Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
|Directed by||Michael Winner|
|Based on|| The Sentinel |
by Jeffrey Konvitz
|Music by||Gil Mellé|
|Cinematography||Richard C. Kratina|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$4 million|
The Sentinel is a 1977 American supernatural horror film directed by Michael Winner, and starring Cristina Raines, Chris Sarandon, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles and Eli Wallach. It also features Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, John Carradine, Jerry Orbach, Tom Berenger, Nana Visitor and Beverly D'Angelo in supporting roles. The plot focuses on a young model who moves into a historic Brooklyn brownstone that has been sectioned into apartments, only to find that the building is owned by the Catholic diocese and is a gateway to Hell. It is based on the 1974 novel of the same name by Jeffrey Konvitz, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Winner.
The film was released by Universal Pictures in 1977.
Alison Parker, a beautiful but neurotic fashion model with a history of suicide attempts, moves into a historic Brooklyn brownstone that has been divided into apartments. The top floor apartment is occupied by a reclusive blind priest, Father Halliran, who spends all of his time sitting at his open window. Soon after moving in, Alison begins having strange physical problems, including fainting spells and insomnia, and hears strange noises from the apartment above hers. Alison meets her odd new neighbors, including the eccentric, elderly Charles Chazen, and attends a bizarre birthday party for Chazen's cat. When she complains to the rental agent Miss Logan about the noisy and irritating neighbors, she is told that the building is occupied only by Halliran and her. Miss Logan proves this by showing Alison the various empty apartments, including ones Alison had recently visited and seen occupied. Alison's lawyer boyfriend Michael initially believes she is suffering paranoid delusions, but secretly contacts his corrupt detective friend Brenner to look into the situation.
Late one night, Brenner goes to Alison's building, while inside Alison is again awakened by strange noises, and encounters the animated, rotting corpse of her recently deceased abusive father in the stairwell. She escapes by stabbing him and, covered in blood, runs screaming into the street, arousing the whole neighborhood. Alison is hospitalized with a nervous breakdown, and two police detectives, Gatz and Rizzo, begin an investigation. Gatz and Rizzo suspect that Michael murdered his former wife, who fell to her death after refusing to divorce Michael so that he could marry Alison. The detectives find no body in Alison's building, the blood on her matches her own blood type, and her father is confirmed to have died three weeks previously. However, they later find Brenner's stabbed body dumped elsewhere, and his blood type also matches the blood found on Alison, suggesting that Alison might have murdered him. Gatz and Rizzo also discover that the people Alison claimed she saw at the cat's birthday party are all deceased murderers.
Alison, who now has the ability to read strange Latin words that no one else can see, visits a Catholic church and confesses her sins, including her past suicide attempts and her adultery with Michael, to Monsignor Franchino. Michael, now conducting his own investigation, contacts the Diocesan office about Father Halliran and is directed to Franchino. Franchino is evasive, so Michael breaks into the office that night and reads Halliran's file, which shows he is one of a series of priests and nuns who previously attempted suicide in lay life and then became priests or nuns on the date of their predecessor's death. Alison is listed as the latest in the series, slated to take over as "Sister Teresa" starting the next day. Frightened, Michael leaves Alison in the care of her friend Jennifer while he goes to Alison's apartment building. There, Michael meets Halliran, who tells him the building is the gateway to Hell. Michael screams at Halliran and tries to strangle him, but is killed by Franchino.
Alison meanwhile escapes from Jennifer's apartment and goes to her own, where she is confronted by Chazen and grotesque, deformed minions of Hell, including the now-dead Michael, who indeed had hired Brenner to kill his wife. Michael and Chazen explain that Halliran is the Sentinel, who ensures that the demons do not escape from Hell. Halliran is nearing the end of his life, and Alison, with her history of suicide attempts, has been chosen as the new Sentinel in order to save her own soul. Chazen hands the distraught Alison a knife and tries to convince her to reject her task as the Sentinel, commit suicide and join Michael in Hell instead. Just as Alison is about to cut her wrist, the infirm Halliran enters bearing a large cross and supported by Franchino. The demons shrink from Halliran and the cross, and Alison takes the cross from Halliran and sits in his chair, thus accepting her duty as the Sentinel and saving her soul. Angry and disappointed, Chazen and the other demons return to Hell.
Shortly after, the brownstone is demolished and replaced with a modern apartment complex. Miss Logan shows an apartment to a young couple looking to rent. The couple asks about the neighbors and Miss Logan explains to them that there are only two: a violin player and a reclusive nun.The nun is Alison, now blind like Father Halliran. She sits facing out the open window in the top floor apartment.
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The external views of the house were taken from the block built at the west end of the Remsen Street in Brooklyn and many of the film's locations are in Brooklyn Heights.
Winner was inspired by the depictions of the creatures of Hell as they appear in the works of Christopher Marlowe, Dante's Inferno , and the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch.Shortly after the film's release, Winner revealed that many of the deformed persons featured in the finale were actually people with physical disabilities and abnormalities, whom he cast from hospitals and sideshows.
The Sentinel was released theatrically by Universal Pictures on February 11, 1977. It grossed a total of $4 million at the U.S. box office, and was the 57th highest-grossing film of the year.
The Sentinel received mostly negative reviews upon its release. David Pirie in Time Out was quite negative in his review, claiming The Sentinel was "just a mass of frequently incomprehensible footage, acted so badly that even the most blatant shocks count for little". Pirie criticised the movie for being derivative of Rosemary's Baby , The Exorcist and The Omen : "The Sentinel seems little more than a pile of outtakes from recent supernatural successes." Robin Wood described The Sentinel as "the worst—most offensive and repressive—horror film of the 70s". Variety gave the film a negative review, writing "The Sentinel is a grubby, grotesque excursion into religioso psychodrama, notable for uniformly poor performances by a large cast of familiar names and direction that is hysterical and heavy-handed." The New York Times called the film "dull", criticizing the film for its long stretches, but commended Raines' performance.
Film scholar Richard Bookbinder wrote in his 1982 book The Films of the Seventies the final sequence in which the "armies of Hell" terrorize Alison "is undoubtedly one of the most terrifying interludes in seventies cinema."
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Sentinel holds an approval rating of 47% based on 19 reviews, with a rating average of 5.9/10. Anthony Arrigo from Dread Central gave the film 3.5 out of 5 stars, writing, "The Sentinel might be devoid of any big, memorable showstopper moments but it maintains enough of a chilling atmosphere to keep fright fans engaged." Brett Gallman from Oh, the Horror! gave the film a positive review, stating that, although it was not the best of the "demonic horror" subgenre, it was just as entertaining. Gallman also commended the film's script, performances and effective imagery.
Ian Jane from DVD Talk awarded the film 3.5 out of 5 stars. In his conclusion Jane wrote, "Michael Winner's The Sentinel is a gleefully perverse slice of seventies horror that makes no qualms about taking things in a few entirely unexpected directions while still sticking to some tried and true genre conventions. It's not a perfect film but it's definitely interesting and always entertaining." [ citation needed ]The film was ranked #46 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments in 2004.
TV Guide awarded the film 1/5 stars, calling it "a truly repulsive film".Jedd Beaudoin from PopMatters gave the film 1/10 stars, criticizing the film's lack of believability and incoherent plot.
Universal Pictures Home Video released The Sentinel on DVD in 2004.In 2015, Scream Factory issued the film on Blu-ray with new bonus materials, including three audio commentaries.
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