SEPTEMBER 4, 2009
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?