Film Review

The Sentinel

todayOctober 19, 2023 135

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of bonkers 70’s Hollywood Horror, Supernatural Horror, New York City movies, huge Hollywood casts from the Golden era and the 1970s

In the mid 1970’s, British filmmaker Michael Winner had made quite a career for himself, most notably for his collaborations with Oliver Reed in England and even more notably with Charles Bronson in Hollywood.  He worked with Bronson on six films including all three Death Wish films.  

After the success of the first of that violent trilogy, he was able to tackle a horror film that others had not been able to finish.  He co-write (with the author Jeffrey Konvitz), edited, and directed an adaptation of the novel, The Sentinel. This film is one of the most disturbing films from the 1970’s with many similarities to The Exorcist, The Omen,  Rosemary’s Baby, and several others.  In spite of these commonalities, it can be seen as a work that can stand on its own as a creation of an unsettling atmosphere and has had its own influence on the genre.

It is set in New York and like future underrated horror film, The Eyes of Laura Mars, it is set in the fashion world. Cristina Raines plays Alison Parker, a model just on the brink of stardom, who has decided to move into her own apartment in an attempt to figure out her future. She has been living with her lawyer boyfriend (played creepily by Chris Sarandon who went on to separate himself from the film) but feels compelled to have some independence.  She meets with real estate agent, Miss Logan (the still glamorous Ava Gardner) who shows her a remarkable and affordable apartment inside an old building that immediately gives off a dangerous energy.  This descends quickly as she meets with the hodgepodge of odd characters that inhabit the building. The oddest of all is the blind priest that lives in the top room and sits in the window waiting for a sign. Alison’s own health is connected to a dark family history and trauma. It gets wilder and wilder from there.  The plot becomes secondary to the atmosphere and unnerving images.

This film is definitely one to put on your scary list for several reasons.  The cast is a list of Golden Age Hollywood including the already mentioned Ava Gardner, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, Jose Ferrrer, Arthur Kennedy, Eli Wallach, and the over the top Burgess Meredith.  On top of that, there is a who’s who of upcoming New York actors including Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Jerry Orbach, and in her debut Beverly D’Angelo in a role you won’t soon forget.  You even have Tom Berenger and Richard Dryfuss showing up as extras.  On the other side, Winner casts a group of disfigured actors as demons.  Much like Tod Browning and his masterpiece Freaks, this casting is upsetting.  Winner said he was inspired by the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, but he also is going for pure shock value.

There are some monsters and ghosts that require the make-up effects by the master Dick Smith and are still horrific and realistic.  I suspect that Lucio Fulci was very influenced by this film in his Gates of Hell Trilogy, especially the ending of The Beyond. The practical effects are still immensely effective along with the production design of the house.  Lastly, the score by Gil Melie sets the tone magnificently and guides us through this descent into Hell.

Available to stream on Netflix

Written by: Gareth Jones

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