Monday, July 22, 2013

The Sentinel

The Sentinel ~ This 1977 horror, in the style of other urban 1970s horrors like Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, scared the hell out of me as a kid. No, strike that, not the movie, the ending of the movie scared me. The rest of the flick is pretty typical of the genre at the time, and fairly pedestrian.

Written and directed by Michael Winner, and based on the book of the same name by Jeffrey Konvitz (who also co-produced with Winner), The Sentinel is the story of a troubled flaky model, played by Cristina Raines, who wants her own place. She gets an apartment in a sectioned brownstone filled with equally neurotic neighbors, and a blind priest on the top floor who's always staring out the window.

The kicker is the neighbors are demons and the brownstone is a gateway to Hell. Burgess Meredith does a fine turn as the head demon, kindly and subtly sinister. On the other hand, Chris Sarandon demonstrates that none of his ex-wife's acting skills rubbed off onto him in this flat performance as Raines' boyfriend. Also look for early roles for Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger, a very creepy Beverly D'Angelo, and a scary young Jerry Orbach.

The cat's birthday party is one of the more messed up scenes I've seen. It's comparative to the wedding reception in Freaks. Instead of "one of us," you'll have "black and white cat, black and white cake" ringing in your head.

The scene that scares the crap out of me is at the end, as I said. The priest guards the gate to Hell, but he's about to die, and a new guardian is needed - guess who's elected? I'm not really giving all that much away. Once you get to a certain point, it all becomes pretty obvious what's going on.

When the switch is made there's some overflow from Hell until the new guardian is installed. We see the denizens of Hell walking and crawling across the floor after Raines, and that's the part that gets me. Speaking of Freaks, this film did set off a bit of a controversy when it was revealed that, like that movie, real disfigured persons were used for the ending. To much effect.

I must admit, after seeing it for the first time again after almost three decades, it was more the anticipation of the ending that I remember scaring me than the ending itself. Still, not a bad flick for the genre of the time.

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