Friday, 21 August 2015

The Sentinel (1977)

"The Sentinel" (1977, Michael Winner, Universal Pictures) is a haunted house movie set in the Brooklyn area of New York city.

Alison (Cristina Raines) is a fashion model who feels that things are moving too fast with her successful, lawyer boyfriend, Michael (Chris Sarandon). So she decides to move out of his posh apartment and find her own digs whilst she contemplates his marriage proposal. She finds a quirky flat in Brooklyn that is actually a grand old house split into different flats. Unfortunately, her new neighbours are all complete weirdos who keep her up at night. Only, when she complains to her realtor (Ava Gardner), she finds that she doesn't actually have any neighbours except for an old, blind, reclusive priest (John Carradine) who lives on the top floor and just sits quietly, staring out of the window....

As well as the freaky neighbours, Alison also begins seeing flashbacks to her not-so-nice father and her own attempted suicides. And she learns that there is more to this building than just its undead inhabitants, and more to the priest than just being old!

A fun 70s horror that gets its share of flack, with a great cast and some really creepy scenes. The film also features Christopher Walken as the young detective and Jeff Goldblum as Jack the photographer as well as Beverly D'Angelo as a sex-crazed mute (her first movie role). The effects are good for a 70s horror (but then again, this was quite a big budget film) and lend well to the setting and the unsettling weirdness of Alison's neighbours is aptly captured and revealed. Other plus points include a birthday party for a cat and a good amount of splurted gore.

There are some issues with the film, such as its overbearing, random score which, unlike the purposefully overbearing soundtracks of films such as Argento's "Suspiria", does not seem to have been done to great effect and is more jarring than atmospheric with too many changes in style and genre.

The film was also heavily lambasted for using people with deformities as plot props at the end in what is a very random climax. The worst part about the choice of casting for this scene was that it is simply using the actors' appearances for shock value and holds no particular relevance to the plot. It's a 'sploitation movie, but by today's standards, it's not cool.

The plot is often too random and is basically just one of many demonic-inspired films which had come back into fashion in the 70s so doesn't feel the need to explain itself too much. But the ending is somewhat chilling and rounds off the movie nicely

Not a terrible film, but it does have some obvious faults and Winner made a few bad calls during its production. Its creepy scenes and good, if predictable, ending make up for some of the flaws, however, it's just admittedly not everyone's cup of tea.

[Image: Universal Pictures]