involved. The Saucer Men outsmart each of them, leaving the teenagers to save the day.

Though its script does some mildly clever things, it’s not surprising that “Invasion of the Saucer Men” is best remembered for its rubber monsters. The Saucer Men are prime examples of the bug-eyed rubber monster. Their eyes are huge and unblinking, with cat-like irises. Their expressions are stuck in perpetual grimaces, thanks to their permanently furrowed brows and half-opened mouths. Their big, wrinkled brains look like head of lettuces, which is a nice touch. Mostly, it’s the Saucer Men’s abilities that make them memorable. They have an extra set of eyeballs on the top of their hands, which is an interesting touch. After being struck with a car, the dead alien detaches his arm which then crawls around on its own. This leads to a cute scene of the alien hand unknowingly harassing the female lead. Though the Saucer Men carry weapons, they also have built-in defenses. From syringes inside their fingers, they can inject victims with alcohol. When applied to an already drunk individual, this can be deadly. Mostly, the inventiveness of the monsters represents how surprisingly clever “Invasion fo the Saucer Men” can be.

That “Invasion of the Saucer Men” keeps a sense of humor about itself matters. The film is seemingly aware of the clichés of the genre. When the teens report the alien invaders to the cops, they don’t believe them. When they talk to the military, they don’t believe them either. Unlike a lot of fifties creature features where the military seems incompetent by accident, this movie intentionally makes its military incompetent. The Saucer Men are even savvy enough to dent the teens’ car, in an attempt to frame them. Because of an accident involving a spilled bottle of alcohol, everyone assumes they’re drunk. For extra fun, the movie throws in some actual drunks. There’s a ridiculous subplot about a farmer’s cow that also likes booze. Alcohol is a huge plot point, it turns out. “Invasion of the Saucer Men” is not quite sharp enough to be a satire of the genre but it’s clear those making the movie had fun playing with the conventions of the genre.

Also helping matters is the capable cast. Making the teen protagonists a married couple is a fun idea, another one of the movie’s mild subversion. Steven Terrell and Gloria Castillo are both likable in the part. I like that Castillo is not just a screaming damsel in distress, as she actually helps the plot move forward a few times. Terrell keeps things light-hearted as the hero. Mostly, the pair of drunks is the most memorable characters. Future Riddler Frank Gorshin has some giddy fun as Joe, who is characterized half-way between boozer and con-men. As his long suffering (and equally sloshed roommate), Lyn Osborn is also good. The sequence of him cleaning out the fridge to make room for the dead alien got a laugh out of me.

Like many alien invasion flicks, “Invasion of the Saucer Men” cooks up a ridiculous, last-minute weakness for the invaders. You’d think the Saucer Men wouldn’t attack a planet that is bathed in sunshine for half a day, if that’s what makes them explode. Breezy enough to excuse any of its silliness, the film should be a good time for any fans of fifties camp or rubber monster movies. [7/10]

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