Carla Moran is violently raped by a seemingly invisible force. She tried to tell the people around her about what has happened but finds only resistance as her family and friends don’t believe her as she didn’t see who assaulted her especially when she says that her house was locked up when it happened and the assailant seemingly vanished into thin air.
Frank De Felitta’s bestselling book based on a true story (the case of Doris Bither) translates very well to the big screen with Barbara Hershey cast as Carla doing a phenomenal job in invoking the terror of a woman going through something very real but undertaken by someone or something very unreal. Apparently Bette Midler, Sally Field, Jane Fonda and Jill Clayburgh were all offered the role but declined.
Sidney J. Furie’s film stands alone as a one-off film of a one-off case that most people will have thought of as too much of a tall story to be true.
Carla not being believed can also be seen as an allegory of something that far too many women (and men) go through when they find the courage and strength to report a rape or sexual assault- that their horror isn’t over yet as they try to seek justice whilst being met with an unfeeling and cruel judicial system that views their account with scepticism and disbelief. If it actually makes it to a court of law they will be made to relive their trauma. Those opposing them will try to disprove and belittle the magnitude of what they’ve been through. Or they will try to convince a jury that it didn’t happen at all.
The film all too harrowingly shows the full horror of what Carla goes through when she is raped and does a great job of showing the trail of very disturbing signs when the spirit or entity is approaching (objects shaking, a certain odour that permeates the surroundings Moran is in, a very sudden drop in temperature). Hershey’s performance, just like the film in general, never slides into TV movie melodramatics or sensationalism.
There needs to be special mention to Charles Bernstein’s insistent, pulsating and truly shocking score that is perfect for the movie and it’s subject matter. There are also echoes of the music he would write three years later for a new film called A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Also the special effects for the scenes in which Moran is molested by the invisible force are very effective indeed. For one sequence a body cast of Hershey was made that was manipulated by currents of air to make it look like the invisible entity was touching her. It succeeds eerily well. Stan Winston supervised the practical effects.
The effects also come into their own when Carla meets professionals who actually believe her story and work in the field of parapsychology. But to tell you more about this would make me tiptoe into spoiler territory…
When the film opened it was met with protests from those who thought that such a film was exploiting such a serious topic as rape. Hershey actually defended this claim and voiced that herself and the filmmakers had actually worked hard not to make the film exploitative and to display the true horror of sexual assault and rape.
All in all a terrifying film that still feels underrated and excluded from serious writings regarding 80’s horror.