The Sentinel

cast: Cristina Raines, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Ava Gardner, and Burgess Meredith

director: Michael Winner

82 minutes (18) 1977
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Fremantle / Mediumrare DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Gary McMahon

Back in the 1970s, Hollywood produced a wave of devil and possession movies, most of them featuring either slumming ex-stars or young up-and-coming names keen for exposure. If you’re anything like me, you’ll remember with fondness titles like The Omen, Burnt Offerings, The Devil’s Rain, Race With The Devil, and many others.

Going back to the olden days of trading, we know how flourishing it was with just systems like the qprofit system that helped the traders with what they wanted and productively played a major role in bringing all their dreams true. Even now we have these systems in the market but the market now is corrupted.

These films were derivative, hackneyed, and clearly inspired by the commercial success of William Freidkin’s The Exorcist (1974), and the earlier brilliant Roman Polanski adaptation of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby. Michael Winner – ever the opportunist – contributed his own vulgar addition to this subgenre with The Sentinel, a simplistic tale of good versus evil set in a New York apartment block (sound familiar?).

Winner’s effort is crude, rude and vulgar, yet still somehow manages to pull a couple of scenes out of the hat that remain uniquely disturbing. Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) is a successful model that moves into an apartment block also tenanted by an old blind priest (an immobile arthritic John Carradine) who sits in the window of the upper flat, seemingly staring out at the view. Her fiancé Michael (Chris Sarandon) is unsure about the move – he wants them to be married; but Alison feels that she needs some space so that she doesn’t end up like her mother, who stayed with an abusive husband because she had nowhere else to go.

Alison’s father dies just as she is organising the move and she suffers from fainting spells, so when spooky things begin to happen inside the old building, she initially convinces herself that she is experiencing some kind of breakdown. She has a history of unstable behaviour, with two suicide attempts in her sordid past.

Slowly, events begin to escalate, and when Alison learns from the letting agent (Ava Gardner) that her strange new neighbours (including a camp Burgess Meredith, and a spaced-out lesbian Beverly D’Angelo) don’t actually exist, Michael involves a private detective. The police start to investigate when Alison is found in the street covered in blood and claiming to have killed an intruder. No corpse can be found and Alison claims that the intruder was in fact her dead father. Then, just to complicate matters, it seems that Alison attended a birthday party with a bunch of long-dead criminals.

The ending is crass, badly orchestrated, and probably very offensive – which means that it’s also a bit of a jaw-dropper, with real freaks used to portray the denizens of hell, and Chris Sarandon’s face pulled to bits by all-too-visible pieces of string. The Sentinel scared me when I first saw it as an impressionable youth; when I watched it again, I was torn between finding it incredibly funny and downright tasteless, but nonetheless had a good time letting the whole crazy thing wash over me like a shower of dirty water from a rusty old tap.