Sex and horror mix well. Maybe because sex can be scary, especially to the teenagers in a horror movie audience; maybe because sex and murder can both be acts of disturbing intimacy; maybe because sex and horror movies are all about the special circumstances in which taboos are broken. At any rate, I’m always interested in those horror movies that revolve around sex, whether it’s Cronenberg’s vaginas-where-they-shouldn’t-be, or that subgenre of jilted-women-as-monsters (Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, the underrated Swimfan), or anything that can be described as “psychosexual.” (My main regret this October was that I never got around to watching Nekromantic, a movie about bringing the dead back to life through having sex with them. That just sounds deliciously horrible, doesn’t it? There are two of them!)
In the case of today’s Killtoberfest film, 1982’s The Entity, I was expecting something pulpy and schlocky, because the keyword search on this is “ghost rapist.” To my pleasant surprise, the film is the complete opposite, a serious, respectful story about one woman’s struggle to survive living at the intersection between the surreal horrors of a ghostly intruder and the mundane trauma of sexual assault. Astonishingly, it purports to be based on a true story.
The movie reminds me a lot of The Exorcist, in that much of the film concerns itself with the question of belief and the attempt of science to grapple with the supernatural. The only thing anyone in the movie can agree on is that, periodically, single mother Carla Moran undergoes an experience where a violent, invisible entity holds her down and rapes her. These sequences aren’t in the least prurient, they’re terrifying and uncomfortable, for us as well as Carla. Her attempts to deal with this astounding problem form the movie’s narrative, as a bevy of psychiatrists, psychologists, and parapsychologists poke, prod, study, and use her to further their own ends.
This is what’s most fascinating about the film, other than the sobering realism of its drama and the how-the-fuck-did-they-do-that special effects. (1) In one of my favorite forms of thematic construction, we have a literal situation that is also a metaphor for itself (ala Munich). The film is about her experiences trying to somehow deal with being repeatedly raped, but it’s also about how the (scientific) men around her fail to give her the belief and support that she needs. On a literal level, scenes like the one in which the psychiatrists at her local hospital meet to determine just how crazy she is are the rational response to purported evidence of the supernatural; on the other hand, it’s also a bunch of men sitting around a table dismissing a victim of rape as delusional (or otherwise responsible for her own rape). Later she’ll trade the psychiatrists for parapsychologists who believe her story, but will put her in physical danger during testing for their own selfish academic purposes. (Giving “publish or perish” a whole new meaning.) So you have this whole feminist narrative running parallel to the ghost story, until the film really becomes about Carla’s struggle to find her own strength to continue fighting, even as everyone around her denies or ignores her pain.
The Entity isn’t a great film, but it’s something that’s almost better, a unique one. I’ve seen a lot of horror movies about sex, but few that treat sex with this level of respect; fewer still that manage to crawl inside an absurd premise and find heart and meaning there, invisible but definitely, assuredly present.
1 It took a lot of Googling to figure out how they managed to make it look like an invisible person was pressing its fingers down onto her exposed breasts. The actual method is almost disappointingly simple, but it looks fantastically real on screen.