It’s not a little known fact that in the 1970’s the horror movie genre really focused on the Devil and all things Catholic, with a battle for the soul. Capstone by the academy award winning movie, The Exorcist, many films decided to ride the coattails of the success and a few New York Times best selling occult books became films. One of these films really slipped the spotlight but a revisit to it shows that just because you aren’t mainstream doesn’t mean you aren’t a winner. Even if if you are a taboo Satan-filled-lesbo-cake-eating-cat-from-Hell-Christopher Walken-minor-role-need-to-go-to-church-after-watching movie. Let us look at The Sentinel.
Now, I am not going to talk about every scene of the movie because you can just type “Netflix” in the browser and watch the movie if you are a member because it is on streaming. But what I will do is give you a brief synopsis, a highlight on some of the greatest actors in this loaded cast, some real “WTF” moments and above all, a look at the climax in a “you can’t do that on TV” scene. Seriously, you really can’t.
We begin with a quick shot at the Vatican as we meet what is, I guess, a select group of priests and we learn that there is a disturbance in the Force. The Force being all things Catholic and good. It’s not a strange beginning to this kind of film because most religious horror movies begin in another country just to show that what might happen in a familiar setting really has a global impact. Or at least traced from a really old place. Jumping to NY!
Here we are in New York as we meet the main characters of the film, Alison (Christina Raines) and Micheal (my favorite 1980’s horror icon, Chris Sarandon). Alison is a famous model as we can see because she is strikingly beautiful and her boyfriend, Micheal is a shrewd lawyer. Of course. They seem to have a happy relationship but only after a series of rocky starts since Micheal was married when they began their fling resulting is a separation from his wife. Via her death. Coincidence? Also, I should mention, Alison came from a not-so-normal childhood and attempted suicide a few times leaving her dependent on anti-depressants. Just throwing that out there.
So, we find out that Alison wants a place of her own for a while since she has been living with Micheal after his wife’s death. Seems like a plan. And that is where we find out that there are forces at work, drawing her to an apartment with a destiny of preconceived notions. (I don’t think that statement means anything.) She is drawn to a place that has both good and evil in it and there is about to be a battle for her. Better? But, that is temporarily postponed when she finds out her father is dying and she goes home to say goodbye and have a flashback or two.
We see that her father dies and we get a great glimpse of the father he used to be as she flashes back to her teenage years and brother, he was a fucked up unit. She walks in on him naked and in bed with two women and they are eating cake. And laughing. One is fat and the other is rather off her rocker and neither one minds old guy smell and old balls apparently.
After her father sees her, in a frosting induced furry, he smacks her and really puts all 92lbs behind it. She takes off down the hall and after witnessing that mess, she cuts her wrists and then we flash-forward. Apparently she survived.
Well, after her father is dead and gone she comes back to occupy her residence and is met by none other than Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith) playing a more devious but quite cavalier gentleman than Rocky’s coach. He invites himself in and introduces his bird, Mortimer, and his cat, Jezebel. This scene reminds me of when Yoda meets Luke for the first time inThe Empire Strikes Back. He’s a quirky guy but you know there is more to him than what he is representing.
Well, after excusing himself he exits, leaving behind a framed photograph of himself. (I find this classy and plan on doing that myself.) But if you think he is a strange neighbor then you gotta meet the two chicks that live below her. Gerde (Sylvia Miles) and Sandra (Beverly D’ Angelo) are two…odd lesbian ballerinas? I think? Anyway, after a brief introduction, Alison learns that Sandra is a mute and unable to talk. Gerde leaves the room to get tea and then this happens…
This awkward masturbation scene was both funny and a tad out there. Trying to regain composure, Alison makes an attempt to be conversational but when she asks what they do, Gerde says matter of factly, they fondle eachother. HEYOOO! Alison bolts.
Didn’t I say that I wasn’t going to do a play by play of this movie? Damn. Okay, I will be a little more brief.
Soon the apartment begins to take a toll on her as her fainting spells and headaches become increasingly worse. At night she has reoccurring nightmares and is awaken to her chandelier swinging by upstairs disturbances though it has been vacant for years. All spooky. Though her neighbors seem friendly, especially inviting her to a birthday party for Jezabel the cat, her dreams warn her that something isn’t quite right. “Black and white cake; Black and white cat.” I actually didn’t get that reference. Nevermind. Skip to a scary night.
Alison is again having a tough time sleeping in her new apartment and finally, she gets up and armed with a kitchen knife and a torch she ventures off to see what is going on. And she finds out!
While she is investigating, wouldn’t you know it, her light burns out. That always happens! Especially when a zombie in a diaper robotic-ly walks past you and stops, facing the wall. This is horror to me! It’s a real “what the fuck just happened” scene. There is no jump scare or some creature attacking Alison. It’s as if she isn’t there and this thing has no real destination. It just mechanically walks from one side of the room to the next! UGH!
Well, curiosity gets the best of Alison and she approaches the remote control Gobot-that-hit-a-wall slowly asking who or what this thing is. You know who?
I’m just kidding. She screams and goes stabby on him, cutting off his nose and all. Bolting, she runs out of the apartment and collapses as people gather around her and call 911.
Jump scene! We are at the hospital.
Oh yeah, remember her boyfriend, Micheal? He is there and being interrogated by police since his new girlfriend is stating she stabbed her dead father and he is still under suspicion for wife’s death. But being the cunning lawyer he is, he gives no details to the investigators even though they coincidentally have a body that fit the description to the havoc Alison said she caused with a knife. This has two great things in that scene; a very young Christopher Walken and the lead investigator’s tie is as wide as it is long.
Micheal starts a little investigation of his own because he believes that there is something more sinister at work after he and Alison visit her apartment to retrace the moments when she stabbed her dead father. But nothing really makes sense to Micheal and after she writes in Latin from a book he reads to be in English, he is convinced the old recluse priest that is on the top floor of the Apartment may know something.
Oh yeah, there is a blind priest that is on the top floor that stares out the window all day. Well, he is seen at the window. That’s an important part. (God, I’m not very good at these)
With no luck getting into the apartment to talk with the recluse priest and even less luck from the Archdioceses, he decides to take matters into his own hands and calls up an old buddy to break in and steal the file on this priest.
Well, in a hurried fashion and better conclusive skills than Velma from Scooby Do, Micheal figured out that all the people who live there have tried to commit suicide at one time in their life and each converted to the Catholic church and reside as a sentinel. And Alison is targeted to be next! No shit!
Armed with a gun, Micheal leaves Alison at a party, though she feels awful, and heads off to stop this rite of…sentinel-passing. When he arrives he sees a split in the wood on the wall and decides to bust it open. Not really sure why. But underneath is a sign straight out of Dante’s Divine Comedy. And sneaking up on him is…
…Father Freaky! Yes, the priest tells Micheal this is the gateway to Hell and as random as he came in, he leaves which pisses Micheal off. In a murderous rage, Micheal chokes the priest after he fails to answer his questions. But, little did Micheal count on there being two priests in the room. The other armed with a cement statue. Never expect murder from a priest. Hmmm.
Enter Alison. Of course she returns. She comes back to the apartment only to find Micheal…acting a bit strange. Almost instantaneously Alison knows Micheal isn’t himself. No, he begins to explain how he is damned to Hell because he killed his wife and that she is required to commit suicide and release the gates of Hell. It’s a stretch but that’s what is required.
Now this is the part that separates this movie from all other horror movies. You will never see this again in cinema for a few different reasons. 1: Special effects are much more realistic 2: Plastic surgery is quite advanced since the 1970’s and 3: this would never ever never ever fly with the FCC or any other super PC group. This is as fucked up as cinema gets.
So, Alison runs from decaying Micheal and meets the debonair Charels Chazen who is far less warm and goofy and a tad more…the Devil. He explains that she needs to finish her suicide and become apart of them. Not hearing the noise, Alison turns to run but is met by this…
Yes folks, they used real deformed people in the casting for The Sentinel. It is pretty crazy to think that there was an add for extras needing physical deformities to play the role of demons from Hell. This creeps me out to now end. It’s the kind of creep out that makes me want to shower or watch Nickelodeon to counterbalance my “ick” factor.
Well, long story short she is saved by the priests and she takes up the cross as the dominions from Hell shirk back to the abyss from which they came.
This movie is an old favorite of mine. I’m not really sure why? The plot is scattered, the setting seems to be hollow and the lead actress never really makes you care for her outcome. But there is this 1970’s high production feel that I love in horror movies from that time. That fast-paced city life that every-so-often rubs elbows with midevil beliefs and tears at the fabric to what is more important; sanity or soul. Like Matt said. I give it a B+ out of 17.