Terrifying Tuesday: The Sentinel (1977)

Maybe I was just in the right mood. Maybe it was because it was late and the lights were out. Maybe it's because of all the creepy weirdos. Maybe it was Chis Sarandon's pornstache. I don't know what to attribute it to, but tonight's feature really got to me, folks. That's no easy task either as I've seen only a few truly scary films in my time. I'm not talking frightening with jump scares, revolting scenes of rape/gore/animal violence or any combination of the three, or atmospheric and moody. I'm talking straight up, no shit, hang onto your ass and make you think about getting religion (but not for long) scary ass shit. Now I know it might just be me. I like a ghost story, but that doesn't exactly describe what is happening in...

The Sentinel (1977) starring Cristina Raines, Chis Sarandon, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, John Carradine, Jose Ferrer, Eli Wallach, Chistopher Walken, Beverly D'Angelo, Jerry Orbach, and Jeff Goldblum. Directed by Michael Winner.

Alison Parker (Raines) has got it all. She's a successful model with a lawyer boyfriend, and not a care in the world. That's right not a care, free as a bird, totally relaxed and confid...hmmm,
what's that? So she's tried to commit suicide twice, and the first time was after she saw her daddy having an orgy with a couple of Rubenesque ladies. Well, maybe she doesn't have it all worked out, but Allison knows what she needs to get her head straight. She should get her own place. Somewhere she can go to clear her head. Somewhere in Brooklyn.

She finds a place through Miss Logan (Gardner), a rental agent. It's just what she's been looking for, a creepy, fully furnished, second floor apartment in a ramshackle old house in Brooklyn. The price however is too high at $600 a month, but it gets dropped to $400. It's too good to be true, and it is.

Allison moves into the apartment over the objections of her boyfriend Michael (Sarandon), and she soon starts making friends with the new neighbors. There's nice old Charles Chazen (Meredith) an eccentric sort with his pets, a bird and cat and the lesbians downstairs who aren't afraid to get a little too friendly. The strange noises at night and the blind priest in the
window that stares at nothing all day. At first it seems nice enough, but after attending a birthday party for Chazen's cat, Allison starts thinking something seems a little off.

The next day she inquires with Miss Logan about the other residents, but she learns that other than the reclusive priest there are no other apartments rented out. As Allison's nights get stranger, she encounters her dead father in zombie form and cuts him to shreds. There's no evidence anyone was there, but poor Allison is beginning to lose her mind. As her reality twists there's no way to tell if it's the people she loves, her own instability, or paranormal forces closing in on the girl. There's a price for redemption, and sometimes it's your own life.

Film Facts

--Kate Jackson was first attached to star and passed.

--There was controversy around the film when Director Winner cast actual freaks as freaks a la Tod Browning.

--Originally Don Siegel, director of Dirty Harry, The Shootist, and The Killers, was asked to direct. He passed on the movie out of a discomfort with the subject matter.

The Bug Speaks
This is one for the books. It's the stuff of myth and legend. And let the gushing begin. Nah, I'll try and hold back just a bit for now. Let's start at the top. The foremost thing to notice about this film is the cast. Let's give it up for Casting Director Cis Corman. This lady happens to have a hell of a track record. I mean Death Wish, Nighthawks, Raging Bull, Once Upon a Time in America. I could go on, but you get it, she knows what she's doing. This movie sure as hell proves it.

Everyone fits to a T what they need to be, and the small cameos by familiar faces gives the movie a dreamlike quality that it might not otherwise have. Jeff Goldbum shows up as Allison's photograper, and Jerry Orbach is looking really young as a frustrated commercial director. Burgess Meredith was a long way from with The Penguin or Mickey with his totally creepy portrayal of Charles Chazen as if he was Truman Capote's butcher cousin. Eli Wallach and Christopher Walken as the police investigators were very enjoyable anytime they showed up, but I'm fairly sure that Walken only has one actual line. Still it's nice to see the young Walken at work (and incidentally Miss Corman will later cast him in The Deer Hunter.) I also like to see Chis Sarandon showing up in some more genre gold.

This cast seems to be going on forever and I haven't even gotten to John Carradine as the blind priest, Beverly D'Angleo masturbating, or Tom Beringer showing up with Nana Visitor for a 30 second cameo. Needless to say all that happens. Yet I need to get down to what was happening. Unfortunately ( or fortunately) for you folks there's precious little I want to give away about this one. I went in basically off reading the cast list and knew nothing about the film. I really think that might be what gave it the impact it had.

That being said this story was put together quite nicely, and the tension mounts with all the
right elements to build suspense. Director Winner who helmed Death Wish 1,2 and 3 deftly wove elements of supernatural horror, gore, Hitchcockian suspense, and classic mystery into one concise package. In doing so, he creates such a feeling of unease in every scene it is easy to feel empathetic to our troubled heroine.

A great cast, a great story, and well executed directing. It's really nice to see all those things come together. I must say that I can't end this love fest without speaking on what might be the only real detraction from the film. The first 45 minutes or so is quite the slow burn. That coupled with some subplots that are never more than red herrings, and the movie can feel a bit bewildering at times. However, how do you think Allison feels? I mean if you went to a birthday party for a cat who may not have been real, then you might be a wee bit bewildered yourself.

This is one to see, and see soon. If you've got Netflix this one is available to rent or to use their play it now thingie to watch it right on your screen. Whatever way you can see it, check it out. This has to be one of the most underrated films that I've ever come across. Now if you'll excuse me I have to take some nerve pills and and a lie down. Whew.

Bug Rating

This is not the real trailer,but a remade trailer for the film that I think is very well made and much more indicative of the film. Under it will be the real trailer in English and French versions.

Uploaded by chefandew


  1. I couldn't agree more. This movie is on the short list of films that scared the crap out of me as a kid. It's in dire need of a re-watch by me, it has been years.

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  3. Great choice for today's review. I really liked this movie too when I was a kid. And unfortunately, it's been awhile since I've seen it.

  4. Great Review for a Classic Film!

    If I remember it correctly, isn't it somewhat reminiscent of Rosemary's Baby?

    And how about that masturbating scene - AWKWARD!! :-)


  5. Glad so many people also like this film. It's surely one that needs a rewatch if you haven't seen it in a bit.

    As far as it being a bit like Rosemary's Baby, I honestly don't quite recall much of that film but there is definately devilish themes in both films.

  6. its strange that this film has acheived a legendary status with me simply because i`ve never seen it, and after reading the superb reveiw that you gave the film i`ve got to try to finally get a copy of it, (but of course my main reason for seeing the film would still have to be christina raines, she was 24 when this movie was made and back then she really was a gorgeous tasty sexy bird), and imagine my dissapointment a couple of years ago when i found out that "the sentinel" was not, (as i`d hoped for), a remake of this film but rather some crappy political thriller with michael douglas, huh....horror movies are so much better than drama`s, i think you`ll agree!.

  7. Do yourself a favor and watch this one Snob. I think you'll enjoy., and yes Michael Douglas' Sentinal=The Suck. I am not much one for pure dramas and political thrillers have the be really good for me to watch them i.e. the original Manchurian Canidate.


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