Horror, Cult Movies, Exploitation Cinema, 70s Schlock, and more! Let’s look at something cool!
“From Baltimore… How nice.”
Genre: Rosemary’s Baby-Type Apartment Building Spooky Stuff
Year Released: 1977
Pedigree: Based on the novel of the same name by Jeffrey Konvitz.
Where I Watched: Vudu
Synopsis: Alison is a high fashion model in NYC. Yeah, she’s living the good life with her loving lawyer boyfriend, and all the parties she can cram into her busy schedule. But even with her life of privilege, she longs for a place of her own, something she’s never had. So when an apartment opens up in a beautiful Brooklyn brownstone, who cares if her neighbors are weird as hell? (Literally.)Well, except for that blind priest that sits at the window of his unit all day. Every day. Could there be more sinister things afoot? Spoiler: you bet.
Fabulous or Frustrating?: Holy blip – Chris Sarandon, Jeff Goldblum, Burgess Meredith, José Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Christopher Walken, Beverly D’Angelo, Jerry Orbach…. Damn, how is this movie not better known? I remember reading the novel this movie was based on back when I was a kid. (Thank you, library book sales!) Scared the crap out of me. So did the trailer for this film. Those freaky eyes!
This weird bit of religious horror is a fun watch, with a few scenes that made me uncomfortable as hell, and maybe not in a good way. Looking at you, cat + bird scene, and that…um…Beverly D’Angelo “Divinyls” moment. These moments feel like they’re being shocking just to shake things up. I’m not saying they’re unnecessary – heck, show a cat bird early in the film, and dammit, Checkov’s Gun requires you to play that out. I don’t have to like it though. Poor birby.
As for the “touching” moment, all of Alison’s neighbors are supposed to be unsettling and creepy, so? D’Angelo’s character acting out is par for the course. Still, the setup and execution of these scenes are clunky, feeling stuck in for shock rather than integral parts of the story. And don’t get me started on how director Michael Winner uses physically disabled individuals as “dammed souls”. The way the ick factor of these characters are dialed up to 11 simply because they exist? C’mon, be better. These performers have nothing to do but walk around as visual “shocks”. It’s insulting, and tacky. Ah the 70s. Ugh.
Aside from these ham fisted moments, Sentinel is a bit rushed, but generally well done thanks to performances from the cast that are better than this paint by numbers story screenplay deserves. As far as the gore goes, blood FX from when a young Alison slashes her wrists is almost too realistic. The show stopper here is the experimental score by Gil Mellé; one of the best in 70s horror. A touch of electronic riffs, a smattering of dissonance. All tied together by the Gothic vibe of the set design and shadowy cinematography.
Come for the well known cast, many of whom were relatively unknown at the time (or in the cases of Gardner and Carradine, in the twilight of their careers). Stay for the beautiful brownstone, and an interesting addition to the Catholic Horror sub-genre.
Freak-O-Meter: 3.5 out of 5 Freaks