When a beautiful model, Alison Parker (Cristina Raines, Nashville, The Duellists), rents an apartment in a gloomy New York brownstone, little does she realize that an unspeakable horror awaits her behind its doors...a mysterious gateway to hell. Alison likes her eccentric new neighbors, so it comes as a shock when she's told that, except for a strange old priest, she's the only tenant.
In the 1977 religious shocker, THE SENTINEL, Alison Parker is a model who works in both, print and TV ads. When she and her boyfriend, Lawyer Michael Lerman, agree to live apart for awhile, Alison looks for a new place to live. She finds tht place in a gothic Manhattan, Brownstone apartment building . And at just $400 a month, she considers it a steal. Initially, she enjoys her new location, and even makes friends with her new exotic neighbors, whom live in the building. These include an animal friendly old man named, Charles Chazen, 2 very "hands-on Lesbians, and a set of strange twins. Although they are very strange, indeed, Alison initially chalks it up as being part of their charm. But, that is until, some bizarre happenings begin to occur during the night hours. Loud footsteps from the upstairs apartment, often keep her up all night. And on such a night, a frightening version of her recently deceased Father appears, resulting in Alison stabbing him. The event shakes Alison to her core, so much so that she reports to her landlady, Miss Logan, the disturbances. However, it is then that she is shocked to find out from Logan, that other than the old blind priest, Father Halliran, who lives of the first floor, Alison is the first tenant to live in Brownstone, in the last 3 years. Could Alison, who battles depression, and is on medication, not to mention, is a survivor of a suicide attempt years prior, just be imagining things? Or could what she has been experiencing, be very real? The answer comes when Lerman does some digging, and uncovers the secret history of the old Brownstone building itself. Serving as a gateway to hell, the old building is operated by a group of excommunicated priests, whom have but one job, and one thing in common. And when one of them dies, in natural order, they find a replacement who meet the common requirements. With Halliran's life nearing an end, it is time to name that replacement. However, unfortunately for Alison, she appears to be the chosen one.
Released in 1977, THE SENTINEL is a film that was on the heels of THE EXORCIST, which was released just 4 years prior in 1973, and coming a year after THE OMEN in 1976. It came at a time where films like THE EXORCIST made religion-themed films all the rage in Hollywood. And with the 2 aforementioned films becoming hugely successful, it was no surprise that, the novel, penned by Jeffrey Konvitz, was optioned for a film. Konvitz wrote the original screenplay based on his novel, which was re-written by the film's eventual Director in the end. Michael Winner, who was widely known for his writing and directing of DEATH WISH, and his guerrilla style of film making, thus brought the same to THE SENTINEL. The end result is something that could be considered truly unique indeed.
THE SENTINEL utilizes the now, all too familiar notion that there just might be some kind of opening in hell somewhere, and that somehow, demons are living among us in the real world. It is the stuff of biblical proportions, and is completely fanatical, yet in a movie, it can be played up in big detail, and often is. THE SENTINEL is yet another film in a long line, but like a film such as THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE SENTINEL, does it in a way that is both memorable and unique. Making it memorable are the appearances of several well known faces in the film, Most notably is Burgess Meredith(BATMAN(1960), THE MANITOU), as the kooky old neighbor, "Charles Chazen" who as a liking for cats and birds, There are also Sylvia Miles(THE FUNHOUSE) and Beverly D'Angelo(NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION), who show up as a pair of frisky, leotard-wearing lesbians, named "Gerde" and "Sandra" as well(D'Angelo, especially memorable for her masturbation scene, which she performs in front of the film's main character). Also appearing as Father Halliran, the old blind priest, is John Carradine, and Ava Gardner as the landlady, "Miss Logan". And of course, there is Chris Sarandon as the Lawyer/boyfriend, Michael. But beyond those key stars, also to be seen are the likes of a young Jeff Golblum as a photographer, and a brief appearance by one Richard Dreyfuss. Also showing up, are Eli Wallach, and Jerry Orbach, even. there are so many names in the credits that are of worth, that chances are, you will recognize a handful of them. As for the set up of the story. Utilizing several plot devices, such as dream sequences, and flashbacks, coupled with the fact that our character stays medicated, following her suicide, the film gives us early signs that she may be experiencing some sort of psychosis. This of course, leads us to believe that the film could only go in one direction. This was my first time seeing this film, and honestly I thought it was going to go the default route. I figured that when all was said and done, it would be revealed to us that everything had seen and experienced was only in her mind, due to some kind of brain trauma, I remember thinking earlier that "well, i've already figured out the film's plot twist. But hey, at least it looks good, and is entertaining!" Well, I was wrong. The fact was, that I had not solved the plot twist, and where the film would take me, would actually end up being a pretty clever take on the whole, "gateway to hell" mythology. The whole idea - which is a bit of a spoiler - is that the priests, which head the building, choose a guardian to the gateway to hell, to ensure that there is no escaping for the demons at hell's door. And as history has been, all of these so called "guardians" have been folks, who have been resurrected after suicide attempts. So in short. Halliran's time is up, he's on his way out, and so the gate of hell, needs a new guardian. And seeing as Alison has now survived 2 previous suicide attempts, she has been marked by the priesthood. For a first time viewing it is an unexpected turn, but whether or not you have seen the film, before, THE SENTINEL is one that is fun to watch unfold. Although it isn't necessarily perfect in all regards, and in the end, is a little confusing - it is still fun, none the less.
But seeing how well in turned out, seems a bit miraculous, once you learn of the many woes that the film endured on set. It has been said that Director Michael Winner, although quite good, was a Horror in himself to work with, with the film's lead actress Christina Raines stating that she cried on her way to work everyday, as she thought about working with the Director. And on that, Winner had even said that he disliked both Raines and Sarandon in the lead roles. It definitely seems to have been quite the time. Not to mention that Winner wasn't even the first Director chosen for the film(that was Don Segal, who eventually turned it down), and the fact that, as I mentioned, Winner himself had actual rewrote the Author, Jeffrey Konvitz's original script. As I said, it's a miracle that the film turned out good at all - but fortunately it did.
For a film that I had not seen prior(only heard about), I have to say that THE SENTINEL is an old school religious Horror thriller that holds up quite well. It is one that works as well as it does, due to its unexpected nature, as well as it's great use of dark, and morbid imagery(the use of real life Circus sideshow freaks as damned souls from the depths hell, was key and effective to the highest level). For the most part, it is a film that progresses well during its first half, as we get to know the film's main character, But it is when the film delves into the mystery of it all, that it gets a little uneven and a little confusing as it ties up all of its loose ends. We are presented with a scenario that doesn't exactly line up perfectly in the end, but that doesn't matter much, as THE SENTINEL is a film that is still very much enjoyable.
SCREAM! FACTRY presents THE SENTINEL via a new HD transfer from the film's interpositive. The film both looks and sounds great. The image retains the film's detail and grain. As for special features, SCREAM! FACTOR had originally intended to release THE SENTINEL as a Collector's Edition release, but unfortunately had difficulty in producing new extras. With that said, the disc still has a few choice features, including 3 commentaries(2 newly produced comentaries : One with star Christina Raines, the other with Writer/Producer, Jeffery Konvitz. The third commentary being one ported over from a previous release of the film), and an interview with the film's Second Assistant Director/Production Designer, Ralph S. Singleton, the film's TV Spot, stills, B & W press photos, lobby cards, and of course the film's theatrical trailer.
Details for the interview, is as follows :
"Working with Winner - The Making of the Sentinel" (23m 56s) :
This is a new "making of" retrospective as Ralph S. Singleton, the film's Second Assistant Director/Production Designer is interviewed. Singleton, first talks about how he got into film, before talking about first working for Winner on DEATH WISH, followed by THE SENTINEL. He talks about the difficulty working for Winner for others, and how it differed for him, stating that over time he built a trust and friendship with the Director. The piece is pretty interesting, as it offers one man's prospective.
7/10 The film features some great effects from Horror legend Dick Smith. While it isn't too gory, it does feature some very nice gore gags, such as a severed nose, a gouged eye, and some surreal cracking of one's skin and a facial wound. The practical effects have a sort of "Giallo" style quality to them. Although the Director used real Circus freaks for the film's final scene, many of them having real deformities, Smith there, also emphasized them with effects, creating some really memorable imagery.
IMPRESSION OF THE FILM
Yes, while the conclusion of THE SENTINEL comes at us a little confusing as it attempts to sort things out. It is still entertaining overall, as its campiness, in the end, works in its favor. Both the story progression, as well as its dark and gloomy imagery make this one an easy one to recommend. It's a classic Horror tale in every sense.
Special Features include :
- NEW 2015 High Definition Transfer Of The Film From The Interpositive
- NEW Audio Commentary With Actress Cristina Raines
- NEW Audio Commentary With Writer/Producer Jeffrey Konvitz
- NEW Interview With Assistant Director Ralph S. Singleton
- Audio Commentary With Writer/Producer/Director Michael Winner
- Theatrical Trailer & TV Spots
- Still Galleries Movie Stills, Press Photos, Posters And Lobby Cards
This film will be released on Blu-Ray on September 22, 2015