The Sentinel (1977)

SEPTEMBER 4, 2009

GENRE: RELIGIOUS, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

For movie nerds, there's nothing more delightful than watching an old movie and seeing an early (or debut) performance of a current beloved actor. Jack Nicholson in Little Shop Of Horrors is pretty much the holy grail of such things, but the movie The Sentinel (recommended by HMAD reader Phil Fasso) gives it a run for its money in a "quantity over quality" way. In the 90-odd minute film from 1977, we have Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D'Angelo, Jeff Goldblum, and a boyish Tom Berenger. Hell, even William Hickey looks healthy.

Sadly, the sprawling cast (I haven't mentioned the number of established actors - Jose Ferrer, John Carradine, Burgess Meredith, Martin Balsam... it's like Irwin Allen cast this thing) is also the film's biggest flaw. It was based on a book, and while I am sure the novel is hundreds of pages, 90 minutes is too short of a time to have so many characters. They would have done well to drop or combine a few. Our heroine (the beautiful Cristina Raines - how have I never seen her before? Must remedy) and her boyfriend (Chris Sarandon, in a wonderful non-performance) get ample time, but just about all of the other actors I mentioned have only a scene or two each. Walken barely even speaks. By constantly introducing new characters, the actual story gets a bit lost.

Which is a shame, because the story is kind of cool. It's essentially a grown up Exorcist of sorts, with Raines being manipulated by evil forces that are trying to drive her to suicide, which will prevent her from becoming the next in a long line of holy guardians that can keep the doors to hell from opening (or something to that effect. Again, the story is a bit - hey look, Richard Dreyfuss!). But SHE never seems to be aware of this, it's mostly Sarandon who figures shit out. It'd be like if that bland guy from The Unborn was doing all the work while Odette Yustman kept seeing bugs.

But it gets a lot of stuff right, too. A nightmare sequence is incredibly realistic, in that it actually feels (and is even presented as) a dream, not some ultra-real nonsense that is REVEALED to be a dream, something that annoys me more every time it is used. And even if the cast is too large, the novelty value of seeing so many folks looking so young keeps it feeling short; I actually thought the film was less than 80 minutes. Time goes by fast when you're being distracted by a still young and fully naked Beverly D'Angelo.

And Burgess Meredith tops even his Manitou performance here, playing a whacked out neighbor of Raines. He is introduced with a bird on his shoulder and a cat by his side, and then begins to confuse Eisenhower and Herbert Hoover. Later he throws the cat a birthday party. And since the plot is wacky anyway, he gets to deliver some nonsensical dialogue in the climax, also a delight. He actually reminded me a bit of his Foul Play character (eccentric pet loving neighbor of the heroine), something that doesn't bother me in the slightest.

The climax features a bunch of circus freaks (playing demons). Most of them are legit deformed, something that director Michael Winner got in trouble for apparently. It's a freaky visual (giant lip deformities creep me out greatly), and kind of a shame that they weren't a more prevalent factor in the film. I also would have liked to have a little more info on the "casting" process, as it's kind of odd, but alas, the disc only has a single extra feature.

That would be the trailer, and it's a doozy. Not only does Movie Voice guy try to talk directly to the characters ("Turn around, Allison! Someone is behind you!"), but it also pretty much spoils every single thing about the movie. It's common to see things like the kills being given away in spots from the 70s (Halloween's trailer, for example, pretty much spoils every scare), but to have so many plot points ruined the ad is a bit odd. But if you've already watched the movie, you can appreciate the over the top narration all the same. The only copy of it on Youtube has embedding disabled (fuck you, Youtube user IMACACI!), so enjoy this less spoiler-y fan edit, set to that Requiem For A Dream score that gets used on 90% of professional trailers.

What say you?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

10 comments:

  1. saw this for the first time a few months back and was thoroughly entertained. definitely in the realm of Exorcist (came out around the same time so it makes sense) but still its own story. the visuals are crazy and disturbing which is exactly what makes it so good

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  2. The scene where Raines walks in on her dad with the naked fat ladies eating cake was by far the most disturbing in the film. Good fun.
    I think the trailer is available at Trailers From Hell, with bonus Edgar Wright commentary!

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  3. I love the Sentinel! The scene where her dad is standing in the corner in his underwear and then walks past oooh man. Despite being a grown up Exorcist it also is kind of a classic ghost story- at least in the beginning. Or actually, that seems to be what Allison thinks it is. The swaying chandelier the footsteps on the ceiling and being alone in a big apartment.

    And also, whoever throws a birthday party for their cat is amazing. Little cat birthday hats? Best idea ever.

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  4. I know one of the cast members and he said they used real freaks in this movie ! I have to see it again.

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  5. You forgot to mention Eli Wallach!!!! Great flick.

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  6. I saw bits and pieces of this when I was a wee youngun. Scared the hell out of me at the time, especially the scene with the dead guy creeping around in the apartment above her. I used to think that the sounds from the house settling was that dead guy lurking in the attic. Hey...I was only 5.

    I just watched it for the first time as an adult and I thought it was pretty good, much better than most "horror" movies made today that expect the audience to have an IQ on par with a sack of potatoes and an attention span shorter than a 7 year old ADD victim on 6 cups of coffee.

    As I watched it I couldn't help but think of how much the lead actress, Christina Raines, looks like Odette Yustman. Makes me wonder if they're related or something.

    This is not a movie that can be remade because Hollywood doesn't know how to make movies anymore. Any attempt would fail utterly because the studio would try to craft a series of special effects shots and call it a movie.

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  7. The Sentinel is well made but its disturbing for several reasons. Theres violence and gore in it and the movie used real life freaks and deformed people in it as representing the damned from hell. Thats tasteless and immoral. What angered me the most about this movie is that it showed a cat killing and eating a bird. Jezebel the cat and Mortimer the parakeet are the pets of Charles Chazen. At first the cat tolerated the parakeet but then in a later scene the cat kills the poor parakeet. Yes its natural and this is what cats do but I dont want to see it. A poor innocent animal is killed for a movie. Shame on Michael Winner and the moviemakers. The moviemakers should be locked in jail for cruelty to animals. Where is Peta when you need it? The Sentinel is an immoral disgusting movie.

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  8. @anonymous on the 25th: agreed, allowing animal cruelty for a film's sake just because it also occurs naturally in the wild is immoral, period. Thanks to your insight I have skipped buying this DVD, and the more that do this the more chance we might have of excising such things from movies.

    In this regard, stay away from the new Masters of Cinema DVD issue of 'Wake in Fright'. Almost no animal goes unharmed in this otherwise splendid movie. I've spent a lot of time in Australia, and the white population really is this barbaric towards its mammal population.

    Dave P

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  9. Thank you Brian Eno and Joy Division. Its good to know there are kind, conscientious people. The Sentinel isnt the only movie where a real animal was killed. There are others. I list here all the movies I know of where an animal was killed in chronolgical order. 1)The Godfather 1972, which shows a dead goat; 2) the original 1972 The Wickerman, where goats and other farm animals were burned alive inside the wickerman; 3) the original Swept Away 1974, where a rabbit is slaughtered;4) Deep Red 1975, where a Myna bird is killed and a small, unidentified lizard is killed; 5) Apocalypse Now 1979, where a Water Buffalo is slaughtered, 6) Cannibal Holocaust 1980, where a turtle is killed, 7) Evilspeak 1981, where a puppy is killed, 8) Lord of the Flies 1990, where a wild pig is killed and beheaded and a Chameleon is impaled on a stick; and 9)Satan's Little Helper 2003, where a kitten is squashed against a wall; 10) The Exorcism Tapes of Annelise Michel 2010, where a Pigeon is killed and mutilated, and 11) the 1976 The Sentinel, where a Parakeet is killed. Im sure there are more movies I dont know of which have cruelty to animals. People are cruel and Nature is cruel. The Devil and evil rules this horror movie for a world and not a loving God.

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  10. I forgot to mention the movie The Perfect Getaway2009, where a Goat is killed and skinned. Disgusting. All these movies listed which have cruelty to animals in it should be banned and boycotted. Thank you.

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