Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey), a receptionist in her thirties, returns from secretarial school one evening only to be raped by a foul-smelling, invisible entity. The second time the entity starts to make its presence felt in her shabby, rented apartment, she takes her three kids - son Billy (David Labiosa), aged fifteen, who thinks something's wrong with his mum psychologically, since he neither hears nor sees anything during the alleged "attacks" and daughters Julie (7 yrs) and Kimberly (5 yrs), who're shocked and scared - to a friend's place to stay the night.
After surviving an attempt to kill her in her car, she visits the outpatient psychiatric clinic, recounting her experiences to Phil Sneiderman (Ron Silver), the resident doctor. Sneiderman and the panel of psychiatrists who listen to her case conclude that hers is a mind severely traumatised because of childhood experiences. All the time struggling with disbelief and accusations of hallucination, along with the trauma of the assaults, Carla is finally vindicated after her friend Cindy (Margaret Blye) sees the entity's fury with her own eyes.
While looking up books on psychology and paranormal activites in a bookstore, Carla encounters Kraft and Mehan, two parapsychologists associated with the university parapsychology lab under Dr. Elizabeth Cooley. The team sets up equipment, once initial evidence of the entity is obtained, to record the activities of the being. An elaborate experiment, the object of which is to isolate and destroy the being ensues, with Carla as bait.
Whether they do succeed in nailing the being would be giving away too much!
Adapted from Frank De Felitta's novel by the same name and directed by Furie ("The Ipcress File", "Lady Sings The Blues"), this movie is designed to freak you out.
The suspense factor in the flick is high and has been achieved through tilted camera close-ups of Hershey's tense, fearful face and a loud, jarring background score orchestrated by composer Charles Bernstein, that erupts after bouts of silence. A fast-paced, simple, flowing plot that holds our attention, screams, shadows on the wall, eerie lights and Hershey's emotive facial expressions, all contribute to the drama.
Ron Silver has done a good job. Portraying an intense young professional psychiatrist who's committed to his field and the realm of reason, his screen presence is commanding and helps reroute the movie along the path of logic, after scenes of attacks and hysteria. Hershey and Silver bring out strong, stable performances in each other.
Needing to portray a middle-class surburban neighbourhood, production designer Charles Rosen has made Moran's house look tacky, cramped and inexpensive - driving home the fact that the protagonist is an average, struggling, single mother with financial pressures, in an attempt to heigten our empathy for her.
The storyline is a fictionalised version of a true incident that occured in L.A. in October 1976 and the viewers, in a sense, have no choice but to believe the basic premise of the story. Taft and Gaynor, assistants at the parapsychology lab at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute conducted a ten-week investigation at the real victim's house and observed cold spots, lights and object movements.
Released in 1981, this taut, anxious, disquieting movie that has taken almost two decades to get here, is only for those who can stomach a good amount of horror.This article was first published on 23 Nov 2000.