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Dustin Putman

The Sentinel  (1977)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
3.5 Stars
(Release Date: September 22, 2015) – Writer-director Michael Winner's 1977 supernatural spooker "The Sentinel" is like the wackier liberal cousin of 1968's "Rosemary's Baby," 1973's "The Exorcist" and 1976's "The Omen," yet deserves to be part of the same conversation when it comes to the best like-minded genre works of the late-1960s and '70s. Watching the film for the very first time 38 years removed from its initial theatrical release is a revelation for many reasons, first and foremost because so many moments and technical elements clearly inspired filmmakers in future decades (composer Gil Melle's screeching, snarled violin strings and a number of the creepier scenes seem to have been borrowed by James Wan for 2011's "Insidious"). With a cast of seemingly a hundred noteworthy actors (that estimate is an exaggeration, but not by much), an indelible central filming location, masterfully orchestrated direction, and a slick, prestigious sheen courtesy of cinematographer Dick Kratina, "The Sentinel" deserves a much larger following that the place of semi-obscurity it has slipped into in recent years.

NY-based model/actress Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) politely turns down lawyer boyfriend Michael's (Chris Sarandon) offer to move in with him in lieu of renting a place to call her own. Sure, the blind, elderly Father Halliran (John Carradine) sits at the top-floor window, perpetually staring out into nothingness, but otherwise the moss-grown Brooklyn Heights brownstone she finds appears to be ideal. Alison is quickly welcomed to the building by kind, senile neighbor Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith), but finds it difficult to get settled. Her father passes away soon after she moves in. The other lodgers are imminently strange—one-half of a lesbian couple, Sandra (Beverly D'Angelo), pleasures herself to Alison during a visit, while a housewarming/cat's birthday party leaves her understandably weirded out. She is kept up all hours of the night by pacing on the floor above her, despite the apartment being vacant. After Alison learns from realtor Miss Logan (Ava Gardner) no one but Father Halliran has lived in the building for years, she is thrust deeper still into the horrifying clutches of a hellish supernatural power that refuses to let her go.

Based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz, "The Sentinel" casts an ominous, off-kilter shadow from the start. The deliberate tranquility of its early setup gradually but assuredly twists toward an encroaching fatalistic threat. Supremely uncomfortable occurrences, increasing nausea, and harrowing nightmares and hallucinations leave one's nerves rattled and attention unable to turn away. The supporting cast sounds like a put-on, but they all make appearances: Ava Gardner, Jose Ferrer, John Carradine, Arthur Kennedy, Eli Wallach, Martin Balsam, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Beverly D'Angelo, Deborah Raffin, Jerry Orbach, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger and Christopher Walken. Some have tiny roles, others larger, but all are woven indelibly into the fabric of Michael Winner's edgily observant script. If there is a nagging element to the film's spell, it is the third-act use of carnival performers solely as purveyors of fear. The rest of the picture is scary enough that it didn't need this distasteful element of excess. Then again, "The Sentinel" is through and through a beacon of rebellion—a big-studio horror feature so innately uninhibited, hair-raisingly designed and dangerously suggestive that it's no surprise it plays to its own macabre beat.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

All things considered, the new high-definition 1080p transfer used for "The Sentinel" is a stunner, never looking like a movie that is nearly forty years old. The print used is in great shape, with its only issues being sporadic, very minimal specks of dirt and a single split-second, blue-tinted discoloration on the far left side of the screen. This is a beautiful presentation all the same, with vibrant colors, inky blacks, lush fine detail, and depth occasionally so stunning one feels as if he or she can walk into the frame. The evenly distributed grain field is lovely and only adds to the texture of the image. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is quite impressive as well, and while the action (so to speak) is relegated to the front channels, the film has the aural strength of a more recent picture. The music score by Gil Mille is positively chilling here, while dialogue is nicely mixed and consistently clear.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with writer/producer Jeffrey Konvitz
  • Audio Commentary with producer/director Michael Winner
  • Audio Commentary with actress Cristina Raines
  • Interview with assistant director Ralph S. Singleton (23:56, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:35, HD)
  • TV Spots (1:39, HD)
  • Movie Stills (2:47, HD)
  • B&W Press Photos (2:30, HD)
  • Lobby Cards and Posters (2:34, HD)
Bottom Line
"The Sentinel" is one of the most special catalogue horror titles I have had the pleasure of discovering in recent years, conjured with a sparkling new high-def transfer and enough quality special features that it probably deserved to be upgraded to "Collector's Edition" status. Why this classy, bonkers, gorgeously lensed, genuinely unnerving film isn't more widely known like a lot of the more prominent, acclaimed studio genre fare from this era is beyond me, but Scream Factory's outstanding Blu-ray release should hopefully help to garner it a new generation of admirers. Whether you've seen "The Sentinel" or not, this one is a pretty safe outright purchase that consumers should not hesitate to pick up.

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© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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