• Sentinel, The



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: September 22nd, 2015.
    Director: Michael Winner
    Cast: Cristina Raines, Chris Sarandon, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Beverly D'Angelo
    Year: 1977
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    The Movie:

    Michael Winner's THE SENTINEL is one of the sleaziest major studio horror films of the wild and wooly 70's. The whole thing drips deliciously bad taste but somehow manages to be oddly compelling. Based on a pulpy novel by Jeffrey Konvitz, the movie is a briskly paced shock machine with a humdinger of an ending.

    The main plot (which commences after a prologue with priests Arthur Kennedy and Jose Ferrer in Rome) revolves around a fashion model named Alison Parker (Cristina Raines in a deer in headlights performance). Alison has a thriving career and a suave boyfriend - lawyer Michael (Chris Sarandon). But while Michael wants to get married, Alison is determined to maintain her independence. To that end, she rents an absurdly cheap massive New York City brownstone from matronly real estate broker Miss Logan (Ava Gardner). Then weird shit starts happening.

    THE SENTINEL is an obvious cash-in on the satanic craze of 70's horror films. But while William Friedkin was after some genuine meaning in THE EXORCIST, Winner is all about the crass. And the stunt casting. This is a "gateway to hell" movie, and as Raines character starts experiencing stranger and more violent incidents, the film gets more and more outrageous. The first tip-off that Winner is going for broke is the film's first big flashback sequence which has teenaged Alison coming home to find her father in bed with two repulsive and obese hookers. This is a truly disturbing sequence due to the leering camerawork, off kilter soundtrack and ugly participants. As the movie moves forward, Alison's strange visions, blinding headaches and pill popping excesses all combine to cue the viewer in that something is terribly wrong. Of course, the apartment itself is terrifying. There's a blind priest living on the top floor (John Carradine) but he's about the LEAST weird tenant. There's charming but strange Mr. Chazen (Burgess Meredith who walks away with the film) and two hilariously horny lesbians played by Vera Miles and Beverly D'Angelo for starters. But when Alison complains to Miss Logan, she's informed that the building is empty except for the blind priest!

    Apparently, the set of THE SENTINEL was an extraordinarily unhappy place. The leading man - Chris Sarandon - is referred to as a "Greek waiter" by director Winner on the commentary track. Actress Raines was so miserable she STILL refuses to divulge specifics to this day. Then there's that ending. After some unusually moist fx involving sliced noses, murdered birds and sliced wrists, Winner goes full exploitation for the climax. He stages a finale using real deformed people. The fact that they are representing the denizens of hell is tasteless enough, but Winner lingers on their bodies to maximize shock value. To be fair, it IS effective.

    THE SENTINEL remains a very creepy affair aided immeasurably by an insanely star-studded cast. The cops trailing lawyer Michael (who has been implicated in his wife's death) are played by Eli Wallach and Christopher Walken. Marty Balsam is a language specialist. Jeff Goldblum (fresh from his killer mugger in Winner's DEATH WISH) is a photographer who hangs out on a photo shoot with director Jerry Orbach. Richard Dreyfus shows up,on the street, saying nothing, seven minutes in. Tom Berenger pops in to say hello in the final frames. That's in addition to the previously mentioned Meredith, Ferrer, Kennedy, Gardner et al. Sarandon is stiff but serviceable and Raines is way too passive - but that's a combo of underwritten character and poor direction. Meredith's lively but sinister neighbor steals the film, and Gardner leaves a mark as well. Dick Smith's makeup work is top notch.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Scream's 1080p, AVC encoded 1.78.1 framed recent transfer is decent. There's some print damage that manifests itself as brief flickering white lines in a couple of scenes. Detail is good but skin tones are slightly wonky at times. Black levels are good, color saturation adequate, and intrusive digital tinkering that messes with the film grain absent. Colors don't really "pop" however, and the optical shots can look pretty rough. Still a massive upgrade over the DVD. Soundwise? The DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track is clear and free from defects. It also has decent range and never gets shrill or hissy.

    Of the three commentary tracks, the one with Winner is the most entertaining. He's clearly full of shit quite often, but he's funny and names names. He's full of stories about his famous cast and the making of the film. The Raines track is extremely frustrating though. She seems like a very nice woman but refuses to really tell any of the terrible things that happened to,her on that set. The moderator tries his best, but this one seems like a lost opportunity. Finally, writer of the original novel and producer Konvitz sits with Nathaniel Thompson of Mondo Digital and spills the beans. This is a great track filled with all sorts of fascinating insider baseball like the fact that Don Siegel of DIRTY HARRY fame was attached to the film at one point. Assistant director Ralph S. Singleton gets the disc's only video extra with a nearly half hour interview where he goes over his whole career with a particular focus on the two Winner films he worked on - DEATH WISH and THE SENTINEL. He's also got some great stories and is probably the most complimentary to Winner of the folks on the special features. Finally, Scream coughs up some radio spots, still galleries and a theatrical trailer.

    The Final Word:

    THE SENTINEL has always had a pretty strong cult following. It's not a GOOD film exactly, but it certainly holds the attention due to its outrageous ending, overall level of violence and sleaze and stellar cast. Scream have provided a decent transfer and good extras. This one is easy to recommend.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!