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Film Title

The Sentinel

Director

Michael Winner

Starring

  • Cristina Raines as Alison Parker
  • Chris Sarandon as Michael Lerman
  • John Carradine as Father Halliran
  • Burgess Meredith as Charles Chazen
  • Ava Gardner as Miss Logan
  • Deborah Raffin as Jennifer
  • Arthur Kennedy as Monsignor
  • Eli Wallach as Detective Gatz
  • Christopher Walken as Detective Rizzo
  • Martin Balsam as Professor Ruzinsky
  • José Ferrer as Robed Figure
  • Sylvia Miles as Gerde
  • Beverly D’Angelo as Sandra
  • Jeff Goldblum as Fashion Photographer
  • Jerry Orbach as Director

A 70’s horror with an all-star cast, I was expecting The Sentinel to be a treat. Alas, it was a shoddy mess that descended into ludicrous and incomprehensible places. There are nary any positives in this film, which could have been something special, fur floundered into the abyss of rubbish.

Alison is a young, pretty model living in New York. Though in a relationship with slick lawyer Michael Lerman, she is reluctant to move in with him or consider engagement. She decides to find her own place to live. While seemingly living the high life, Alison has baggage in her memories that still haunt her and refuse to let go. Continuing looking for a place, she is recommended by realtor Miss Logan, a beautiful Brooklyn Heights apartment. She notices a man in the top apartment window. Miss Logan informs her that it is Father Halliran, a blind priest who seems to sit there without ever really moving. Thrilled at the scope of the place and the reasonable amount being asked for, Alison moves in. Shortly after arrival, Alison encounters some of the strange tenants of the building, starting with the peculiar and intrusive Charles Chazen. Gradually, Alison’s nights are disturbed by horrific visions of her troubled past that involved an attempted suicide and is plagued by unnerving noises from another apartment. Frightened yet very curious, Alison is then shocked to learn that only she and Father Halliran reside in the complex, with no one having previously occupied it for three years. Becoming more alarmed by events that may or may not be real, Alison crumbles completely. Somehow, she is linked to a centuries old pattern that the apartment block has which poses a deadly and potentially otherworldly trouble. Can Alison really figure out why these visions appear and what sinister designs are being made for her?

Michael Winner gets some atmosphere going at the start, but his lack of taste and frankly trying direction makes The Sentinel really drag and go into a place of boredom. He plays up the overt sensationalism and outrageous moments to an extent that they aren’t frightening or remotely chilling. The visual style is one positive point( even though it’s sadly only one such instance) finding a certain gloss and at least setting some spooky aura. This however is drowned out by the sheer implausibility and inanity  of it all, that causes The Sentinel to be a major let down. The Sentinel film that could have been something if thought had actually gone into. What we are left with is a confused and histrionic film, that doesn’t generate hardly any terror or resonance. There is one scene that is rightly celebrated for its scare factor, but apart from that, The Sentinel is laughable and deplorable. I mean, I’m game for some campy and melodramatic moments in horror, often they can be quite fun. But the overload, coupled with a dragging, not to mention hard to follow story, was too much for me to take. And there is one thing in The Sentinel that really left a bad taste in my mouth. When all hell breaks loose and the supposed fright of the movie is in swing, one manifestation of evil is depicted as people with prominent deformities. The main thing I took issue with was that the people used were actually deformed themselves. When you put a physical defect or disability on screen, it should be done with respect. Here, it equates the deformities with evil, which really didn’t lie well with me. It felt exploitative and mean-spirited, especially as the implication it made was in very poor taste. The music score is passable with some unusual passages, yet like the rest of The Sentinel, over cooks events to a laughable degree.

As aforementioned, The Sentinel has an unbelievable cast. The sad news is, hardly any of them are given anything to work with and show off their skills. Cristina Raines, in the lead of tormented model, is basically required to look frightened and pretty. She does both things well enough, but there’s nothing really meaty for her else to do. Chris Sarandon at least tries his best with putting some cocky attitude into the role of the lawyer boyfriend. John Carradine, heavily made up to look older, is pretty effective as the largely silent priest whose eerie presence hangs over the building. Burgess Meredith rocks creepy to the hilt as a pesky and very unusual neighbour, who becomes more than just a common nuisance. Ava Gardner is completely wasted as the realtor of the place, only appearing a handful of times and not equipped with much in the way of action to play. Deborah Raffin is pretty bland as Alison’s best friend, while experienced veteran actor Arthur Kennedy at least contributes some mystery as an enigmatic priest. Eli Wallach and a young Christopher Walken are seen in a thread of the story that makes no sense and wastes the obvious talents of two reliable stars. Martin Balsam and José Ferrer, two fine actors, both appear in blink and you’ll miss it roles which is extremely unfortunate. Sylvia Miles and Beverly D’Angelo certainly have the strangeness down in their parts, but not much else because the script restricts them. Bit parts are also handed to Jeff Goldblum and Jerry Orbach. The mix of old and new stars was supposed to be amazing, but they are never given any time to shine or strut their stuff.

A big mess of a movie that showed potential but quickly became farce, The Sentinel is one to avoid in the horror genre.

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