THE SENTINEL (1977) Reviews and overview

 

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‘There must forever be a guardian at the gate from Hell…’

The Sentinel is a 1977 American supernatural horror film directed by Michael Winner (The Nightcomers; Death Wish franchise; Scream for Help) and co-written with Jeffrey Konvitz (Silent Night, Bloody Night) based on his 1974 novel of the same name.

The film’s soundtrack score was by the hugely prolific artist and composer Gil Mellé (Blood Beach; Embryo; Killdozer; Night Gallery; et al).

The movie stars Cristina Raines, Chris Sarandon (Fright Night), Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith (Torture Garden), Sylvia Miles, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken (The Dead Zone), Jeff Goldblum (The Fly; Jurassic Park), John Carradine and Beverly D’Angelo.

Plot:

When a fashion model moves into her new apartment house, she begins to become emotionally disturbed, experiencing flashbacks to a failed suicide attempt. She is further unnerved by the strange priest who lives on the top floor and is terrified when she sees walking corpses haunting her flat.

It transpires that the apartment is, in fact, a gateway to Hell, and its latest owner is expected to take over as the next guardian…

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The film became controversial when it was revealed the director used actual disfigured people and circus freaks to represent demons during the climax, although additional makeup effects were supplied by Dick Smith. The scene in which Cristina Raines slices off her dead father’s nose has become a legendary shock special effects moment.

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Stars Cristina Raines and Chris Sarandon are pictured above on set with director Michael Winner.

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Reviews:

” …while certainly no classic of the genre, The Sentinel is certainly an entertaining and fairly effective chiller, which really deserves better than the reputation as a tasteless, badly made piece of shock which it has undeservedly acquired over the years.” Cult Movie Forums

“Winner never shied away from the confrontational, and while he was not the most refined director, he always attacked a scene with tons of energy. And that’s why the horror genre works for him; vulgarity is not only welcomed, it’s embraced…” Daily Dead

“This one definitely has some pacing problems and some logic gaps but the finale is strong enough to help compensate a lot there. Solid effects, a really good score, great location photography and a killer cast… yeah, that’ll all go a long way towards making this one worth seeing. Flawed or not, The Sentinel gets enough right that those who get a kick out of the occult films of the seventies should find a lot to like here.” DVD Talk

“Winner directs a seriously amazing cast although many of them are pre-fame here […] This is definitely creepy and unsettling in places with obvious shades of Rosemary’s Baby (which is, needless to say, far superior). Winner’s direction is more cheap shocks than tense scares and the grand finale is downright tasteless. It still has its moments and it is well worth seeing as a curiosity.” Eat Horror

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” …certainly not up to par with the likes of Rosemary’s BabyThe Exorcist and The Omen, but it’s perversely entertaining with some unsettling set pieces, cheesy dialogue and noteworthy performances from its A-list cast. Plus, the special effects and Gille Mellé score are a winning combo, along with the 1970s stylings and New York City locations.” Kultguy’s Keep

The Sentinel is one of those films that either makes viewers ill or scares the bejeezus out of them. Thanks to director Michael Winner (Death Wish, The Nightcomers), the exploitation angle is pumped up to an uncomfortable degree, particularly in the use of real-life freaks mixed in with Dick Smith‘s unsettling makeup effects for the jittery finale.” Mondo Digital

“Tony Parmelee’s SFX may only be paraded fleetingly but, when called upon, he comes up with the goods and a couple of instances of unexpected grue, in particular, stand out amidst the obligatory bumps in the night. Meanwhile, Winner has never been one for restraint with regards to supplying a little skin for the fellas and the delectable sight of D’Angelo’s exposed chest trove is one to relish forevermore.” Rivers of Grue

“There’s a lot of good actors in the film but it’s obvious that most of them just needed to pick up a paycheck.  I’ve read a lot of criticism of Cristina Raines’s lead performance but I actually think she does a pretty good job.  It’s not her acting that’s at fault.  It’s the film’s stupid script and lackluster direction.” Through the Shattered Lens

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Cast and characters:

Chris Sarandon … Michael Lerman
Cristina Raines … Alison Parker
Martin Balsam … Professor Ruzinsky
John Carradine … Father Francis Matthew Halliran
José Ferrer … Robed Figure
Ava Gardner … Miss Logan
Arthur Kennedy … Monsignor Franchino
Burgess Meredith … Charles Chazen
Sylvia Miles … Gerde Engstrom
Deborah Raffin … Jennifer
Eli Wallach … Detective Gatz
Christopher Walken … Detective Rizzo
Jerry Orbach … Film Director
Beverly D’Angelo … Sandra
Hank Garrett … James Brenner
Nana Visitor (billed as Nana Tucker) … Girl at End
Tom Berenger … Man at End
William Hickey … Perry
Jeff Goldblum … Jack
Richard Dreyfuss … Man on Sidewalk Talking to Girl in Red Sweater (uncredited)

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Trailer:

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