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May 14, 2021

The Sentinel (1977) Movie Review

I just wrote up a movie review for my website, comparing the OG and remake of The Wicker Man. But I honestly need to review this film for CHC. I watched it two days ago and I can’t get it out of my head!


The Sentinel is about highly successful fashion model, Alison. She’s been living with her boyfriend, Michael, for a while now. But with her father’s death, and just wanting to prove she can “do it on her own”, she needs to get her own apartment. She finds the perfect place – fully furnished and at a cheap price. But after moving in, her bizarre neighbors act inappropriately and make tons of noise, preventing Alison from getting any sleep. That and the horrifying visions she’s having of her dead father as well as her past suicide attempts, are putting her on a very sharp edge. When she complains to the landlady, Alison is told that the only other occupant in the apartment building is a blind priest on the top floor.

Um, what?

As Michael helps her probe into the mystery, Detective Gatz is also investigating. Gatz worked on Michael’s late wife’s “accident” years prior, and doesn’t trust Michael as far as he can throw him, especially when some old business associates of his turn up dead. After Alison is found covered in blood, claiming to have stabbed her dead father, Gatz starts digging. The neighbors Alison has described are actually all former criminals. As in DEAD criminals.

Um, what?

As Alison turns back to the church for moral and emotional support, Michael does more digging on the blind priest upstairs. The answer to the mystery becomes quite clear: the apartment building houses the gate to Hell. The church has installed a guardian, or sentinel, to watch over it and make sure the damned cannot escape. Alison is the next in line to take over as sentry. That is if she can resist the tortures, torments, and temptations of the damned who want her to join them, leaving the gate unguarded. Can she resist? Will she take her place and keep the world safe from Hell?

Has anyone seen my keys?

Holy crap, what a ride.

For some reason, I kept mixing this movie up with The Keep, which I saw years ago. Then after reading the description for The Sentinel, I realized I never watched it before. And just looking at the cast, I jumped on this faster than a crack whore on a free rock.

Some people only had a scene or two, maybe a couple of lines, but just check out these names: Chris Sarandon, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldbloom, Burgess Meredith, John Carradine, Jose Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Beverly D’Angelo, Jerry Orbach…and the list goes on! I don’t think I’ve ever seen this big a collection of talent – old school and new – all in one movie. Burgess is absolute unsettling perfection; Eli Wallach proves a great smart-ass, determined cop; Beverly D’Angelo comes off (no pun intended – watch the movie, you’ll know what I mean) creepy af and she doesn’t speak once.

I loved the apartment building itself. Looks like an old mansion/estate that was converted into apartments. The dark wood, oriental rugs, brick exterior almost felt like a character in its own right. It reminded my of where I used to live in Chicago years ago, and I imagine all major cities have buildings like this one. It felt homey, but claustrophobic at the same time. But every location worked well, from Alison’s photo shoots, to her family’s home, and the city scenes. Even being shot in the 70s, which left the print with that grittier look, and the dated fashions of the time, didn’t pull me out or distract me from the action.

Before Grumpy Cat, there was Jezebel.

I loved the story. You could have picked this film up and plopped it down in any decade and it would still work. Based on the novel by Jeffrey Convitz, I love the idea that Hell is *RIGHT THERE* and sometimes there’s only a gauze of a barrier to keep the damned out of our world. Though I am a bit confused how the blind priest’s mere presence keeps the gate closed, but since he was old and dying, I think that’s why the souls were acting up once Alison arrived. However, I shouldn’t have counted him out because his actions right at the end of the film are what saved the world, and Alison.

The finale reminded me a lot of 1932’s Freaks. Apparently the casting assistants combed several carnivals and freak shows to find people to play the majority of the damned souls that squeaked out of Hell to overwhelm Alison. Not to disparage anyone with any kind of genetic malformation or disorder, but some of the people they found were absolutely terrifying to look at.

Despite a little pacing issue (it does drag a smidge in the middle), this is a great film and deserves as much love as we can throw at it.


4.5 hatchets  (out of 5)




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